I have come late to the amazing playing of Sydney’s Michael Griffin. Walking into an Andrew Dickerson Quintet gig off the street I was floored by this pale young man utterly flying on that most nimble of the jazz horns–the alto.
It seems I am just one in a long line of admirers, many notable, of Griffin’s mastery. US jazz legend Jimmy Heath has said:“Michael Griffin is a fine saxophonist who loves Charlie Parker’s style as I did when I did”;and none other than Vincent Herring sums it all up well when he says: “Michael Griffin has his feet firmly rooted in tradition and his ear leaning towards the future”.
The judges at Washington DC’s 2103 Thelonious Monk International Saxophone Competition obviously agreed, voting Griffin through to the semifinals.
Griffin’s debut album,‘Unexpected Greeting’showcases his startling playing. It also expressed so much of what is good and eternal about jazz–swing, verve, colour and that jumping joy that be-bop encapsulated so well.
As well as six Griffin originals – standouts are the hard driving opener, ‘Hotel Hollywood’ and the fleet and blazing ‘Flair’ (reminiscent of Art Pepper’s frantic ‘Surf Ride’) – the Quintet covers four standards, with guest vocalist Briana Cowlishaw giving a lovely rendering of ‘Almost Like Being In Love’ and ‘I Didn’t Know What Time It Was’, getting deep inside the wit and the urbane poetry of the lyric on each.
AustralianJazz.net asked Michael Griffin six questions about his art and his album. Here are his responses:
AustralianJazz.net: Are you happy with the way your debut album, Unexpected Greeting turned out?
Michael Griffin: Yes, I am very happy with the way my album has turned out. I feel there is something in it for everyone which is really what I want. I want to do what I love and I will never compromise what I love and the way I play but at the same time I always have a desire for everyone to enjoy my music – hardcore jazz fans and also someone who doesn’t know much about jazz. I always hope that I can somehow appeal to everyone.
AJ: Your playing and compositions obviously reflect the influence of Charlie Parker and the hard bop players like Cannonball Adderley. Who is of particularly influence in shaping your conception?
MG: As mentioned, I clearly am greatly influenced by Charlie Parker and Cannonball Adderley;I also really love Sonny Rollins so much andof course, Coltrane. I never get tired of learning from all of them. In more recent times, I have also really enjoyed studying the work of Kenny Garrett and Vincent Herring.I love so much the modern bop players, especially Kenny and Vincent. One group I love is Vincent and Eric Alexander together;now, those guys really cook. Hard swinging players which are constantly building and taking from previous influences to keep swinging hard and using the bop language as it develops.
AJ: What is it to you about hard-swinging, bop-flavoured jazz that you prefer over other forms of jazz?
MG:Ienjoy virtually all jazz, however the jazz that speaks to me the most and gets me passionate is the hard swinging bop.It’s an amazing language which to me is the absolute best part of jazz. Full of the blues, soul, the entire jazz language. When you have a band that’s cooking and really swinging and someone that is just locking in with that groove and burning full of ideas, to me nothing better. It’s the music I hear in my head all the time.There are so many great things in jazz, however thebestof all is that addictive swing feel. People lose sight of that and it’s the worst thing to lose. Out of all the things in jazz that is the most powerful thing in jazz which can hook in anybody. It’s never uncool to swing. But it has to be done well.When it’s done properly, with energy and intensity andpassion, it’s the most incredible ride that I always envisage myself being a part of.
AJ: Why did you choose to add the vocal tracks to the recording?
MG: Adding vocal tracks to the album was a decision I made, number one, because I thought it sounded good;it’s fun to mix things up. Also, because people like vocals, they connect with them and I always want to give everyone something they can grab onto and get something out of what I’m doing. If I can give them something they can hold on to, then they can stick with me for the rest of the journey, and are open to hearing other adventures Imay introduce them to. I want to take everyone with me, not just the purists.
AJ: What are your thoughts on music in general and jazz in particular today?
MG: There is always good music being made;jazz will never die. Too many passionate people which always fall in love with this music and dedicate their lives to it. It’s not something which you just listen to every now and then. When you get bitten by the jazz bug it takes over your life. The only thing I will say is for people to try and make the same effort presenting jazz to audiences that other artists do presenting rock or pop etc. I love bands that make the effort to get people’s attention and keep them interested in jazz, There are a few out there, but I especially liked the Brassholes, showing people that horn sections don’t just belong at band camp but could make today’s pop tunes sound awesome. It also makes jazz seem less foreign. A great idea and people loved what they were doing. We’re playing somewhat challenging music but let’s do all we can to invite people in and take them with us.
AJ: What is next for Michael Griffin?
MG: I’m looking to hopefully move to New York soon. I had an amazing time last time I was there and I want to live there, develop myself and get as good as I can and see how far up the world Jazz ladder I can climb.
Michael Griffin Quintet is:
Michael Griffin – Alto Saxophone
Dane Laborie – Trumpet
Chris Long – Piano
Brendan Clark – Bass
Tim Geldens – Drums
With Briana Cowlishaw – vocal