RAYFORD GRIFFIN is internationally respected as among the most inventive, volcanic, and versatile drummers in music, having amassed stellar credits over the course of his career.
This amazing percussionist, composer, and producer has roots that extend back to the most revolutionary era of jazz – be bop – thanks to his uncle, the great trumpeter/composer Clifford Brown.
Indeed, it was being made purposefully aware of his uncle’s music very early in life by his mother Geneva Brown Griffin, Clifford’s sister, and Clifford’s widow, Rayford’s aunt Larue Brown Watson, that deeply influenced Rayford to become the far reaching musician that he is today.
Rayford Griffin was born February 6, 1958, in Indianapolis, Indiana, to a minister father Reverend Thomas J. Griffin and a vocalist mother Geneva Brown who was a Howard University classical music graduate. His music appreciation started early. It was the drum solos of Art Blakey and Max Roach on albums by his late, lamented uncle, trumpeter Clifford Brown, that lured him to the drums.
Rayford got his first drum, a marching field snare, at the age of 10 and played in his grade school marching band and orchestra. He got his first full set of drums at the age of 13.
From the 8th grade through high school, he studied with Tom Akins, principle timpanist for the Indianapolis Symphony, who provided Rayford with a polished precision on drum set, snare and tympani that would give him a lifelong edge. Tom gave Rayford a firm understanding of the drumming he was hearing and all the technical information to be able to play it.
Aside from a brief flirtation with the trombone in high school, drums have remained Rayford’s primary instrument.
Rayford was raised on a steady diet of uncle Clifford’s classics, the purely classical recordings of, Brahms, Mozart and Tchaikovsky, the symphonic soul of Isaac Hayes, the earth blues basics of Jimi Hendrix and Buddy Miles, and the revolutionary jazz-rock fusion of Billy Cobham and Lenny White in the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Return to Forever, respectively.
While attending Shortridge High School in Indianapolis Rayford found himself in a group called “Tarnished Silver” one of the many R&B bands he played in as a teen in the mid-70s. This group also included a young Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds and Daryl Simmons, to date multi platinum and grammy award winning songwriters. Rayford even sang lead on songs such as “Can’t Hide Love” and WAR’s “Slippin Into Darkness.”
In 1976 Rayford studied at Indiana State University as a music major in percussion. During his first year he won Best Drummer honors at three collegiate jazz ensemble competitions, including the Elmhurst Jazz Festival.
In 1977 this led him to joining the established local fusion group, Merging Traffic. One of his first gigs with the band was opening for violinist Jean-Luc Ponty. In an interview for Modern Drummer magazine, Ponty recalled. “As we were coming into the hall, Merging Traffic was playing. In fact, it was during Rayford’s drum solo. Usually everybody just goes back to the dressing room while there’s an opening band on. But this time, everyone stayed to watch the drum solo. Rayford had the crowd in his hand.” A few years later in 1980, Rayford was able to travel to Los Angeles for an audition with Ponty (which he nailed), upon which time he embarked on the most high profile gig of his career playing with Ponty for seven years and six albums (1981-1987).
Working with Ponty proved the perfect calling card as Rayford was quickly noticed by many of L.A.’s top musicians, recording artists, and producers.
Throughout the 80s he toured and recorded with groups as diverse as Stanley Clarke, The Isley Brothers, Angela Wimbush, Steve Cropper, Donovan, Patrice Rushen, George Duke, Cameo, Jean Luc Ponty, Sheena Easton, Clarke Duke Band, Jeff Lorber, Stephanie Mills, DeBarge, and Kenny G. In 1988 George Duke invited him to join Anita Baker’s band.
In the 1990s Rayford did double duty by playing in both Anita Baker’s and George Duke’s bands on their co-billed U.S. and European tours. He played on records by Wilton Felder and Teena Marie, as well as the 12x platinum “Boyz ll Men ll”. He also collaborated on several albums with saxophonist George Howard and co-produced his 1992 album release “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind?” garnering Howard a Grammy nomination for the track 'Just the Way I Feel', which was also written by Rayford.
In 1995 he toured again with Anita Baker, and in 1996 Rayford was ask to play with Michael Jackson for the Sultan of Brunei’s 50th Birthday Celebration.
In 1997 Rayford toured with Bette Midler and took part in her Emmy winning HBO live performance “Diva Las Vegas”.
From 1997 thru 2000 he played the U.S. and abroad with The Isley Brothers, while simultaneously conceptualizing, writing, and recording music for his own project. He was exploring ways to make a name as a solo artist, a leader.
Rayford and his brother Reggie Griffin, Grammy nominated arranger and producer, got together and formed a studio to produce Rayford’s first CD. Five tracks were recorded, and a tentative schedule to finish the rest was set… However before it’s completion, while on tour during the summer of 2000, Rayford fell from a hotel balcony breaking his back.
He suffered a spinal cord injury near his waist and was unable to walk or move on his own. Two surgeries were followed by an intensive regimen of physical therapy that was both emotionally and physically draining. He used a practice pad in bed on occasion but thoughts of playing the drums were not so important during this time. First Rayford had to re-learn to stand and walk again.
As weeks passed, Rayford continued to recuperate and regain his strength. Ultimately he went from a wheelchair, to a walker, and then a cane. At this point Rayford began to practice playing his drums again. During a benefit in his honor at The Musicians institute, He Played a short tune for the audience… A few months later he did his own show at the Hollywood Baked Potato and knew he was back and ready to move forward. By 2002 Rayford began to get calls for recordings and tours again.
Rayford’s first CD titled “Rebirth of The Cool” was released in 2003 on Lightyear Entertainment/WEA, with his own label imprint “Razoredge Records”. The CD has received rave reviews and has an amazing roster of guest artists including, Branford Marsalis, Brandon Fields, Walt Fowler, Everett Harp, Karen Briggs, Munyungo Jackson, and many more.
From 2004 thru 2010 Rayford continued to work consistently with artists Rick Braun, Richard Elliott, Gerald Albright, Norman Brown, Peter White, BWB, Mindi Abair, Jeff Lorber, Jonathan Butler, Kirk Whalum, & Jeffery Osborn.
In 2011 he was invited to tour Brazil with Jean Luc Ponty, rekindling a collaboration that continues to this day. Subsequently he was asked to join the formation of the Anderson Ponty Band, with Jean Luc and lead singer Jon Anderson from the rock group “YES”. A 2014 recording “Better Late Than Never” was followed by a tour in 2015.
That same year Rayford completed and released a personal tribute to the music of his Uncle, jazz trumpet great Clifford Brown with a CD titled “Reflections of Brownie”.
The recording features performances by Roy Hargrove, Nicholas Payton, Rick Braun, Michael “Patches” Stewart, Everette Harp, Brian Bromberg, Doug Webb, Michael Hunter, and George Duke.
Rayford’s Reflections Band has performed at The Berks Jazz Festival, Indianapolis Jazzfest, St.James Live, The Jazz Kitchen, Spaghettini, and more.
In 2017 and 2018 Rayford performed to sold out crowds with “Ponty’s Atlantic Years Tour”.
Currently Rayford is writing, collaborating and recording new music with some of the artists he has worked with over the years as well as a few promising younger musicians for his 2019 CD release.