Chris Griffin, 89, one of finest trumpeters of the Big Band era and best known for his work with Benny Goodman, died of melanoma June 18 in Danbury, Conn.
Through the latter half of the 1930s, Goodman's orchestra was considered the top group in the United States, and it had a huge following. It included a remarkable number of players who went on to become household names, including guitarist Charlie Christian, drummer Gene Krupa and vibraphonist Lionel Hampton.
The trumpet section, comprising Mr. Griffin, Harry James and Ziggy Elman, was the talk of the jazz world. Duke Ellington was quoted as saying it was "the greatest trumpet section that ever was."
Less flamboyant in personality and more restrained in playing style than either James or Elman, Mr. Griffin was nevertheless influential in playing lead and occasionally soloing.
Gordon Claude "Chris" Griffin was born in Binghamton, N.Y., on Oct. 31, 1915. He was just 12 when he picked up the horn. Six years later, he was living in New York and playing professionally in saxophonist Charlie Barnet's band.
After two years with Barnet, he played with singers Rudy Vallee, Joe Haymes and Mildred Bailey. He found studio work with CBS and was not yet 20 when he joined the Goodman band in May 1936.
Mr. Griffin stayed with Goodman for nearly three years and participated in one of the historic moments in jazz. That was the Carnegie Hall concert in 1938 when Goodman brought his orchestra into the famed venue for the first performance there by a jazz band. The concert brought a new level of recognition to jazz and a new legitimacy to the music.
By 1939, Mr. Griffin had decided that the grind of touring was not for him. Married to former singer Helen O'Brien, and with a third child on the way, he left the limelight of big band work for the lucrative but relatively anonymous role of a studio musician.
He played lead trumpet in radio and television orchestras for Jackie Gleason, Milton Berle and Ed Sullivan. He is credited with playing the beautiful trumpet obligato on Gleason's theme song, "Shangri-La."
As a session musician, Mr. Griffin recorded with Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Tony Bennett and Mel Torme. He also worked with Charlie Parker on the "Charlie Parker With Strings" album.
Mr. Griffin ran a trumpet school in the late 1960s and toured Europe in the 1970s before joining Tex Beneke's band.
His wife died in 2000.
Survivors include his fiancee, Louise Baranger, who is also a jazz trumpeter and arranger; five children; seven grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.