Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians
Griffin, Dick (James Richard)
Griffin has studied with Bessie Marie (piano, 1951), Kermit Holly (trombone, band, Lanier High School, 1953-1958), Louis Lee (arranging, trombone, Utica Junior College 1958-60), Prof. William W. Davis (arranging, trombone, Jackson State, 1960-63), Louis Van Haney (trombone, Indiana University 1965-67), David Baker (Jazz Improvisation, Indiana University 1965-67), Carmine Caruso (trombone, 1969-82) and Bill Fielder (brass techniques 1987-88).
Raised 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, two years later, upon entering high school joined the school's marching band where he learned trombone.
His professional career began as a teenager, playing piano and trombone in clubs with classmate Freddie Waits on drums. He also sang in a doo-wop group which, upon winning a competition, was asked to tour with Sam Cooke. In college, Griffin won several awards for his arranging skills. In 1963, Griffin graduated from Jackson State University and taught for two years in Columbia Mississippi. One of his students was the great running back, Walter Payton. Griffin then pursued his graduate studies at Indiana University where he received a Masters Degree in Music Education and Trombone.
It was in Chicago, however, 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 also during this period that Griffin first met Rahsaan Roland Kirk, who would become 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.
In the early 1970s, Griffin 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, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Isaac Hayes and Gladys Knight.
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 at the Lake Placid Winter Olympics with some of the best big band musicians of the time -- Benny Bailey, Jimmy Heath, Frank Foster, and Slide Hampton. Later in the decade, Griffin toured and recorded with the internationally-renowned ensemble Ekaya, led by South African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim (a/k/a Dollar Brand). As a composer, Griffin completed the World Vibration Suite, a work for a symphony orchestra and jazz quartet which was premiered by the Brooklyn Philharmonic.
During the 1990s, he performed in over a dozen international Jazz festivals, both as a leader and as a sideman with such diverse talents as Illinois Jacquet, Sun Ra, Hilton Ruiz, and Lionel Hampton. Along with such notable artists as Dizzy Gillespie and Sonny Rollins, Griffin appeared in the Heineken Jazzfestival in Rotterdam and, in 1991, he traveled to Canada to headline Ottawa's International Jazz Festival.
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, Jazz Corner, The Ed Sullivan Show, Like It Is and New York Undercover. 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 contributed to the soundtrack for the movie Gordon's War.
For the past few years, Griffin has performed more extensively with his own group, the Dick Griffin Organ Ensemble. In 2001, he played at the Uncool Jazz Festival in Switzerland with Charles Gayle. Griffin has also continued to devote some of his time to painting. His expressionistic artwork graces the covers of each of his four CDs, and has appeared in numerous solo and group exhibitions in both the U.S. and Europe.
In a career spanning over 30 years, he has performed with some of the biggest names in Jazz and Soul, as well as appearing with several symphony orchestras. 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, James Brown, Harry Belafonte, Michael Jackson, and Lionel Hampton.
Griffin has developed a highly personalized playing style which he calls "circularphonics." His ability to combine playing chords on the trombone with circular breathing is unrivaled among Jazz trombonists. The expanded range of simultaneous sounds Griffin creates through his multiphonic technique sometimes evokes the spirit of such experimental Jazz musicians as John Coltrane, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, and Sun Ra. He has had teaching experience at Jefferson High School, Columbia Mississippi, (Instrumental music), Wesleyan University, (Artist in Residence, Music Theory and Composition, History of Jazz), SUNY Old Westbury, (Music Theory and Composition, History of Jazz) and JHS 56, Manhattan (Orchestral Music).
Eighth Wonder and More; A Dream for Rahsaan and More; Now Is The Time; All Blues
Muhal Richard Abrams: The Hearing Suite; Harry Belafonte: Paradise in Gazankulu; George Benson: Body Talk: Stanley Cowell: Set Up, Steeplechase; Gloria Coleman: Sings and Swings Organ; Hank Crawford: Midnight Ramble; Joey DeFrancesco: Where Were You?;Charles Earland: Intensity, Charles III; Frank Foster: The Loud Minority; Johnny Hammond: The Prophet; Lionel Hampton: 90th Birthday Celebration; Billy Harper: Capra Black; Linda Hopkins: Me and Bessie; Abdullah Ibrahim: Ekaya, Water From An Ancient Well; Sam Jones: Something New; Rahsaan Roland Kirk: The Inflated Tear, Left & Right, Volunteered Slavery, Rahsaan, Rahsaan, Blacknuss, Prepare Thyself To Deal With A Miracle, Live in Paris, Volumes I and II; Les McCann: Comment; Jack McDuff: Who Knows What Tomorrow's; Esther Phillips: From a Whisper To A Scream; Sun Ra: A Song For The Sun; Hilton Ruiz: El Camino, Strut, Island Eyes; Archie Shepp: Attica Blues Big Band: Live in Europe; Leon Thomas: Blues and the Soulful Truth; McCoy Tyner: Inner Voices, Song For The New World; Bobby Watson: Estimated Time of Arrival
Radio and television broadcasts:
"Brother with Perfect Timing" - Performed in this documentary about Abdullah Ibrahim
"Cotton Club" - Performed and acted
"Live from the Knitting Factory" - BET Jazz: Art Davis and the Circle of Five (2002)
"Live from the Knitting Factory" - BET Jazz: Sun Ra Arkestra (1999)
"Jazz Corner", a Public Access cable show in New York City (1994-98): Live performance of the Dick Griffin Quintet
"D'Art & Style with Dee Winfield" - a Public Access Cable show in New York City
"An Interview with Dick Griffin" (2002)
"An Interview with Dick Griffin" by Jasper McGruder WBAI radio, NYC, 2001
Gordon's War (performed on the soundtrack)
Driving Fish (composed an performed the soundtrack)
(There is an entire archive which is too numerous to list)
Bright Moments/Rahsaan Roland Kirk - by John Kruth
Top Brass - by Bob Bernotas
www.dickgriffin.info - webpage
Hittin'theweb.com - guest webpage (November-December 2002)
Fellowships and Awards:
1963 Student Arranger Award, Jackson State University
National Endowment for the Arts Jazz fellowship Grant
1977 Beale Street Music Award
National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Fellowship Grant
1982 Proclamation from Mayor's Office, Jackson Mississippi, for Musical Contributions; Key to the City of Akron Ohio
1992 BMI Composers Workshop Fellowship
Star Award for Achievement in the Performing and Visual Arts,
Jackson State Alumni Association
Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition Award
"Tyner Time in Philly " Award