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Dick Griffin, Trombonist
In a career spanning over 30 years, Dick Griffin has performed with some of the biggest names in Jazz and Soul, and has appeared with several symphony orchestras as well. A short list of the luminaries Mr. Griffin has worked with includes: Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Tito Puente, Art Blakey, Charles Mingus, Dizzy Gillespie, McCoy Tyner, Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson, Isaac Hayes, Dionne Warwick, and Lionel Hampton.
Griffin has developed a highly personalized playing style which he calls "circularphonics," a technique that combines the playing of chords on trombone with circular breathing. The expanded range of sounds Griffin creates through his multiphonic technique at times evokes the spirit of such experimental artists as John Coltrane, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, and Sun Ra. Never a follower, however, Griffin has developed a unique style on and for the trombone that goes beyond the influence of even those great musicians.
James Richard Griffin was born and reared in Jackson, Mississippi. His first musical influence was a neighbor known simply as Mr. Jesse. At evening time, all the neighborhood children would stop by to hear Mr. Jesse's impromptu blues guitar compositions with lyrics describing the day's events in rhyme. Griffin began studying piano at age 11 and upon entering high school two years later joined the school's marching band where he learned trombone. His professional career began as a teenager, playing piano and trombone in clubs with drummer classmate Freddie Waits. While in high school he also sang in a doo-wop group which was invited to go on the road and perform with Sam Cooke. In junior college, Griffin won several awards for his arranging skills. In 1963, Griffin graduated from Jackson State University and then pursued graduate studies at Indiana University where he received a Masters Degree in Music Education and Trombone.
It was in Chicago, though, where Griffin met avant-garde jazz giant Sun Ra, that his professional career seriously took off. He spent several summers in the mid-1960s playing with Sun Ra's Arkestra. It was during this period that Griffin first met Rahsaan Roland Kirk, who became a close friend. After moving to New York City in 1967, Griffin made his recording debut with Kirk on the album "The Inflated Tear." As a member of the "Vibration Society," Griffin notated and transcribed music for the sightless Kirk. He went on to record several albums with Kirk, including "Prepare Thyself To Deal With A Miracle," "Rahsaan, Rahsaan," "Left & Right," and "Volunteered Slavery." In the early 1970s, Griffin also played in a big band fronted by the great bassist and composer Charles Mingus. During this year-long association, Mingus provided priceless support by encouraging the young trombonist's writing endeavors. Griffin also spent three years in the house band of the legendary Apollo Theater in Harlem, playing for nearly all the Motown greats, including The Temptations, James Brown and Nancy Wilson.
In 1974, Griffin released his debut album as a leader, "The Eighth Wonder," for Strata-East Records, one of the most successful independent jazz labels of that period. Later, he released "Now Is The Time: The Multiphonic Tribe" for Trident Records. During this period, he also taught music theory and the history of Jazz at Wesleyan University (1975-77) and later at SUNY-Old Westbury (1981-83). In the 1980s, Griffin's career encompassed performances in a wide variety of settings with his own group and with others. As a sideman, Griffin performed with some of the best big band musicians of the time—Benny Bailey, Jimmy Heath, Frank Foster, and Slide Hampton—at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York. Later in the decade, Griffin toured and recorded with the internationally-renowned ensemble "Ekaya," led by South African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim (f/k/a Dollar Brand).
As a composer, Griffin completed the "World Vibration Suite," a work for symphony orchestra premiered by the Brooklyn Philharmonic. In 1986, his third album "A Dream For Rahsaan," was released by Ruby Records to critical acclaim. This inspired him to adapt the album for a symphony orchestra and three saxophones, which was the format he had previously employed for the "World Vibration Suite." During the 1990s, he performed in over a dozen international Jazz festivals, both as a leader and in the bands of such diverse talents as Illinois Jacquet, Sun Ra, Charles Gayle, Hilton Ruiz, and Lionel Hampton. Along with such notable artists as Dizzy Gillespie and Sonny Rollins, Griffin appeared in the Heineken Jazz Festival in Rotterdam and, in 1991, he traveled to Canada to headline Ottawa's International Jazz Festival. The German label, Konnex Records, re-released Griffin's first and third albums in 1994 with additional tracks. Griffin then released "All Blues," his fourth album (on Amasaya Records), which features he novel lineup of trombone, organ, guitar, and drums. In addition to the title track by Miles Davis, Griffin performs five originals plus tunes by Ellington, Horace Silver, and Hampton Hawes, paying tribute to the blues environment in which he was nurtured.
One of the most versatile and inventive musicians of today, Griffin has played with symphony orchestras such as The Harlem Philharmonic and The Symphony Of The New World, and has performed in several Broadway shows including "The Wiz," "Me & Bessie," "Raisin," and "Lena" (starring Lena Horne), as well as in the Paris production of "Black & Blue" (starring Linda Hopkins). He has made many television appearances in the U.S. on shows such as "The Today Show", "Soul", "Faces", "The Ed Sullivan Show", and "Like It Is". He also has appeared in the UK on the BBC and on TV programs in Germany, France, and Italy. Finally, he also appeared in the film "The Cotton Club" and performed on the soundtrack for the movie "Gordon's War".
During the past few years, Griffin has performed more extensively with his own group, the Dick Griffin Organ Ensemble, and he also played at the Uncool Jazz Festival in Switzerland with Charles Gayle in 2001. Griffin has also continued to devote his time to his artwork. His abstract paintings and works on paper have been featured in numerous solo and group exhibitions, private and corporate collections in both the U.S. and Europe. Some of his early pieces grace the covers of each of his four CDs.
We witnessed an artist not beholden to genre labels engaged in enlightening discussion with the audience.