JJ Johnson

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James Louis "JJ" Johnson (born January 22, 1924 in Indianapolis , Indiana ; † February 4, 2001 there ) was an American composer and jazz musician ( trombone , composition , arrangement ).


Between the ages of nine and eleven, Johnson learned the piano from a church organist; at 14 he picked up the trumpet. In 1941/42 he toured with bands led by Clarence Love and Isaac "Snookum" Russell, whose trumpeter Fats Navarro had a great influence on Johnson's playing style. From 1942 to 1945 Johnson was a member of the Benny Carter Orchestra, with whom he toured and played on numerous radio shows. He also contributed some arrangements here. His first recorded solo was the one on Love for Sale in 1943 .

Johnson played for Count Basie until May 1945 - mostly in New York, where he moved in mid-1946 to work with small groups in various clubs with bebop sizes such as u. a. Play Bud Powell , Max Roach , Miles Davis , Fats Navarro, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie . With the Davis Nonet he was involved in the recording of Birth of the Cool .

In 1951, Johnson toured Korea, Japan and the South Pacific in Oscar Pettiford's band; In 1952 he toured with an all-star band, the u. a. Miles Davis belonged to. Due to his own worsening financial situation, Johnson worked as an inspector at the Sperry Gyroscope Company and only appeared sporadically during this time. In August 1954 Johnson and trombonist Kai Winding founded a duo called Jay and Kai , which, embedded in a quintet, would remain active until 1956 and be extremely successful - and thus make Johnson known to a wider audience. In addition to his reputation as a leading jazz trombonist, he has now also attracted attention as an arranger with his third stream composition Poem for Brass (aka Jazz Suite for Brass ). Many of his orchestrated works contain both fugato passages and chorale-like “out of tempo” elements as well as conventional swing sections.

After Jay and Kai broke up , Johnson led his own quintet until the summer of 1960, touring Europe and composing large-scale works such as El camino real and Sketch for Trombone and Band , which premiered at the 1959 Monterey Jazz Festival . He also taught at the Lenox School of Jazz in Massachusetts and wrote a new third-stream composition, Perceptions for Dizzy Gillespie.

Throughout the 1960s Johnson combined his careers as a trombonist and arranger / composer: he played with the Miles Davis group (1961/62), formed his own band (1963) and led his own sextet a. a. with Clark Terry and Sonny Stitt . Until 1967 he composed for the MBA music in NYC and was the director.

From 1970, the year he moved to Los Angeles, he wrote mainly film and television music; however, his rare recordings and appearances continued to underscore his importance as an active jazz trombonist. A few years after his return to his hometown of Indianapolis (1987), Johnson played more often after the death of his wife Vivian, to whom he then dedicated an album. In 1988, for example, he played Vanguard in New York's Village , where Slide Hampton presented him with a list of signatures from various trombonists as a token of their appreciation for his services to jazz.

After giving one last concert at the Jazz Kitchen in Indianapolis in 1995 , he announced his withdrawal from the active music business in Down Beat in June 1997 in order to continue working on his own compositions and with Joshua Berret and Louis Bourgois III on his autobiography The Musical World of JJ Johnson to work. Johnson has suffered from cancer for the past few years. On February 4, 2001, he shot himself.


Johnson is considered to be the most important post-war trombonist who had and still has a great influence on numerous trombonists. His early recordings (around 1945) testify to a "thick" tone, a rather aggressive style of playing and impressive agility and are still quite similar to his early models Lester Young , Roy Eldridge and Fred Beckett - the latter emphasized the linear qualities of the trombone rather than the effective Starting the train.

During the 1940s, Johnson developed such speed and technical mastery of the instrument that many listeners of his records at the time wrongly assumed that Johnson was playing valve trombone : Johnson's high playing speed and the still existing accurate clarity are to date unmatched.

From 1947 Johnson played with a slightly quieter tone and saved an occasional vibrato for special effects. The result was a dry, yet extremely attractive sound that is a bit reminiscent of a French horn. During this period Johnson worked diligently to transfer the patterns from the bebop to the trombone, so that his solos became more and more speed and “memorized” phrases - such as B. the diminished fifth (as a bebop-typical blue note ) - oriented. However, his game became more and more mature in the 1950s, he now placed less emphasis on formulas and speed, but more on a scale-related, modal and motivic playing style.

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