Spontaneous, immediate, and urgent as a rocket taking off–Johnny Griffin’s music gives a terrific sense of the importance of right now, this very moment. Tops among the big-sounding, aggressive Chicago tenor saxophonists of the 40s, he started in Lionel Hampton’s big band, became one of the best hard boppers with Thelonious Monk and Art Blakey in the 50s, and has been leading his own groups in Europe for the last 30 years. Griffin likes harmonic adventure, and he’s a careful craftsman with strong structural instincts. In recent years he’s displayed an increasing interest in fast tempos, but his acute sense of melody makes him a most rewarding ballad player, too. He always returns to Joe Segal’s Jazz Showcase this time of year, and his shows are always among the year’s high points in Chicago jazz. His quartet includes Michael Weiss, a fine bop pianist, Dennis Erwin on bass, and Kenny Washington on drums; there’ll be a party at the Showcase Thursday, when both Griffin and Segal celebrate their birthday. Tuesday through next Saturday, April 26, Joe Segal’s Jazz Showcase, 636 S. Michigan; 427-4300.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Lauren Deutsch.