Dream for Rashaan
Dick Griffin is one of today's leading trombone players. 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. Never a follower, Griffin has moved beyond the course set by these pioneering giants to develop a unique style on and for an instrument which has hardly been the most widely used in modern Jazz. This is his story . . . 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, 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. 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 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 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 and later at SUNY-Old Westbury. He was also the recipient of several grants from the National Endowment for the Arts. 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. In 1986, his third album, A Dream For Rahsaan, was released by Ruby Records to critical acclaim. Encouraged by his previous success with the World Vibration Suite, Griffin has been working on the adaption of this album for another major symphonic composition. 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. 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 the 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 which pay 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, 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.
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