J. J. Johnson (born James Louis Johnson, January 22, 1924, Indianapolis, Indiana; died February 4, 2001) was a United States jazz trombonist, composer and arranger. He was sometimes credited as Jay Jay Johnson.
Johnson was one of the first trombonists to embrace bebop music. He has long been regarded as one of the leading trombonists of the post-swing era, exerting a pervasive influence on other jazz musicians.
After studying the piano beginning at age 9, Johnson decided to play trombone at the age of 14. In 1941, he started 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 1942 under Carter's leadership, recording his first solo (on Love for Sale) in October, 1943. In 1944, he took part in the first Jazz at the Philharmonic concert, presented in Los Angeles and organized by Norman Granz. In 1945 he joined the big band of Count Basie, touring and recording with him until 1946.
Johnson's work in the 1940s and 1950s demonstrated that the slide trombone could be played in the bebop style. Contemporary trombonist Steve Turre has summarized, "J. J. did for the trombone what Charlie Parker did for the saxophone. And all of us that are playing today wouldn't be playing the way we're playing if it wasn't for what he did. And not only, of course, is he the master of the trombone — the definitive master of this century — but, as a composer and arranger, he is in the top shelf as well."
The two-trombone jazz combo setup pioneered by Johnson and Winding has been imitated by more recent trombonists, with such combinations as Jim Pugh/Dave Taylor, Conrad Herwig/Steve Davis, and Michael Davis/Bill Reichenbach.
Several of his compositions, including "Wee Dot", "Lament", and "Enigma" have become jazz standards.
From the mid-1950s on, Johnson was a perennial polling favorite in jazz circles, even winning "Trombonist of the Year" in Down Beat magazine during years he wasn't active. In 1970 he ceased performing in public before making a comeback in the late 1980s. He was voted into the Down Beat Hall of Fame in 1995.
J Is For Jazz - J.J. Johnson (1956)
01 Naptown U.S.A (Johnson) 4:59
02 It Might As Well Be Spring (Rodgers, Hammerstein) 4:46
03 Tumbling Tumbleweeds (Nolan) 4:14
04 Angel Eyes (Dennis, Brent) 3:35
05 Solar (Davis) 5:14
06 Overdrive (Johnson) 3:22
07 Undecided (Shavers, Robin) 4:04
08 Never Let Me Go (Scott) 3:40
09 Chasin' The Bird (Parker) 4:40
10 Cube Steak (Johnson) 3:41
J.J. Johnson (tb)
Bobby Jaspar (ts, fl)
Hank Jones (p)
Tommy Flanagan (p) on tracks 1, 2 & 9
Wilbur Little (b)
Percy Heath (b) on tracks 4, 6 & 7
Elvin Jones (d)
Recorded in NYC, on July 24 (4, 6, 7), 25 (3, 5, 8, 10) and 27 (1, 2, 9), 1956
J.J. Johnson’s great 1956-1957 quintet played modern jazz with authority, imagination, taste and feeling. Its leader was the trombonist of the era, much emulated and admired by his peers. The Belgian-born Jaspar, who had recently won the International Jazz Critics’ New Star Award on tenor, proved an ideal foil and a capable modern-mainstream tenor sax and flutist, contributing impressively on both instruments. Flanagan, a superbly swinging pianist, also made an indelible mark on the group, which was graced initially with another bop piano great, Hank Jones, while Little and Elvin Jones’ support throughout is admirable. It was an exhilarating band that fully displayed Johnson’s well-rounded musicianship.