Marc Johnson: Sweet Tone for Sweet Tunes
"Joe and I were the happy recipients of his new-found dedication to his craft and his music. We were there to go on the journey with him. He was encouraging us to push the envelope. We were trying different things, different tempo modulations, chord modulations, different things that he hadn't been doing before. It was a lot of fun.
Johnson went on to play with people like Stan Getz, John Abercrombie, Jack DeJohnette, Gary Burton, Charles Lloyd, Lee Konitz and many others. He developed his own two-guitar group, with a unique sound, in Bass Desires with Scofield and Bill Frisell.
"I think, as a result of that association (with Evans), I had a degree of respect in the jazz community. I was still quite young, experience-wise. I had a lot to learn. I still do, in fact, he says with a laugh. "I was able to keep working with really great people, great musicians.
Aside from Evans, there were other influences that helped Johnson develop as a soloist and a musician that have helped him reach his status as one of the excellent bass players.
"I'd have to talk in terms of conception. For me, getting free in the time was really a big deal. Playing with John Abercrombie and Peter Erskine (in the 1980s) was a flowering time for me, in terms of getting more liberated. Playing over structures, but becoming really fluid within them so that it almost sounds like you're not playing on a structure. But adhering, not rigidly, but loosely, to structure. The integrity of the structure is there, but we're just obfuscating, so to speak. Playing freely. That conception is something I've tried to carry over into other music, other groups that I play in, if the music warrants it.
"Fortunately, I've been playing with great players that want to do that kind of thing. Piano trios and guitar trios and duets and things like that. The smaller the ensemble, the more freedom you can have to move laterally in the time.
So, Johnson remains busy, performing concerts in various formats when he is not touring with Elias, his main working gig. He isn't on any steady teaching faculty, which many musicians do to augment their careers. "An occasional player will call me up. Mostly guys from Europe who get these study grants and come to New York for a month. They want to hang out and take a few lessons. I've been invited to do a couple of lectures at a jazz series at the University of North Texas in the spring.
"I have a few people that I work with continually throughout the year. I'm busiest with [Eliane] out of choice because we just want to play together and be together. I've had a long association with a pianist from Italy by the name of Enrico Pieranunzi, we have a trio with Joey Baron. We've been playing together for over 20 years.
Johnson says some of the Shades of Jade music will be heard soon, though not with the entire band. "We're going to play as a quartet, with Joe Lovano, Eliane and Joey Baron at a club in New York, Dizzy's Coca Cola, Jan. 31 through Feb. 5. We have plans for Eliane, Joey and I to go out as a trio and play some of this music to promote Shades of Jade. We'll be in Europe for a couple weeks beginning in February, primarily Scandinavia.
As for other projects: "I just started playing in a trio with John Abercrombie on guitar and Tomasz Stanko on trumpet. We just finished a concert in Germany and I'm traveling to Poland in early December to play with this trio. Also, I'm going to be with John Abercrombie's quartet, with Mark Feldman on violin and Joey Baron on drums. It's really great music. It almost sounds classical at times with the violin and the way Mark plays. The conception of the music is so open. It's a real fun ensemble for us to play in.
"I'll be doing some work next year with Lee Konitz, a tour from February into March and other dates later in the year. I've played with Lee off and on over the years. I've always enjoyed it. This will be a trio with bass drums and alto sax. Joey Baron on drums.
Of the scene in general, Johnson says many musicians say they are fortunate to be working, with gigs not as plentiful as they were in years. But for him, business is good.
"I'm still busy, mostly in Europe. I think the market for jazz is still better in Europe than just about anywhere else that I've seen. I feel very fortunate, because I'm working as much as I'd like to be. I don't do long tours anymore. I'll do a lot of run-outs for a week or 10 days, four or five nights, something like that. Eliane, her thing is spread out over the year and I like that. It's my main commitment. So I fit the other things I'm doing between that. We're staying pretty active.