Dick Griffin is one of today's leading trombone pioneers. In a career spanning over 50 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, Benny Bailey, Jimmy Heath, Frank Foster, Lionel Hampton, Abdullah Ibrahim (f/k/a Dollar Brand) & "Ekaya", Sam River, Archie Shepp, Cecil Taylor, Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson, Isaac Hayes, Dionne Warwick.
A master technician on the trombone, Griffin has developed a highly personalized playing style that he calls "circularphonics". Inspired by his close friend and mentor Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Griffin’s "circularphonics" technique mimics Kirk’s unique ability to play multiple instruments simultaneously without having to stop to breathe. Griffin’s technique achieves this sonic feat on a single trombone by combining circular breathing with multiphonics. The expanded range of simultaneous sounds Griffin creates through his technique evokes the true spirit of such experimental jazz musicians as John Coltrane, Sun Ra, and Rahsaan Roland Kirk. 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.
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. While in high school, he also sang in a doo-wop group that 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.
Griffin’s professional performing career advanced further when he met avant-garde jazz giant Sun Ra in Chicago. 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 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 also played in a big band fronted by the great bassist and composer Charles Mingus. During this yearlong association, Mingus provided priceless support by encouraging the young trombonist's writing endeavors. Around the same time 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.
One of the most versatile and inventive musicians of today, Griffin has played with symphony orchestras such as The Harlem Philharmonic, The Symphony Of The New World, and the Brooklyn Philharmonic. As a composer, the Brooklyn Philharmonic premiered Griffin’s work for symphony orchestra and jazz quartet entitled the “World Vibration Suite”. As a Broadway pit musician Griffin has performed in several 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".
An avid music and art educator, Griffin taught music theory and jazz history Wesleyan University (1975-77) and later at SUNY-Old Westbury (1981-83). Currently, Griffin gives clinics and master classes at collages and schools across the world.
Griffin has also developed a side career as a visual artist. 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. Like his music, Griffin’s paintings are influenced from his experience. “When you hear me play, what I put out there is what I’ve experienced; and when I paint, I put the same thing on canvas-in a different way” said Griffin.
Currently based in New York City, Griffin performs regularly in a variety of concerts, clubs, and other venues. Always independent, he collaborates and participates in global projects with musicians from many countries, exploring possibilities of new media and the internet. Griffin has had the opportunity to perform, tour, and exhibit his art in countries all over the world including Switzerland, Greece, Kenya, Japan, Austria, Venezuela, Cuba, and Sweden. In recent years, Griffin is the bandleader and collaborator of six projects: The Dick Griffin and Michael Wimberly Duo, The Trombone Trio featuring Joe McPhee and Steve Swell, The Dick Griffin Homage to Sun Ra Band, The Dick Griffin Rahsaan Roland Kirk Tribute Ensemble, The Dick Griffin Quintet, and the Dick Griffin Organ Ensemble.
Awards & Recognitions
National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Fellowship Grant (1976-77)
National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Fellowship Grant (1980-81)
BMI Composers Workshop Fellowship (1992)
Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition (2002)
International Association of Jazz Educators (IAJE) Outstanding Performance Award (2004)
Notable Performances & Gallery Exhibitions
Heineken Jazz Festival, Rotterdam the Netherlands
Ottawa International Jazz Festival, Canada
The 1980 Winter Olympics with the Frank Foster Dream Band, Lake Placid NY
San Jose Jazz Festival, CA
Havana Jazz Festival, Cuba
Pori Jazz Festival, Finland
Nice Jazz Festival, France
North Sea Jazz Festival, the Netherlands
Umbria Jazz Festival, Italy
Jazz Festival Wien, Austria
Molde Jazz Festival, Norway
Jazz à Vienne, France
Festival International de Jazz de Montreal, Canada
Montreux Jazz Festival, Switzerland
Winter Jazzfest, NYC
The Chicago Jazz Festival, Illinois
Newport Jazz Festival, Rhode Island
Jazzfestival Saalfelden, Austria
Lugano Estival Jazz, Switzerland
Edgefest, Ann Arbor MI
Vision Festival, NYC
Earshot Jazz Festival, Seattle WA
Uncool Jazz Festival, Switzerland
"Improve” television broadcast, Caracas Venezuela
The Armory Show, NYC
The Guggenheim, NYC
Studio 38, Vienna Austria
The Havana Art Museum, Cuba
Museum of Modern Art, NYC
Dick Griffin "The Eighth Wonder" (Strata-East Records, 1974)
Dick Griffin "Now Is The Time: The Multiphonic Tribe" (Trident Records, 1979)
Dick Griffin “A Dream For Rahsaan" (Ruby Records, 1985)
Dick Griffin “All Blues" (Ruby Records, 2003)
Dick Griffin “Time Will Tell” (Ruby Records, 2011)
Dick Griffin “Homage to Sun Ra ” (Ruby Records, 2014)