WORLD-OBITS-L ArchivesArchiver > WORLD-OBITS > 2005-07 > 1120754807
From: "Peter_McCrae" <>
Subject: GRIFFIN; Gordon Chris-19/6/2005-USA
Date: Thu, 7 Jul 2005 17:46:47 +0100
The Daily Telegraph & the telegraph.co.uk
Chris Griffin, who died on June 19 aged 89, played lead trumpet in the Benny
Goodman orchestra during its peak years of the late 1930s.
The lead trumpet dictates the phrasing and attack of the entire bass section
in a jazz orchestra and is therefore one of its most important members, yet
Griffin was one of the unsung heroes of the swing era. He later worked as a
studio musician before returning to jazz towards the end of his career.
Gordon "Chris" Griffin was born at Binghampton, New York, on October 13
1915. Aged five, he began taking piano lessons, but showed little aptitude
for the instrument and soon gave it up. At 12, he discovered the trumpet and
began playing in his school band, and then played in a local dance band.
His professional life began at 15, with a job in a New York "taxi dance"
hall on a salary of $28 a week. He moved on to Charlie Barnet's orchestra in
1932 and three years later joined the Joe Haynes band, where he met his
future wife, the vocalist Helen O'Brien.
Newly married, and seeking a more settled life, Griffin then joined the CBS
studio orchestra in New York, replacing one of his musical idols, Bunny
Berigan. It was while listening to Berigan playing in a nightclub some
months later that Griffin was approached by Goodman's friend and talent
spotter, John Hammond.
"Chris," said Hammond, "do you think you're ready for the great Benny
Goodman band?" "Benny's band was really big league," Griffin remembered.
"With more than a little trepidation and a lot of youthful nerve, I said I
Eventually, Griffin found himself leading Goodman's three-man trumpet
section, sitting between two of the most flamboyant players in the business,
Ziggy Elman and Harry James. Griffin recalled Elman as "one of the loudest
trumpet players I ever heard. He was just a natural player. If he stopped to
think about it I doubt if he could have done it." Goodman was famously
demanding as a leader.
"During the four years I was with Benny," said Griffin, "I handed in my
notice several times, but he always offered me more money to stay.
Eventually, all this extra money gave me the same salary as Harry and Ziggy
and Gene Krupa. Benny knew he couldn't break me and we both accepted that
we'd have to get along together somehow."
As a gesture of truce, Goodman gave Griffin his own solo feature, Boy Meets
Horn, which was recorded in 1939. During his time with Goodman, Griffin
played on hundreds of recordings and radio broadcasts and appeared in the
films The Big Broadcast of 1937 and Hollywood Hotel. He also managed to
record occasional sessions with other jazz stars, including Teddy Wilson and
Leaving Goodman in September 1939, Griffin returned to the CBS studios,
where he remained for the next 30 years. He also worked a great deal as a
freelance. Although mostly confined to section-leading, he did record the
occasional solo, among them the brief muted-trumpet passage on Charlie
Parker's Autumn In New York.
He sometimes took leave of absence to play with other bands, and made a
number of brief returns to the Goodman ranks. He was a member of the band
which recorded the soundtrack for the film The Benny Goodman Story in 1955.
Mostly, however, his work consisted of playing for television programmes
like The Ed Sullivan Show. He acknowledged that this could become
"narrowing" and admitted to having become "pretty soured on the music
business" by the end of his time at CBS.
In 1966, Griffin and his fellow-trumpeter Pee Wee Irwin set up their own
trumpet school, which they ran for four years. In 1974, he toured Europe
with the posthumous Tommy Dorsey "ghost band", under the leadership of
trombonist Warren Covington.
"I was enough of a professional musician to play parts and understand them,"
Griffin told an interviewer in 1976, "but I didn't have any interest to play
jazz. Over the past year or two I have begun to regain this interest."
As opportunities for studio musicians began to decline in the 1970s, he took
to working with a small jazz group at mountain resorts in Pennsylvania, and
in New York jazz clubs with a band of his contemporaries, including Pee Wee
Irwin, Marty Napoleon and Milt Hinton.
Griffin retired from music in the 1990s. His wife Helen predeceased him in
© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2005.
|GRIFFIN; Gordon Chris-19/6/2005-USA by "Peter_McCrae" <>|