Budd Johnson Biography

Albert J. Johnson, 14 December 1910, Dallas, Texas, USA, d. 20 October 1984, Kansas City, Missouri, USA. Before taking up the tenor saxophone Johnson had earlier played piano and drums. In his teens he performed in a number of territory bands in the Midwest and in Texas, including those led by Terrence Holder, Jesse Stone and George E. Lee. In the mid-30s he worked in Chicago, playing in several bands, most notably, Louis Armstrong’s, but was most often with Earl Hines. In the 40s he played in units led by Hines, Don Redman, Al Sears, Sy Oliver and Dizzy Gillespie. During these years Johnson was also a busy arranger, providing charts for the bands of Georgie Auld, Woody Herman, Buddy Rich and Boyd Raeburn. Johnson was deeply involved in the early days of bebop, writing for numerous small groups and acting as musical director for Billy Eckstine’s big band.

During the 50s Johnson often led his own small groups for club and record dates, and was also active in music publishing and as a recording company executive. In the late 50s and early 60s he played with Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Quincy Jones, Gerald Wilson, Hines and Jimmy Rushing. In 1969, after yet another stint with Hines, Johnson formed the JPJ Trio with Dill Jones, Bill Pemberton and Oliver Jackson. After the dissolution of JPJ in 1975 Johnson worked with the New York Jazz Repertory Orchestra, appeared at numerous international festivals and managed to fit in time as a teacher. It was as an arranger and contributor to bop that Johnson made his most lasting mark on jazz.

Although he never approached the extraordinary improvisational flights of men like Gillespie and Charlie Parker, Johnson was one of the musicians who helped give the new form coherence and structure. In his later playing career Johnson’s style - on tenor, alto, soprano and clarinet - had thoroughly absorbed the influences of the beboppers with whom he had worked but he remained strongly identified with the jazz mainstream in which he had spent so much of his life. (NB: this artist should not be confused with pianist Buddy Johnson.)


Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.


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