Saturday Night Tunes: A Blowin’ Session

Oh, hi there. I know it’s been quiet around here, and for that you can blame Mother Nature for unleashing her fury (which in the case of Northern Virginia means any snowfall greater than an inch or temperatures in the low double digits), which meant there was exactly one day of school this week.

I aim to get back to writing more next week, though what form that will take isn’t totally clear to me yet, but I didn’t want to let another Saturday pass without sharing a few tunes. On the other hand, seeing as how I’m writing this about 45 minutes before it’s supposed to go up, whereas usually I do these posts well in advance, it seemed like a good idea to pick an album that you, or more accurately me, didn’t have to think too much about, just something fun and good. Hence this week’s album is A Blowin’ Session, by Johnny Griffin, or Johnny Griffin Vol. 2 if you want to be technical about it. Griffin’s second album for Blue Note (which explains the “vol. 2”), A Blowin’ Session was recorded and released in 1957, right around the time Griffin was playing with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. And just to make things easier, apparently somebody else had the very same idea to blog about this album on a Saturday night a couple of years ago, so I can just link you to his description if you want more details. Heck, check out that guy’s entire site; he’s apparently been doing this Saturday jazz thing for a while now and it’s some pretty great stuff.

For an album that doesn’t get a lot of “must have” buzz, A Blowin’ Session includes kind of an all star lineup of artists: in Griffin is joined on tenor by one of his Jazz Messengers predecessors, Hank Mobley, and by John Coltrane, with Lee Morgan on trumpet, Wynton Kelly (who would join Miles Davis a couple of years later) on piano, the amazing Paul Chambers (who was already playing with Davis) on bass, and Blakey on drums. The main attraction is obviously the three tenors (no, not those guys), which apparently came together entirely by accident when Coltrane ran into the rest of the group while they were on their way to the studio. Never underestimate the power of sheer dumb luck.

The album starts off with the Jerome Kern/Dorothy Fields standard, “The Way You Look Tonight,” although this version is definitely not the ballad you might expect going in. Griffin plays the melody followed by a blistering solo, before giving way to Morgan, Mobley, Coltrane, and a little exchange with Blakey:

Next up is a Johnny Griffin original, “Ball Bearing,” whose melody really gives you the full effect of a horn section featuring three tenors (no, not those guys, Jesus) and a trumpet. Coltrane really tears into this medium tempo number:

Back into standard territory, we get “All the Things You Are,” written by Jerome Kern (man that guy was busy) and Oscar Hammerstein II. Coltrane is again amazing, but I think Morgan (who doesn’t get the credit he deserves for being an all-time trumpet superstar) steals the tune here, and he feeds Mobley the hook for his solo to boot. Chambers also gets a solo here, and is typically great:

Finally we have “Smoke Stack,” another original by Griffin, a meaty blues that features Kelly in the opening and lets everybody stretch out in their solos:


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