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Put a few trombonists together and the talk will inevitably come around to mouthpieces and multiphonics. Dick Griffin is one of the most respected players of the long brass horn whose employers include dozens of big names in jazz. He is considered one of the greats at producing multiphonics and has most likely created lots of new conversational material for his colleagues by inventing a playing technique he calls "circularphonics." The bright sound of Griffin, lavishly rich in overtones, is most often associated with Rahsaan Roland Kirk's classic albums on Atlantic; the trombonist has also produced several albums as a bandleader in which the collaboraters include the mighty multi-instrumentalist Sam Rivers.
He was born James Richard Griffin, grew up in the heart of the Mississippi Delta and recalls a neighborhood bluesman who called himself Mr. Jesse as a major early inspiration. Griffin began piano studies at age 11 but found the trombone a more appropriate choice with which to enlist in the high-school marching band several years later. By the time he was in junior college he had branched out into arranging, possibly as a way of scoring more solo space for himself. Griffin began gigging professionally as a teenager, handling both piano and trombone in various local clubs where one of his schoolboy musical partners was the patient drummer Freddie Waits. Griffin also sang in a doo wop group during his early years.
Graduating in 1963, Griffin began teaching high school and worked on his master's degree in trombone. He met Sun Ra in Chicago and while the promised trip to outer space never came about, it was certainly an auspicious and influential meeting. Griffin spent many a summer in the '60s on tour with Sun Ra's Arkestra and thereby began his career in modern jazz as a sideman of note. Kirk came into his orbit soon thereafter, Griffin relocating to New York City and making his recording debut on Kirk's brilliant album for Atlantic entitled The Inflated Tear. Griffin made nine albums with Kirk, not counting the posthumously released collections, and was an important part of the Kirk combo known as the Vibration Society. In the '70s, the trombonist played with Charles Mingus and spent three years as part of the house band at Harlem's Apollo Theater, backing up just about every R&B great in the process.
The Eighth Wonder, Griffin's debut as a leader, was released in 1974 on Strata East Records. While multiphonics, the art of playing more than one note at once on a horn, was directly inspired by Kirk's playing abilities, Griffin's "circularphonics" actually combines multiphonics with circular breathing, another favorite subject of musicians whose instruments are placed between their lips. Griffin has alternative ways of passing hot air, so to speak, including writing a piece for symphony orchestra, the "World Vibration Suite." It was premiered by the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra in the '80s and was later reworked on a Griffin recording. His own group headlining at several major jazz festivals in the '90s, Griffin has also enjoyed the reissue of several of his out of print recordings as a leader. His excellent paintings are sometimes used for cover art on his own releases such as A Dream for Rahsaan.