JJ 07/81: Johnny Griffin Quartet at Ronnie Scott’s

Forty years ago, Mike Hennessey witnessed the Little Giant taking definitive control of the stand at Ronnie's, impelled by Ronnie Mathews, Ray Drummond and Kenny Washington. First published in Jazz Journal July 1981

Johnny Griffin in London, February 1980. Photo © Brian O'Connor

Inspired and constantly challenged by the leader – whose waspish and unremittingly inventive tenor style has never been heard to better advantage – Ronnie Mathews on piano, Ray Drummond on bass and Kenny Washington on drums constantly build excitement and also reveal impressive depths of musicality and instrumental command in their solo spots.

Mathews is a most accomplished pianist – strong, harmonically adventurous, rhythmically faultless. In addition, he is no mean composer – as demonstrated by his original Jeanne Marie, a most striking 3/4 piece.

Ray Drummond’s impressive physical stature seems to give him total command over the bass and to eliminate any possibility of problems from the sheer manual strain of playing. As well as offering excellent time, tone and lines in his accompaniment, he revealed prolific creativity as a soloist.

And 23-year-old Kenny Washington, who impressed so much on his first visit to Ronnie’s with the Griffin group, just has to be one of the finest drummers in the business – subtle, supple and as crisp as a cracker, he swings the band with total commitment and admirable style. A delight to see and hear.

As for Griffin himself, he fizzes and sparkles and burns with musical energy and generally plays his bottle off. A tireless improviser, a spectacular technician, a restless swinger – he also plays with rare wit and feeling.