Today, London tastemaker label and analogue specialists Gearbox Records have announced the release of Johnny Griffin’s “Live at Ronnie Scott’s, 1964”. The album is set for release on 17th November on CD as well as standard, ltd. edition, and Japanese edition vinyl.
Originally recorded by Les Tomkins on January 8th 1964 at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, London, and now mastered by Caspar Sutton Jones and Darrel Sheinman at Gearbox Records, the album captures the then 35-year-old Chicagoan – also known as Litte Giant – at his fervent best. Having studied under legendary music director, Captain Walter Dyett, Griffin cut his teeth touring with Lionel Hampton’s band which led him to New York, where he played with Thelonious Monk’s quartet and Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers while recording a series of albums for the Blue Note and Riverside labels.
Following a move to France, where Griffin made his presence known as a peripatetic soloist and as a member of the all-star big band led by the pianist Francy Boland and the drummer Kenny Clarke, he returned to Ronnie Scott’s for a second time in 1964 (having performed their once before in 1962). What followed was the performance that makes up this live album.
Griffin was accompanied by a three heavy-hitters in the British jazz scene of the time. Familiar figures at the club, the recording also features pianist Stan Tracey who was in the middle of an eight year stint as the club’s house pianist; lauded bassist Malcolm Cecil, known for his work in Scott and Tubby Hayes the Jazz Couriers, as well as teaching Stevie Wonder how to use synthesisers alongside his a collaborator, Bob Margouleff; and the final member was Scottish drummer Jackie Dougan a member of the Ronnie Scott Quarter, who also played alongside the likes of Tony Coe, Stan Tracey, Zoot Sims, and many more.
The three extended tunes and a brief tailpiece that comprise this set are a perfect illustration of what made Griffin and the Scott club such a happy and long-lasting match. The three main tracks are made up of “The Girl Next Door” – a track originally written by Hugh Martin as “The Boy Next Door” for the film “Meet Me In St Louis (sung by Judy Garland), before having it’s name changed by Frank Sinatra in 1954 – which Griffin drives the tempo up on with a rhythmic opening solo. This is followed by James F. Hanley’s “(Back Home in) Indiana”, a track that would become a mainstay in the creation of chord changes for beboppers including the likes Miles Davis for “Donna Lee” and Fats Navarro for “Ice Freezes Red”. It also became the theme song of the Indianapolis 500 motor race, whose competitors would perhaps appreciate the way Griffin takes it here at a blistering 80 bars (or 320 beats) per minute. The third track is a Griffin original which brings a touch of blues to the climax of the set harking back to his early work in R&B with the likes of Wynonie Harris and Stick McGhee. The final piece of the set comes in the form of a brief foray into a rocket-fuelled capsule version of Miles Davis’s cryptic “The Theme”.
“Johnny Griffin, ladies and gentlemen,” Ronnie himself says above the rattle of applause. Just a year, after this date the Scott club moved to more salubrious premises in Soho’s Frith Street, but what they achieved together in the basement at 39 Gerrard Street makes this album an illustrious addition to Griffin’s extensive discography. As venerable jazz writer Richard Williams says in the liner notes, the album is “a souvenir of the right horn playing with the right people, in the right place at the right time.”
Live at Ronnie Scott’s, 1964
Out 17th November
A1. The Girl Next Door
B1. (Back Home Again In) Indiana
C1. Blues In Twos
C2. The Theme