Chris Griffin, a trumpet player who was heard at Carnegie Hall with Benny Goodman and in millions of living rooms with the orchestras on the Ed Sullivan and Jackie Gleason shows, died on June 18 in Danbury, Conn. He was 89 and the cause was melanoma.
Born Gordon Griffin in Binghamton, N.Y., on Oct. 31, 1915, he was the last surviving member of Goodman’s band for his historic Carnegie Hall concert of 1938, the first major jazz event there.
Mr. Griffin was barely out of his teens when he joined the Goodman band. But he was already a seasoned professional, having worked with the saxophonist Charlie Barnet and the singer Rudy Vallee. He was a member of the CBS Radio Orchestra when the impresario John Hammond recommended him to Goodman in 1936.
The Goodman trumpet section was widely admired; no less an authority than Duke Ellington called it the best of all time. But the other members of the section at that time, Harry James and Ziggy Elman, were more flamboyant players and were given more solo opportunities than Mr. Griffin, whose musical style was melodic rather than dramatic and whose personal style was self-effacing rather than self-promoting.
He kept out of the spotlight for practical reasons as well. After he left Goodman in 1939 he was offered financial backing to lead his own band, but he chose to return to his old staff job at CBS because he had two children, with a third on the way.
Mr. Griffin remained primarily a studio musician until he retired in the late 1970’s. On radio and later television at CBS, he played for Sullivan, Gleason and others. (He created the trumpet obbligato heard for many years on Gleason’s theme song.) The long list of performers he accompanied on recordings included Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker and Louis Armstrong.
Mr. Griffin was the subject of a recently published book, “Sittin’ In With Chris Griffin,” by Warren W. Vaché.
He is survived by three sons, Gerald, of Danbury Conn.; Paul, of Jeffersonville, N.Y.; and Thomas, of Glen Cove, N.Y.; two daughters, Patricia E. Griffin of Jeffersonville and Eileen R. Relyea of Bayville, N.Y.; seven grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. His wife of 60 years, Helen, and another son, George, both died in 2000.