John Arnold Griffin III (April 24, 1928 – July 25, 2008) was an American bop and hard bop tenor saxophonist. Griffin studied music at DuSable High School in Chicago under Walter Dyett, starting out on clarinet before moving on to oboe and then alto sax. While still at high school at age 15, Griffin was playing with T-Bone Walker in a band led by Walker’s brother. Alto saxophone was still his instrument of choice when he joined Lionel Hampton’s big band three days after his high school graduation, but Hampton encouraged him to take up the tenor, playing alongside Arnett Cobb. He first appeared on a Los Angeles recording with Hampton’s band in 1945 at age 17. By mid-1947, Griffin and fellow Hampton band member Joe Morris had formed a sextet made up of local musicians, including George Freeman, where he remained for the next two years. His playing can be heard on various early Rhythm and Blues recordings for Atlantic Records. By 1951 Griffin was playing baritone saxophone in an R&B sextet led by former bandmate Arnett Cobb. After returning to Chicago from two years in the Army, Griffin began establishing a reputation as one of the premiere saxophonists in that city. Thelonious Monk enthusiastically encouraged Orrin Keepnews of Riverside Records to sign the young tenor, but before he could act Blue Note Records had signed Griffin. He joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in 1957, and his recordings from that time include a memorable album joining together the Messengers and Thelonious Monk. Griffin then succeeded John Coltrane as a member of Monk’s Five Spot quartet; he can be heard on the albums Thelonious in Action and Misterioso.
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