Among my favorite live jazz experiences ever were the shows the brilliant tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin played at the Jazz Showcase. Though he’d called the French village of Mauprevoir home for the last 18 years, he often returned around his April 24 birthday—which he shared with the club’s owner, Joe Segal, who’s two years older.
Griffin died today in Mauprevoir. He was 80, and his agent didn’t disclose the cause of death.
A product of DuSable High School, “the Little Giant” (he stood only 5 foot eight) was one of the strongest and most recognizable figures of the city’s hard-bop heyday. In 1963, like many other American jazzers over the decades, including Dexter Gordon and Bud Powell, Griffin moved to France to avoid the racism and lack of respect many of the greatest players faced here. He last performed in Chicago back in the fall of 2000 when he led a big band at the Symphony Center.