Oh, it may look like your classic Chicago tenor battle, this annual pairing of saxists, Johnny Griffin and Joe Henderson (each of whom looms among the most respected tenor men of his musical generation)–but it’s not. Instead, this annual event shoves musical pugilism aside in favor of showcasing these two powerful musical intellects, and in the process illuminates a less-traveled path through jazz history. Griffin, who is a tenor battle all by himself, used to win such competitions with ease; at 60, he still displays the speed and cogency that stood out even among the beboppers (where the first of those qualities was expected and the second separated the cats from the kittens). Along the way, Griffin also brought to the horn an unexpected lightness; in contrast to the husky kick of Dexter Gordon, Griffin’s style lets the tenor flutter and glide as well as slash and drive. That sensibility also informs Henderson’s music, which in recent years has gained an emotional immediacy to match its at times overwhelming intellect; I know of no other saxist who stirs more awe among younger musicians than Henderson, who came of age in the mid-1960s. Once again, the occasion for their meeting is the astrological triangle described by Griffin, Henderson, and Jazz Showcase proprietor Joe Segal, all of whom share the same April 24 birth date. Tonight through Sunday, Joe Segal’s Jazz Showcase, Blackstone Hotel, 636 S. Michigan; 427-4300.

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