Jennifer Griffith creates vocal and instrumental works that are inspired by social issues, politics and human relationships. As a small child in Oregon she listened to a steady diet of early jazz and blues when her pianist mother performed in New Orleans-style jazz and dance bands. In her teens and early twenties Jennifer performed as a pianist and jazz singer (she and her saxophonist brother thought they were so much hipper than Mom because they were into bebop and modern jazz), but in the next ten years pursued her studies in Western European classical music, earning her B.A. in piano performance. During these years, she also became more active in worker politics and environmental issues. At Smith College she entered as a music history candidate but, with the encouragement of her mentor Donald Wheelock, soon switched her emphasis, earning a masters degree in composition. In 2001, she moved to NYC, where she wrote a pocket opera about Bill Clinton, Dream President, which was presented at the New York City Opera’s VOX 2004, and later developed with director Caren France at the National Opera/Manhattan School of Music’s Opera Theater Previews, in 2005. The staged and final version premiered in a collaborative production, Opera After Hours, directed by the acclaimed Christopher Alden at the Zipper Factory in 2008.
Griffith has received awards from the MacDowell Colony and the American Music Center, and her chamber works have been performed by American Opera Projects, the new music ensembles Cygnus, Glass Farm, Newspeak, and Vox Novus’s electroacoustic 60×60 Dance concerts.
Griffith has also collaborated with playwright and television writer Dominic Orlando, director Christopher Alden, and producers Stage|Time Collaborative on the one-act opera Beautiful Creatures, about the politics and people in the environmental movement. She earned her doctorate in composition at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Her dissertation examines the music of composer/bandleader/bassist Charles Mingus to explore his nods toward New Orleans-style jazz. Her article “Mingus in the Act: Confronting the Legacies of Vaudeville & Minstrelsy” was published in Jazz Perspectives in 2010. She sings jazz at NYC venues and is featured vocalist on reedman Steve Elson’s CD, Mott and Broome. In collaboration with writer/artist/filmmaker Zahra Partovi, she premiered a chamber oratorio setting of the Persian poet J. M. Rumi’s The Reed, a commission for the Grace and Spiritus Chorale of Brooklyn.