Amazon.com Widgets
8 Recommend It!

J.J. Johnson: The Eminent Jay Jay Johnson, Volumes 1 and 2 – Blue Note 1505 and 1506

By Published: | 2,017 views
Enter the album name hereThink of jazz, and the trombone almost never comes to mind.

Didn't used to be. In the beginning, every jazz band had a trombone. But that was the Dixieland era, and Dixieland bands aren't much in vogue anymore. (Unless you're a fan of HBO's Treme and you listen to Trombone Shorty
Trombone Shorty
Trombone Shorty
b.1986
trombone
. Sadly, not enough people do, or Treme would still be on the air.)

Then came the big band era, and suddenly lots of trombones were the fashion, all in one band. Think Tommy Dorsey
Tommy Dorsey
Tommy Dorsey
1905 - 1956
trombone
or Juan Tizol
Juan Tizol
Juan Tizol
1900 - 1984
trombone
of the Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington
1899 - 1974
piano
band.

And then there was bebop. Suddenly, everything but the trombone was cool. There were plenty of bebop trumpeters and pianists and sax players and bassists. But trombones? There was really just one, and J.J. Johnson was it.

But damn, he was good.

One good place to begin with J.J. Johnson
J.J. Johnson
J.J. Johnson
1924 - 2001
trombone
are the albums with fellow trombonist Kai Winding
Kai Winding
Kai Winding
1922 - 1983
trombone
. They made lots, and all are good. But they're an odd bunch—quick, name one other trombone duo—and if not exactly a novelty, they aren't exactly representative, either.

Better to start with the classic Blue Note sides. These are the earliest and maybe the best.

J.J. Johnson could do what few trombonists before him could: spit out lots of notes, very fast, melodically, on an instrument not exactly designed for it. Bebop is easy—well, easier—on a piano or trumpet or sax. Not so the trombone, with its cumbersome slide. Johnson made it sound easy.

These two Blue Note records chronicle three recording sessions from 1953 to 1955. The best takes are the earliest, with the phenomenal young trumpeter Clifford Brown
Clifford Brown
Clifford Brown
1930 - 1956
trumpet
sounding an awful lot like a latter-day Dizzy Gillespie
Dizzy Gillespie
Dizzy Gillespie
1917 - 1993
trumpet
. The Johnson original, "Turnpike," even sounds uncannily like Dizzy's "Salt Peanuts."

(Unfortunately, Volume 1 also includes a John Lewis
John Lewis
John Lewis
b.1920
piano
original, "Sketch 1," which sounds very much like a chamber-jazz number for the Modern Jazz Quartet. Not surprising, since the group featured three future members of the MJQ, including Lewis. Sadly, it's doesn't give Johnson much to work with.)

Volume 2 features two more groups, including one with conga master Sabu, and several bouncy Latin-tinged numbers. The third group includes a fluid, bopping Horace Silver sounding great—every bit the equal to Johnson.

In the bebop world, J.J. Johnson was virtually a sound unto himself. These two Blue Note classics are an excellent place to hear him at his best.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Availability: Many copies on Amazon, new and used

Cost: Under $4 each used

comments powered by Disqus
Support All About Jazz Through Amazon

Weekly Giveaways

Steve Wilson/Lewis Nash

Steve Wilson/Lewis Nash

About | Enter

Tom Chang

Tom Chang

About | Enter

Cedar Walton

Cedar Walton

About | Enter

Sheryl Bailey

Sheryl Bailey

About | Enter

Sponsor: ECM Records | BUY NOW