August 15, 2014

Biography

Born in New York City, Steve Griggs began playing saxophone through a 5th-grade public school band program in Columbia, Missouri. His first professional gig came during Junior High School where he and his friends jammed at a boat show. During High School, Steve sang lead vocals in a band covering funk, rock, and pop songs for proms in central Missouri.¬†Two years of study with Lynn Clock at Interlochen Summer Music Camp led to Steve’s enrollment the University of Illinois in Champaign/Urbana.

While earning a Bachelor of Music in Saxophone Performance, Steve studied with Willis Coggins and Ron Dewar. Steve performed frequently with Ray Sasaki in a quintet that transcribed classic tunes from the Blue Note catalog. Steve also performed regularly at Nature’s Table in John Scott’s quintet. John was a classmate of Herbie Hancock and wrote “The Maze” on Herbie’s Blue Note debut record. Steve collaborated with guitarist Mark Dziuba, dancers Shelly Masar and Debbie Noble to present improvised dance/music concerts. Steve recorded a cassette album Five in the Sky with Mike Kocour, Dan Anderson, and Jeff Stitely playing all original compositions. Steve’s first gig in Chicago was with pianist Laurence Hobgood.

After graduation, Steve moved back to his home town of New York City. He performed with Cindy Blackman and the Great American Saxophone Phantasy, a saxophone quintet that included Jerry Dodgian. During a tour in Illinois, Steve recorded a second cassette album Shadows: The B3 Band with Mike Kocour and Jeff Stitely playing all original compositions.

After earning an MBA at Pace University,¬†Steve moved to Seattle and began performing with the Jim Knapp Orchestra and Milo Petersen and the Jazz Disciples. Steve recorded two CDs with Elvin Jones in 1998. The band included Jay Thomas, Phil Sparks, and Milo Petersen. Steve created Hip City Music and released the albums as Jones for Elvin – Volume 1 and 2. The CDs received national airplay and were also played by Voice of America. Jim Wilke recorded Steve’s third release Live! at Jazz Alley which climbed to #17 on the Gavin national jazz chart. Steve attended Dave Liebman’s Saxophone Workshop and performed original music dedicated to Elvin Jones.

Steve’s recent projects involve musical settings of poetry and arrangements of Brazilian music for chamber jazz ensemble. Steve won a Longfellow Chorus Award of Distinction in the 2010 Longfellow Chorus International Composers Competition for his setting of the poem “Moonlight”.

Steve’s current projects weave historical narrative with original composition and improvisation to explore the past of Seattle’s non-white communities. The theme for Panama Hotel Jazz is Japanese American incarceration during WWII. A Cup of Joe Brazil illustrates the jazz saxophonist’s community building through music in the face of racial discrimination. Performances of these two projects were supported by the Chamber Music America Residency (CMA) Partnership Program and the Seattle Public Library. In 2014 and 2016, the Steve Griggs Ensemble won the CMA/ASCAP Adventurous Programming in Contemporary Music award.

Other recent projects include Listen to Seattle, inspired by the unfulfilled treaty promises to the Duwamish tribe, and Sound in Stone, inspired by the self-taught creative discipline of stone sculptor James Winston Washington.

In addition to activities as an artist, Steve wrote the membership database system for Earshot Jazz, coauthored a focus group report on collaboration between business and arts organizations for Allied Arts, and earned a Certificate in Arts Management from the University of Washington. Steve is cited in the Coltrane Reference for his research into Coltrane’s recordings in Seattle. His music writing has been published in Earshot Jazz, Seattle Times, and Seattle Weekly and reprinted in Rhythm in the Rain, and Stories of Music Volume 2.

Steve’s also worked in Information Technology for clinical research and led software development teams at Pfizer, Immunex, and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Steve serves on the board of the Friends of the Seattle Public Library.