J. J. Johnson is an accomplished jazz musician, who reinvented the musical possibilities of his instrument of choice, the trombone. He is considered as the “father of the modern jazz trombone (Holland, 2001),” and his name is mentioned in the same breath as other remarkable jazz greats such as Miles Davis and Ella Fitzgerald, just to name a few. However, his outstanding career was cut short by his untimely death in 2001. This paper aims to narrate the life of J. J. Johnson and tell the wonderful story that was his musical journey. In January 22, 1924, James Louis (J. J. ) Johnson was born (“Trombone Online,” n. d. ).
The first instrument that was introduced to him was the piano, and at the tender age of nine, he learned to play with the help of the church organist. By his sophomore year in high school, he was already interested in music. Unfortunately, at that time, the only instrument he could use was the baritone saxophone. When he was fourteen, he switched to another instrument that would make him famous, the trombone. When asked in an interview about the reason behind his choice of instrument, Johnson had this to say: “On the one hand, because it was somewhat of a challenge.
On the other hand, I ran around with a bunch of school buddies who all played various miscellaneous and sundry instruments. None of them played trombone (as cited in Bernotas, 1995, p. 2). ” At the age of eighteen, he left home to seriously pursue music. He played with Snookum Russel’s band, which included Fats Navarro (“Trombone Online,” n. d. ). He also had the opportunity to play alongside other jazz musicians, which include Benny Carter, Count Basie and Illinois Jacquet.
His first recordings were those of his involvement as a section player in the Benny Carter Orchestra, but he also had the chance to have a solo recording entitled “Love for Sale” (“Trombone Online,” n. d. ). “In 1944, he played at the very first concert of Jazz at the Philharmonic (“Trombone Online,” n. d. ). ” By October 1951, a sextet was formed for a USO tour of several Asian countries, and Johnson became a part of that. The sextet also included Oscar Pettiford, which unfortunately left the group in the middle of the tour. Two years after, Johnson surprised everyone with his sudden change of occupation.
He left the jazz scene for a nine-to-five job, as a “blueprint inspector for Sperry Gyroscope (“Trombone Online,” n. d. ). ” According to Johnson, the hiatus was necessary for a change in perspective: “In my case, yes, of course, there were times of disillusionment with where jazz was going, or what seemed to appear where jazz was going. In some cases, it was disillusionment with where J. J. was going with jazz and how he was progressing with his manner of trombone playing. In other instances, it was just to step outside of the jazz arena so that I could have a view of jazz from the outside looking in (as cited in Bernotas, 1995, p. 3).
” In 1954, Johnson quit his job as a blueprint inspector. In August of the same year, he collaborated with another trombonist Kai Winding; together, they were popularly known as “Jay and Kai” (Yanow, n. d. ). ” On October 1956, Johnson went back to the studio for a recording of his piece entitled “Poem for Brass (“Trombone Online,” n. d. ). ” This piece was the result of his being commissioned by The New York Classical Jazz and Classical Music Society to create a “piece for solo brass instruments and brass ensemble (“Trombone Online,” n. d. ).
” The later part of 1959 found Johnson gathering a group of seasoned musicians to form a sextet (“Trombone Online,” n. d. ). The lineup included pianist Cedar Walton, drummer Albert Heath, saxophonist Clifford Jordan, trumpeter Freddie Hubbard and bassist Arthur Harper. The sextet then recorded what people considered “one of J. J. ‘s best albums (“Trombone Online,” n. d. ),” entitled “J. J. Inc. ” The recording contained the following original compositions: “Shutterbug,” “Fatback,”“Aquarius,” “In Walked Horace,” “Minor Mist,” “Mohawk”, and “Turnpike” (“Trombone Online,” n. d. ).
Unfortunately, in September 1960, Johnson. disbanded the sextet. After the disbandment of the sextet, Johnson focused on his compositions. From September 1960 to March 1961, he worked on a composition commissioned by Dizzy Gillespi. It consisted of six parts and was entitled “Perceptions. ” On May 22, 1961, an orchestra under Gunther Schuller, recorded the track. Johnson toured again with a sextet, this time that of Miles Davis. The year 1964 found him in the company of the “Radio Corporation of America’s roster of musicians and toured Japan with a sextet including Clark Terry and Sonny Stitt (“Trombone Online,” n. d. ).
” Four years after, he again was commissioned, this time by Robert A. Boudreau. Boudreau was the music director of the American Wind Symphony Orchestra. In 1970, Johnson left New York for Los Angeles. The move also marked a shift in his career. He began to compose for the television and the movies. He got his start in the movie “Barefoot in the Park,” as well as a “little orchestration work for “The Adventurers” (“Trombone Online,”n. d. ). ” When asked about what got him into film composition, he said: “Quincy Jones and Lalo Schifrin were very instrumental in prodding me into having a crack at something that I was eating my heart out to try.
They reassured me, “J. J. , have a go at it. What’s the worst that can happen if it doesn’t work out for you? (as cited in Bernotas, 1995, p. 3). ” Johnson transferred from the big screen to the small screen, “he also arranged, composed, and scored films and television shows, including “Shaft,” “The Mod Squad,” and “The Danny Thomas Show. ” He won a Grammy for 1999’s “Heroes” (Verve) and was nominated for several others (Holland 2001). ” His other television works include “Mayberry R. F. D. ” and “That Girl”; For the silver screen, he did “Man and Boy,” “Top of the Heap”, “Across 110th Street” and “Cleopatra Jones (“Trombone Online,”n. d. ).” Johnson, with his wife Vivian, then returned to his hometown of Indianapolis. Unfortunately, she passed away a few years after. Johnson recorded an album for her, with her name as the album’s title. It took some time before Johnson returned to the stage. The June 1997 issue of Downbeat Magazine, Johnson declared his retirement from live performances (“Trombone Online,”n. d. ). A few years after, a book written by Joshua Berret and Louis Bourgois III was released; it was entitled “The Musical World of J. J. Johnson. ”
It was on February 4, 2001, when Johnson was found dead in his Indianapolis home. He died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. It was also known that he had been suffering from prostrate cancer. He was 77 years old. In a 1988 Village Vanguard performance in New York, he was given a scroll onstage by Slide Hampton. The scroll contained signatures of trombonists who acknowledged his contribution in the world of jazz (“Trombone Online,”n. d. ). Many years after his death, his talent and immense influence still continue to touch many people’s lives. References Bernotas, B. (1999).
An interview with J. J. Johnson. Online Trombone Journal, 1-4. Retrieved December 4, 2007, from http://www. trombone. org/articles/library/jjjohnson-int. asp Holland, B. (2001). Jazz trombonist J. j. Johnson dead At 77.
Billboard, 1. Retrieved December 4, 2007, from http://www. allbusiness. com/retail-trade/miscellaneous-retail-retail-stores-not/4614991-1. html “Trombone Online” (n. d. ) Retrieved December 4, 2007, from http://www. trombonesonline. com/artist-trombone/jjjohnson. htm Yanow, S (n. d. ). J. J. Johnson. Retrieved December 4, 2007, from http://www. jazzmasters. nl/johnson. htm