I hope that this list of her dedicated efforts will cause others to add their own stories. I encourage you to explore the musicians you haven’t heard before, listen again to the ones you have and share, share, share.
June 1 · Our Memorial Day bbq playlist included "I Feel So Good," from Eli Yamin's Blues Band, including Bob Stewart on tuba. Here's a twofer in my ongoing daily quest to name someone Howard Johnson has gigged or recorded with: Not only has Bob Stewart been a member of Howard's low-brass choir Gravity since the get-go, Howard has also played with pianist Eli Yamin.
June 2 · This week the focus is on members of his multi-tuba band Gravity! No roundup of Gravity! alumni is complete without charter member David Bargeron, who also recorded with folks like Blood, Sweat and Tears; Gil Evans, Eric Clapton, Miles Davis, Chaka Khan and scores of others.
June 3 · Drummer Kenwood Dennard has played drums with Howard Johnson's multi-tuba band Gravity!
June 4 · Marcus Rojas joins Bob Stewart and others tonight, June 4, in paying tribute to trumpeter/composer/arranger/band leader/visionary Lester Bowie at Tribeca Performing Arts Center on the BMCC campus.
Marcus Rojas is also among the alumni of Howard Johnson's multi-tuba ensemble Gravity!
June 5 · Today, June 5, is trumpeter Jerry Gonzalez's birthday. I know that because Howard Johnson pointed it out. And yes, they did play together.
June 6 · Pianist Ray Chew has been with the "Saturday Night Live" band, music director of "Dancing with the Stars" ... and part of Howard Johnson's multi-tuba band Gravity. Check out Ray playing on Gravity's "Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying," with vocals by Taj Mahal.
June 7 · Bob Cranshaw has been Sonny Rollins' bass player of choice since 1959. He's also an alumnus of Howard Johnson's band Gravity! Check him out on everyone's fave, "Big Alice," written by the great Don Pullen.
June 8 · June 8 is the birthday of the great trombonist Bill Watrous, with whom Howard has often shared a stage.
June 9 · Happy birthday to pianist and NEA Jazz Master Kenny Barron. Yep, it's true, he and Howard Johnson have gigged together.
June 10 · Bassist Charnett Moffett has a birthday today. He's another one of the impressive roster of great players with whom Howard Johnson has shared a bandstand.
June 11 · Happy b'day to legendary drummer Bernard Pretty Purdie, who's played with just about everyone (including HoJo).
June 12 · Besides Bernard Pretty Purdie, another legendary drummer was born on June 11--Shelly Manne. Howard shared a stage with each of them.
June 13 · It's the birthday of Russell D. Vines, composer, arranger, bassist, etc. Howard Johnson has soloed so gorgeously on baritone on Russ' "Last Exit." Can't wait to hear him do it again!
Howard and Russell have played together, but only for a lucky few.
June 14 · It's bassist Marcus Miller's birthday, June 14. He and multi-instrumentalist Howard Johnson go way back and have played together many times.
June 15 · June 15 is the anniversary of the birth of pianist Jaki Byard. He and Howard are both Mingus alumni, in fact, Byard brought HoJo to Mingus' attention. Howard told me about it during an interview in the late 1990s:
Howard was standing in the back of a club trying to be inconspicuous, which is rather difficult when you're holding a tuba. Mingus came out on the bandstand, clearly in a bad mood: "You could tell that from any part of the room." Howard exchanged waves with Jaki Byard, who pointed him out to Mingus, saying, "There's your tuba player, right over there." The source of Mingus' dark mood was learning that Red Callendar wasn't going to be able to make their gig the following week; Byard nominated Howard as his replacement.
"Mingus looked over and pulled the microphone up to his face. He always talked on-mike on the bandstand in those days. He felt that the title 'Jazz Workshop' gave him the option to rehearse stuff onstage, or stop and start again if it didn't sound right. He'd have people start over and most of the instructions he gave the musicians, he said on-mike," Howard recalls.
Mingus asked, "That kid there in the back? I can see he's got a tuba, but can he really play?" Howard says Byard didn't know his playing, but wanted to give him a break, so he replied that Howard was pretty good. Mingus asked, "Does he play behind the beat? Is he able to swing?" Jaki advised Mingus to ask Howard himself.
"Mingus just kind of stared at me for a while. I was feeling pretty uncomfortable. He finally blurted out, 'What tunes do you know?' He probably thought I knew two tunes. I guess he couldn't believe that I was ready to stand up and play with anybody. I didn't really understand his question, since I was so well-prepared, in regard to his expectations. I didn't need special dispensation from the pope to play jazz on the tuba."
"I said, 'What tunes do you want to hear?' The audience and band heard that as a challenge and went, 'Whoooooa!'" Mingus called Howard up to the bandstand, as the audience applauded him for what they saw as his underdog status. Mingus called up a blues, then "Cherokee," to test Howard's skills on an up-tempo tune. When he called "Stormy Weather," Howard noticed Byard rolling his eyes, and realized something was up. When the band finished with the ballad, Mingus told Howard that he could play an upcoming two-week Birdland gig with him, and to show up for rehearsal the next day. However, first he had to learn to play "Stormy Weather" correctly. Mingus pointed out, "The part that goes '...it's raining all the time...,' you have to do that twice. A lot of people do that wrong, they only do it once." Howard interpreted that as Mingus' way of telling him, "I win."
June 16 · Today is the birthday of Tom "Bones" Malone. He and Howard Johnson were on the "Saturday Night Live" band together, and Tom also played on Howard's multi-tuba band Gravity. Check it out!
Let's have a Friday twofer ... June 17 is also the birthday of french horn player Tom Varner, and I know he and Howard were in the George Gruntz band together, probably at about the same time Howard and Chuck were burning up the baseball diamond.
June 18 · Drummer Billy Drummond celebrates his birthday June 19. Yes, he and HoJo have played together.
June 19 · Tomorrow, June 20, is the anniversary of the birth of Eric Dolphy. Among his many accomplishments is inspiring Howard Johnson to move to New York. Howard told me about it in an interview in the late 1990s.
Chicago was Howard's first post-Navy port of call, after leaving the service in the early 1960s. "I thought I'd go someplace where there was a scene and I could get a little experience before hitting the Big Apple. I wasn't doing any serious jazz playing before I was in the Navy and I developed a lot while I was there. But I hadn't had a chance to prove it to myself or anything. I had to kind of get a sense of what I could do. I figured two years in Chicago would do the trick." Once there, "I did a little sitting in. I didn't get much done. I may have done two actual paying gigs in the months I was there.”
"I got into this thing in a neighborhood recreation center, the music department was run by [Muhal] Richard Abrams, which later became the AACM. I used to go to all the jam nights and I learned a lot. It was pretty intriguing stuff."
Talking to Eric Dolphy changed Howard's mind about staying in Chicago. Howard introduced himself after hearing Dolphy play a gig with John Coltrane. "You know how you talk with musicians, you tell them about your aspirations and stuff like that. I told him I was going to probably move to New York in another year and a half or more. He was intrigued with the fact that I played tuba. I told him whatever I can play on baritone sax, I can play on tuba with about as much ease and in the same range, except the tuba goes a lot lower." Dolphy was impressed and encouraged Howard to reconsider his time frame.
Howard recalls Dolphy telling him: "I have no idea what that sounds like. But if you can do half of what you say you can do on tuba, I wouldn't wait any two years here. Nobody's doing that in New York. There's a guy or two who can play, but they're not jazz musicians."
That's all it took. "I started thinking, maybe I won't wait two years. Maybe I'll leave in six months. By the time I went to bed that night, I decided I was definitely leaving. I left five days later."
June 20 · Tomorrow, June 21, is the birthday of drummer John Hiseman. He's played with quite an assortment of bands and people, including -- of course! -- Howard Johnson.
June 21 · Happy 84th birthday to pianist/composer/arranger/conductor/etc. Lalo Schifrin. Yep, Howard Johnson has worked with him.
June 22 · Happy 82nd b'day to percussionist Ray Mantilla, who's shared a bandstand or a recording studio with Eartha Kitt, Max Roach, Herbie Mann, Freddie Hubbard, Art Blakey, Mingus, Don Pullen, Muhal, Dizzy, and so many others, including Howard.
June 23 · Bassist Milt Hinton was born 108 years ago today, June 23. I gotta pick up the phone and talk to Howard Johnson about the times they played together, 'cause they did.
June 24 · Keyboardist/composer/band leader George Gruntz was born June 24, 1932. Howard toured internationally with him and appeared on at least nine George Gruntz albums.
June 25 · Happy birthday to drummer Joe Chambers. Yep, he and Howard Johnson gigged together.
June 26 · Bassist Reggie Workman is 79 years old today, June 26. The Philadelphia-born bassist has left very few sonic stones unturned in his career, which includes stints with John Coltrane, Mal Waldron, Art Blakey, Oliver Lake, David Murray, Pharoah Sanders, Thelonious Monk and many others.
A couple of years back I caught the Charles Tolliver big band, which included Reggie Workman and Howard Johnson in the lineup. Great night of music!
June 27 · After completing four months of daily posts about people HoJo has played and recorded with, I continue to be surprised and delighted by new discoveries, such as finding out he played with pianist and composer Elmo Hope. Today, June 27, is the 93rd anniversary of Hope's birth.
June 28 · Bassist John Lee turns 64 today, June 28. He's played with a lot of my faves over the years, including blues vocalist/slide guitarist Ellen McIlwaine, multi-instrumentalist Howard Johnson, McCoy Tyner, Pharaoh Sanders and more.
June 29 · Happy 81st birthday to trombonist Julian Priester, who has played with a musical spectrum including Sun Ra, John Coltrane, Max Roach, Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard, Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, and so many others, such as Howard.
June 30 · Happy 65th birthday to bassist Stanley Clarke. The third bass player mentioned here this week with a Philly connection (John Lee and Reggie Workman are the other two), Clarke is known for his work with Return to Forever with Lenny White and Chick Corea, as well as playing with Horace Silver, Art Blakey, Dexter Gordon, Joe Henderson, Pharaoh Sanders, Gil Evans and Stan Getz. And HoJo.
July 1 · Starting Feb. 28, I challenged myself to do a daily post name checking someone with whom Howard Johnson has gigged and/or recorded. The goal is to honor the great multi-instrumentalist during his 75th birthday year.
In case you haven't been with us from the start, here are some of the names you may have missed: Gil Evans (nothing like getting off to a strong start!), Charles Mingus, Carla Bley, Taj Mahal, Michele Rosewoman, JT Lewis, Vincent Herring, Charles Tolliver, Herb Bushler, Jimmy Heath, Carline Ray, Pharoah Sanders, McCoy Tyner, James Taylor, Calaire Daaley (aka Claire Daly), Quincy Jones, Lisa Parrott, Francesca Tanksley, Lauren Sevian, Ray Charles, Randy Weston, Buddy Rich, Archie Shepp, Cynthia Scott, Andrew Hill, Diana Ross, Billy Harper, Saturday Night Live, Chad Moser, Diane Moser, Spinal Tap, Shunzo Ohno, Tom Harrell, and Marvin Gaye. Not bad, huh?!
While we're on the subject of bass players, besides being a mainstay of Ahmad Jamal's trio and backing singers including Nancy Wilson and Vanessa Rubin, James Cammack has recorded with Howard Johnson's band Gravity!
July 2 · The pianist James Williams was an alumnus of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, and played with Dizzy Gillespie, Freddie Hubbard, Kenny Burrell, Milt Jackson, Art Farmer and Howard Johnson's Gravity.
July 3 · A couple of days ago, Claire Daly mentioned she now owns Howard Johnson's first baritone sax. During an interview in 2000, Howard told me how he came to own that horn in a kind of it-takes-a-village moment.
After years of playing school instruments, Howard finally got one of his own during his final year of high school. He had been to a Canton, Ohio, music store twice to check out a Selmer low-A baritone sax. On Dec. 26, 1957, he brought his mother to the store to take a look at it. The store owner, Charlie Gattuso, recognized Howard from his previous visits, and asked Mrs. Johnson if he could actually play the instrument. She said he could, but it wasn't something they could afford. At a time when the minimum wage was $1 an hour, its $850 price tag put it out of reach for most families.
Howard recalls Gattuso saying, "Listen, if the kid is interested in an instrument as obscure as this, he ought to be able to have it. Kids who have that much interest in music do not grow on trees." He proceeded to outline a no-interest payment plan of $33 monthly, with no money due till March. Howard quickly chimed in, pointing out that he'd be graduating that year, and reminding his mother that he could work for his uncle's construction company in Alabama, so he could take over the payments.
Once the deal was made, Howard asked if he should come back in March to pick up the horn. Gattuso told the surprised young man, "You can take it home today!" Fourty-three years later, Howard delivered the story's punch line with a delighted chuckle.
Drummer Kenny Washington has played with Betty Carter, Clark Terry, Tommy Flanagan, Lee Konitz and a host of jazz giants, including Gravity.
July 4 · Drummer Herbie Lovelle shared the stage with the likes of Herbie Mann, Art Farmer, Jimmy Witherspoon, Lightnin' Hopkins, Illinois Jacquet, Red Holloway, and Howard Johnson.
July 5 · Happy b'day to guitarist/composer Robbie Robertson, probably best known for his work with Bob Dylan and the Band. He also recorded with Ringo, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon, Eric Clapton, Neil Diamond and many others. He and Howard Johnson worked together in a variety of configurations, including with the Band and with Levon Helm's RCO All-Stars.
July 6 · Trumpeter Ted Curson played with Charles Mingus, Cecil Taylor, Andrew Hill, Archie Shepp, and many others, including Howard.
July 7 · I was interested to learn Howard Johnson played with Mousey Alexander, especially since the only Mouse Alexander I'd heard of at that time was a very interesting -- and dangerous -- character in Walter Mosley's Easy Rawlins novels. That's not the guy Howard gigged with!
Drummer Mousey Alexander replaced Gene Krupa in Benny Goodman's big band; he was a favorite of Buddy Rich and also gigged with Marian McPartland, Jimmy McPartland, Clark Terry, the Sauter-Finegan Orchestra, and many others.
July 8 · English drummer Tony Oxley has played with Joe Henderson, Lee Konitz, Charlie Mariano, Stan Getz, Sonny Rollins and Bill Evans, as well as Georgie Fame, John Surman, Lester Bowie, Enrico Rava, Kenny Wheeler, Cecil Taylor, Anthony Braxton, Paul Bley, and many others, including Howard Johnson.
July 9 · Clifford Brown mentored trumpeter Marcus Belgrave, who went on to play with Mingus, Dolphy, Ray Charles, and many others, including HoJo. Belgrave shared his wealth of knowledge with Regina Carter, Robert Hurst, Kenny Garrett, Geri Allen, James Carter, and more.
July 10 · It's the anniversary of the birth of trumpeter Lee Morgan, known for his hit "The Sidewinder," among other things. Yep, he and Howard Johnson shared the stage and recording studio on more than one occasion.
July 11 · Count Chick Corea among the many NEA Jazz Masters and all-around creative giants Howard Johnson has gigged and/or recorded with.
July 12 · NEA Jazz Master, MacArthur Foundation grant recipient, saxophonist, composer and innovator Anthony Braxton is among the many greats Howard has played with in his half century career.
July 13 · Speaking of NEA Jazz Masters, Howard Johnson has played with an amazing number of them, including pianist/composer Andrew Hill. Howard is on the "Passing Ships" album, which many listeners cite among their all-time faves.
July 14 · Howard always speaks highly of saxophonist Frank Strozier. Besides sharing the bandstand with Howard, the Memphis-born Strozier played with Harold Mabern, George Coleman, Roy Haynes, Miles Davis, Booker Little, Hank Mobley and others.
July 15 · Drummer Cindy Blackman Santana had some good words to share about Howard Johnson today. The two have played together, and Cindy says, "I love him! He's a great musician and one of the sweetest people I've met in NYC!"
July 16 · As promised, today's Howard Johnson birthday post is about Cindy Blackman Santana's inspiration and mentor drummer Tony Williams. In an interview from the late 1990s, Howard told me a couple of stories about Tony. In the first, he describes how they met, while Howard was still in the Navy:
For three years, Howard was assigned to a Boston-based aircraft carrier. While in town, he contacted a friend of his mother's who had moved from Massillon (Ohio) to Boston. She asked Howard if he was still interested in jazz and offered to introduce him to her roommate's son, who was a jazz musician.
"My first day in Boston, I met Tony Williams. He was only 14 and he was the best drummer in Boston. It was my 18th birthday when I got there, and this little cat was so cool. I had to envy his coolness right away. He was much cooler than me, at 18."
Later, when Howard arrived in New York in mid-February 1963, literally the first thing he did was call his friend Tony Williams. "I had taken an overnight bus and called him way too early in the morning and woke up his roommate, Nat Jones. It was 8:30 or 9--too late for musicians, too early for musicians." When Tony came to the phone, he insisted that he and Howard meet immediately, regardless of the time. He had big news to share: The following week he was opening at the Village Vanguard with Miles Davis. Tony hadn't said a word to anyone because "I don't want any shit getting back to Miles, because that would be the end," Howard recalls him saying. Howard told Tony he'd keep the news to himself, but he was planning to be in the front row at the Vanguard all week. "We're out on Great Jones Street. It's cold and it's raining, we're jumping up and down and holding each other, jumping up and down. A couple of kids, right? Tony had just had his 17th birthday."
July 17 · Howard and french horn player John Clark were both regulars in Gil Evans' Monday Night Orchestra at Sweet Basil in the 1980s.
July 18 · Howard Johnson has played with 10-time Grammy winner Dave Grusin
July 19 · HoJo also played with trombone titan Grachan Moncur III.
July 20 · Joey Baron was guitarist Jim Hall's drummer of choice for a long time. And, he and Howard Johnson also played together.
July 21 · Howard Johnson played with many of the most imposing figures in 20th century music, including composer/arranger George Russell. I gotta talk to Howard and get more details, that's a combination to reckon with.
July 22 · It's always fun to be reminded of what a broad slice of jazz history Howard Johnson has experienced through his playing. For example, he played with trumpeter Doc Cheatham. Born in 1905, Doc heard King Oliver live, then followed him around to immerse himself in his sound and style; King gave him a mute which he used for the rest of his life. Doc went on to play with Ma Rainey, Chick Webb, Fletcher Henderson, Cab Calloway and other acclaimed bands between the two world wars.
Afterward, Doc was a member of numerous Latin bands, including Perez Prado, Ricardo Rey and Machito. After a (very!) long and successful career playing in the ensembles of likely hundreds of major jazz and Latin figures, as an elder statesman Doc became a critical--and audience--favorite with his soloing and singing. He did his last gig two days before passing on at 92.
July 23 · Today's the birthday of guitarist/songwriter/former NY congressman John Hall. I've already mentioned here that Howard played with John Hall during their Taj Mahal days. But I've neglected to report that Howard and John played together in another setting--with John's musical partner Daryl Oates in their hit-making band Hall & Oates.
July 24 · Happy birthday to alto saxophonist Charles McPherson, born July 24, 1939. He and HoJo are both Charles Mingus alumni.
July 26 · Howard Johnson and drummer Winard Harper have shared the stage from time to time.
He has also played with alto saxophonist Ed Xiques. And he's likely to do that again tomorrow night, July 27, with Diane Moser's Composers Big Band at Trumpets in Montclair. The set list sounds great, including tunes like "Nica's Dream" and "Nedra," named for Howard's daughter, Nedra Johnson, who's celebrating a birthday this week.
July 28 · Just got back from hearing Howard Johnson with Diane Moser's Composers Big Band. Lovely night, great music, good vibes, full house. The audience included Rufus Reid, Calaire Daaley, Nedra Johnson, Pheeroan Aklaff, Russell D. Vines, and other musicians with whom Howard Johnson has played.
After all the great music from Diane Moser's Composers Big Band, there's no doubt who should be included in today's post: all the players on the bandstand last night celebrating Howard Johnson's upcoming 75th birthday. And in addition to Diane, that would include: Marty Fogel, Thomas Colao, Barbara Cifelli, Ed Xiques, Paul Ostermayer, Jim Cifelli, Mike Spengler, Chris Rogers, Rob Henke, Ben Williams, Erick Storckman, Matt Haviland, Dennis Argul, Larry Maltz, Andy Eulau, Gene Lewin, and guest composer Russell D. Vines. Thanks for a lovely and memorable night of music!
July 29 · Speaking of multi-instrumentalists...Howard Johnson played and recorded with Rahsaan Roland Kirk. In fact, they're both born on Aug. 7.
July 31 · Howard was a mainstay of Germany's NDR Big Band from 1991 to 1995. Has it really taken me this long to mention that Howard played with Dizzy Gillespie's big band?