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  • Writer's pictureNina Cherry

Joan Griffith (b. 1950)


Joan Griffith is a teacher, performer and composer who has toured and recorded extensively. Griffith is currently on the faculty at Macalester College, directing MacJazz (big band) and is a studio instructor, teaching electric bass, electric guitar, mandolin, and jazz improvisation. She was formerly the head of the jazz studies department at the University of St. Thomas.

Griffith’s early career began in Kansas City in the 1970s. Griffith was particularly active in two all female bands, both eventually becoming closely affiliated with the Kansas City Women’s Jazz Festival. She played bass in pianist and vocalist Carol Comer’s band, Calico, alongside Lynn Riley on saxophone and flute and Carol Williamson on drums. The members of Calico also served as mentors to many of the young women emerging on the local jazz scene. Griffith also played in a jazz/rock group Pandora (later renamed Airhart) alongside Patty Breitag on saxophone, clarinet and keys, Rebecca Kite on drums (later, Ira Wilkes took over), Jerri Johnson on vibraphone, and Joan Ruisinger on vocals on keys. Griffith also became involved with the Kansas City Women’s Jazz Festival as a member of the house band during this time. Later, she was awarded a teaching position at the University of Arkansas, but still remained an active member of the Kansas City jazz scene.

Pandora in 1974
Promotional material for Calico, courtesy of Lynn Riley
Riley, Griffith and Comer at the KCWJF

Joan’s 2011 CD A Girl Named Vincent with Prudence Johnson, the 2008 jazz CD Sambanova with pianist Laura Caviani, her 2009 CD Alma Brasileira with recorder player Clea Galhano and her CD Enter You, Enter Love, with Lucia Newell feature many of her own compositions. “Enter You, Enter Love” was chosen as one of the top ten best recordings for 1996 by jazz radio station KBEM. Her choral composition “Sweet Noel” won the 1998 Christmas Carol Contest sponsored by the American Composer’s Forum and Vocalessence. Her performances on mandolin include the Minnesota Orchestra‘s recording of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde and as soloist with the South Dakota Symphony on their premiere recording “Journey to the Badlands”. Her mandolin and bass playing can be heard on the many recordings of singer/songwriter Ann Reed. She is also a roster artist in jazz for COMPAS, the Minnesota State Arts Board and Young Audiences.


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