All About Jazz

Home » Articles » Profiles

Dear All About Jazz Readers,

If you're familiar with All About Jazz, you know that we've dedicated over two decades to supporting jazz as an art form, and more importantly, the creative musicians who make it. Our enduring commitment has made All About Jazz one of the most culturally important websites of its kind in the world reaching hundreds of thousands of readers every month. However, to expand our offerings and develop new means to foster jazz discovery we need your help.

You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky Google ads PLUS deliver exclusive content and provide access to future articles for a full year! This combination will not only improve your AAJ experience, it will allow us to continue to rigorously build on the great work we first started in 1995. Read on to view our project ideas...


Malcolm Griffiths: A Man For All Seasons

Malcolm Griffiths: A Man For All Seasons
Duncan Heining By

Sign in to view read count
We talk often of the stars, like 'Trane and Miles. We remember the bandleaders, such as Basie and Duke. We even recall the composers and arrangers, Ellington again, Gil Evans and Monk. And we never forget those star soloists like Johnny Hodges or Lester Young. But the guys in the machine room, the guys who make their leaders' visions real time and again are all too often just an afterthought.

Yet stop and think about what made those records special and made you go back time and again to hear some of their most perfect moments. How many of those came from a Lawrence Brown or a Bubber Miley or a Harry "Sweets" Edison. And no matter the country or the era, the boys in the back room have been there making it happen.

This is a story about one of those guys—the British trombonist Malcolm Griffiths. Not a household name in jazz terms, perhaps, but a fine servant of the music. He added to an approach derived from J.J. Johnson, the more bizarre sounds of the avant-garde and some of that New Orleans—Chicago tailgate trombone. Griff came of age in the sixties, playing in all the major bands of that era and beyond. He's there on most of Mike Westbrook's albums up to and including The Cortège (1982) and on more John Surman records than you can shake a stick at, if that's your idea of fun. You can hear him on Graham Collier's ground-breaking New Conditions and Symphony of Scorpions (1977) and was a regular feature with Stan Tracey's Octet. He even worked and toured with the Buddy Rich Orchestra in the late sixties and early seventies.

Sadly, Griff's mighty voice is silent now. Health problems with diabetes forced him to give up music some years ago but that cannot detract from the fondness in which he is held by British jazz musicians and fans. I interviewed Griff recently for a biography of Graham Collier and it was an opportunity to talk about and celebrate his career in jazz. As with so many musicians who came up in those years, Griffiths' introduction to jazz began in his teens at school.

"This is going to sound odd but I used to belong to a jazz club at East Barnet Grammar School," he tells me. "I had started doing a bit of playing around the area and got a call one day from someone who used to go to the local club. He was teaching art at another local school and he was instrumental in getting me to play with a band that one of his sixth formers ran. They had a gig at the Café des Artistes. I went along and they invited me to join the band."

It was at one of these gigs that Griff met a musician who would have a major impact upon his future direction in life, as he explains,

"One day, the baritone player couldn't make it and they had sent along this young chap who had come up from Plymouth. It was John Surman. John kindly invited me to go down and rehearse with Mike Westbrook and as a result I joined Mike's sextet. I have to say that John has been so important in the careers of so many musicians—certainly was in my case. The work I did with John was absolutely wonderful."

For several years, Griffiths pursued a dual career—jazz musician by night and at weekends and university lecturer by day. It was another chance occurrence that finally made him jump ship and plump for jazz over academia.

"One of the early gigs I did was with Buddy Rich," he tells me. "Buddy had come over with his band and, as was his wont, he had had a row with his lead trombone player. Dankworth's agency was given a call and I got invited to go down and play with him at Ronnie Scott's. The second night in, he said, 'Do you want to come back to the States with me?' At the time, I was lecturing in Economic Development. They wanted me to lecture full-time and do an exam-based PhD. I thought, 'Sod that!' I was determined never to take another exam in my life. If you had the choice between lecturing on Economic Development or touring with Buddy Rich, what would you do? I went with Buddy."

Buddy Rich stories are the stuff of jazz legend. However, Griff enjoyed his time with the orchestra. "I liked Buddy, I thought he was a very nice man," he says and continues, "He did seem to take quite a lot from me. There was an issue about coming in after a drum solo. We had to have somebody giving us a count, otherwise we didn't know when to come in. We had a meeting in the band to talk about this problem but I didn't realise that Buddy's daughter was in the room listening. That night I got a drum stick up my arse with Buddy saying, 'Is that alright, Malcolm?'"


Related Video

comments powered by Disqus

Related Articles

Read Aretha Franklin, The Lady Soul: 1942 - 2018 Profiles
Aretha Franklin, The Lady Soul: 1942 - 2018
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: August 17, 2018
Read Remembering Tomasz Stanko Profiles
Remembering Tomasz Stanko
by AAJ Staff
Published: July 29, 2018
Read SFJAZZ: Decades After, Five Years In Profiles
SFJAZZ: Decades After, Five Years In
by Arthur R George
Published: July 19, 2018
Read Kuumbwa And The Magic of Monday Night Profiles
Kuumbwa And The Magic of Monday Night
by Arthur R George
Published: July 2, 2018
Read On Stage at JALC: Paul Jost Profiles
On Stage at JALC: Paul Jost
by Suzanne Lorge
Published: June 23, 2018
Read Rebecca Parris: 1951-2018 Profiles
Rebecca Parris: 1951-2018
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: June 22, 2018
Read "SFJAZZ: Decades After, Five Years In" Profiles SFJAZZ: Decades After, Five Years In
by Arthur R George
Published: July 19, 2018
Read "Cecil Taylor: 1929-2018" Profiles Cecil Taylor: 1929-2018
by Karl Ackermann
Published: April 7, 2018
Read "Mike Osborne: Force Of Nature - Part 1-2" Profiles Mike Osborne: Force Of Nature - Part 1-2
by Barry Witherden
Published: November 2, 2017
Read "BassDrumBone and the New Haven Jazz Renaissance" Profiles BassDrumBone and the New Haven Jazz Renaissance
by Daniel Barbiero
Published: September 4, 2017