Johnny Griffin, the tenor saxophonist who moved to Europe in the 1960s, is back in the States for another of his occasional tours. Tuesday and Wednesday he took over the bandstand at Donte’s.

Known as “The Little Giant,” Griffin is no midget; a shortish but stocky figure, he brings to the horn a powerful, technically adroit approach that occasionally evokes his one-time partner Eddie (Lockjaw) Davis. Perhaps because almost his entire career has been spent working in small combo settings, with few colleagues to share the responsibilities, he developed long ago the ability to weave lengthy solos that manage to retain their interest and sense of continuity.

Such was the case Tuesday when he began by easing into some 20 choruses of fast-paced blues that soon became a torrential yet logical flow of notes. His timing is flawless, his sound strong in the Sonny Rollins tradition.


Griffin’s companions were three vocal musicians, all well-suited to his requirements: Gildo Mahones, a pianist in the post-bop tradition, Larry Gales on bass and Sherman Ferguson on drums. Gales has an advantage over many jazz bassists in that he has masterful control of the bow, which he employs for about half his solos.

Predictably, the group, having had very little time for rehearsal, restricted itself for the most part to common denominator songs such as “If I Should Lose You” and “Lover Man.” On the latter, Griffin at one point silenced the rhythm section and played an entire chorus unaccompanied--swinging without a net, so to speak.

He also brought along the music for a few of his originals, reminding the audience in “Waltz With Sweetie” that he can create beguiling melodies with unpredictable chord patterns.

Although it would have been more rewarding to hear him in an organized setting, Griffin’s bold approach to the horn was as impressive as ever, particularly to fellow saxophonists in the house. Expatriation has done nothing to lessen the stature of The Little Giant.