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J.J. Johnson

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J.J. Johnson


James Louis Johnson (22 January 1924, Indianapolis, Ind. – 4 February 2001, Indianapolis, Ind.) was an American jazz trombonist, composer and arranger.

After studying the piano beginning at age nine, Johnson decided to play trombone at the age of 14. In 1941, he began his professional career with Clarence Love, and then played with Snookum Russell in 1942. In Russell's band, he met the trumpeter Fats Navarro, who influenced him to play in the style of the tenor saxophonist Lester Young. Johnson played in Benny Carter's orchestra between 1942 and 1945, and made his first recordings in 1943 under Carter's leadership. In 1945 he joined the big band of Count Basie, touring and recording with him until 1946.

Johnson was one of the earliest trombonists to embrace bebop. In 1946, bebop co-inventor Dizzy Gillespie encouraged the young trombonist's development with the comment, "I've always known that the trombone could be played different, that somebody'd catch on one of these days. Man, you're elected."

Following the mid-1950s collaboration with Kai Winding, J. J. Johnson began leading his own touring small groups for about three years. Johnson's 1963 solo album J. J.'s Broadway is an example of both his mature trombone style and sound, and his arranging abilities.

From the mid-1950s, but especially the early 1960s on, Johnson dedicated more and more time to composition. He became an active contributor to the Third Stream movement in jazz, (which included such other musicians as Gunther Schuller and John Lewis), and wrote a number of large-scale works which incorporated elements of both classical and jazz music. He contributed his Poem for Brass to a Third Stream compilation titled Music for Brass in 1957, and composed a number of original works which were performed at the Monterey Jazz Festival in the late 1950s and early 1960s. In 1961, he composed a suite in six movements, titled Perceptions, with Gillespie as soloist. In 1968, a Johnson work titled Diversions was commissioned by the American Wind Symphony and performed. His most well-known composition is The Peanut Vendor.

Johnson moved to California to compose for cinema and television. During this period, he played almost no concerts. Despite the low profile, he did record six albums as a leader between 1977 and 1984 and a few albums as a sideman. He also played in the Cocoanut Grove orchestra of Sammy Davis, Jr. and the TV orchestra of Carol Burnett.

Diagnosed with prostate cancer, Johnson took his own life in 2001.

Works for Winds