How We Work, How We Play: Joan Griffith

Guitarist Joan Griffith riffs effortlessly between "Stairway to Heaven" and "The Girl from Ipanema." Her most recent recording, "Sambanova," conveys her deep appreciation of Brazilian music.


Listen to "Sertao," a track from Joan Griffith's CD, "Sambanova."

Day Job: Adjunct faculty for guitar ensemble, performance studies, double bass and guitar (18 years).

Music intro: I started playing piano at 5, ukulele at 10 and guitar around 11. My dad taught me a few tunes on that guitar.

Are we ever too old to learn how to play an instrument? Never. I started the violin at 50.

Worst advice: My first college teacher told me that I would never make it as a guitarist. I’m still mad about that one.

You play jazz, samba, bossa nova, classical and rock guitar. Pick one: I don’t have a favorite, but I do love Brazilian music.

Is there a piece of music you’ve never been able to master? A classical solo piece by Rodrigo.

Guitar roundup: I have a 1968 Ramirez (classical), 1938 Martin, 1964 Gibson SG, 1992 Takemine (acoustic/electric). I also own three basses (two electric and one upright) and two mandolins (1916 Gibson and a Brazilian one).

Is there a favorite? The Ramirez. It’s my soul mate.

Favorite guitarist? I have many. John Williams, Segovia and the Assad brothers for classical. Wes Montgomery for jazz, Chet Atkins and Lenny Breau for blowing my mind.

Name a musician – dead or alive – you would like to play a gig with: Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson. Enough said.

Best concert … ever: Oscar Ghiglia in 1975 and Anne Sophie Mutter a few years ago. They became the music they played.

Teacher, performer and composer – which do you prefer? I like them all. I always learn something. You forgot practicing; I love that part, too. I also love recording, which is not at all like performing.

There’s a YouTube video of a young man playing what he calls “Joan Griffith’s brilliant pieces randomized into one song.” Flattering or a little creepy? It’s kind of strange. Those are not my tunes, though. He’s playing bits and pieces of tunes I play when I have a background music gig.

Do you have other groupies? Probably.

“How We Work, How We Play” is a series that examines some of the intriguing pastimes of our St. Thomas colleagues.

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