Malcolm Griffiths obituary
My friend Malcolm Griffiths, who has died aged 79, was recognized across a career spanning five decades as one of Britain’s finest jazz trombonists. Active with a wide variety of bands, he will be best remembered for his work with Mike Westbrook, Stan Tracey, John Surman and Chris McGregor during an era when the London jazz scene was bursting with creativity.
Malcolm’s energy, imagination and flawless technique made him a trenchant and memorable improviser. He relished the brassy power of his instrument, although his own choice of trombone hero was Lawrence Brown, a stalwart of the Duke Ellington Orchestra noted for his smooth tone and suave delivery.
Born in Barnet, Hertfordshire, the son of Vera (nee Cooper) and Albert Griffiths, an electronics engineer, Malcolm was educated at East Barnet grammar school, where his interest in jazz was encouraged by his art teacher, the poet and sometime trumpeter Jeff Nuttall, and at Loughborough University, where he studied economics.
An early encounter with Surman, a teenage saxophone prodigy from Plymouth, led to an invitation to a rehearsal with Westbrook’s sextet. Malcolm’s relationships with both men would last for many years, as a member of Surman’s much-admired octet and in the various Westbrook bands heard on such classic albums as Release, Marching Song, Metropolis and The Cortège. He toured and recorded with McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath and Tracey’s octet, and was heard on albums by Michael Gibbs and John Warren. He was also a member of Harry Miller’s Isipingo and the Alan Skidmore Quintet, and put together Gil Evans’s orchestra for UK tours.
Malcolm relinquished a day job as a lecturer at the Regent Street Polytechnic in London when Buddy Rich offered him a place in his big band. During an engagement at Ronnie Scott’s in 1970, Rich had fallen out with his lead trombonist, and Malcolm, recruited as a temporary substitute, soon found himself agreeing to return to the US as a permanent replacement.
In Las Vegas several months later he handed in his notice, explaining that he missed the cricket. Resuming his place on the London jazz scene, he was also in demand for recording sessions and tours with a variety of artists, including Björk and George Michael, until ill health forced him to stop playing.
He died at his home in Deal, Kent and is survived by his wife, Bibi (nee Small), whom he had first met in 1968 at a Westbrook gig in south London, and by his two brothers, Colin and Douglas.