Johnny Griffin's Big Soul-Band | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Johnny Griffin's Big Soul-Band


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Tenor sax legend Johnny Griffin comes home to Chicago every spring to celebrate his birthday with a stint at the Jazz Showcase, where he and his solid quartet conduct a veritable clinic in the blues-drenched bebop many of the city's legends learned from Captain Walter Dyett at DuSable High School. But when he hits town at any other time of year, it's usually for some special project, like a gig at Jazz Fest or this performance at Symphony Center, where he's fronting an 11-piece outfit in a re-creation of the music from the classic 1960 recording The Big Soul-Band (OJC). The album was in some ways his response to the soul-jazz craze of the time, though he never touches the funky vamps that were all the rage. It features rich, brassy, propulsive arrangements, by pianist Norman Simmons, of a variety of gospel standards and spirituals like "Wade in the Water" and "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen" as well as contemporary soul-inflected compositions by Junior Mance, Bobby Timmons, and himself. The soloing is dutifully spread around, but with his huge, burnished tone Griffin steals the show anyway: whether tackling tunes at breakneck speed, as he was wont to do back in the 50s, or navigating ballads with the careful precision of a watchmaker, the Little Giant has never lost his deep connection with the blues. A number of distinguished participants from the original session will be on hand for this gig, including Simmons, the brilliant trumpeter Clark Terry, trombonist Julian Priester, drummer Charli Persip, and bassist Bob Cranshaw. The lineup will be rounded out by trumpeters Don Sickler and Ron Tooley, trombonist Scott Whitfield, and saxophonists Bob Porcelli, Ron Blake, and Gary Smulyan. The Ramsey Lewis Trio opens. Friday, November 17, 8 PM, Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan; 312-294-3000 or 800-223-7114.


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

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