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Jeff Johnson: My Heart


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: Jeff Johnson: My Heart
Minneapolis... circa 1972 is where this story begins.

People ask me, "where did you go to study music?" I always answer, "Minneapolis / St.Paul, Minnesota." Then they ask, "yes... but what school?" My reply, "the streets, night clubs, and music scene of Minneapolis / St. Paul. I have a bastard's degree in music from Minneapolis / St. Paul."

The "Twin Cities" as they are called in Minnesota, was extremely fertile musical ground at the time I was coming up on the scene. There was an incredible blend of great veteran players and younger musicians playing everywhere together. This was my school. I had no idea what a great place it was to learn to play music until I left there. In 1972 I was 17 years old, working all the time, and taking advantage of all of it.

Among the "younger" veterans there at the time was Art Resnick. Pianist on this session. Art is a jazz pianist with a background in classical music.

A prolific composer, Art's original jazz compositions reflect his classical side. Playing his music introduced me to some harmonic and rhythmic structures that truly opened up my mind, my ears, and my improvising. Art is particularly adept at using odd meters in very musical ways that make sense. Even when we play standards together, Art has a way of arranging them in sophisticated and creative ways that are always challenging. His style of writing was relatively new to jazz in 1972 and Art was ahead of the curve at the time. Just playing with him was harmony school and ear training class toward my bastard's degree! Art and I played a lot together in the early '70s, including some road work with a very young Dick Oatts on board. Then we went our separate ways for awhile. I went to Philadelphia and New York in '75/'76. Art went to New York and then Paris for a few years. In 1985, we hooked up again in San Diego when he invited me to come check it out. There he introduced me to Billy Mintz, the drummer on this session. We played together around southern California for a few years, even being selected as LA finalists in the 1986 Hennessy Jazz Search. For that event we played the Palace in LA with saxophonist Doug Webb on board. Billy Mintz and I also played on Art's trio album called 'A Gift' for Capri Records in 1988.

Billy Mintz has an entirely different demeanor at the drums than I had ever been exposed to before him. A totally unique individual, Billy's "touch" is his signature to me. He can swing so hard and yet so lightly with infinite patience. His sound leaves so much space for other instruments. So much "air." Billy will play from a whisper to a thunder. So dynamic. During the '70s and '80s I was used to playing a lot of music that was just hit the gas and stay there. That was the sound of the times as instruments became more amplified. It was revealing and profound to me to play with such dynamics as it allowed a myriad more choices and possibilities one could use to make very dramatic music. I learned so much of the "unspoken" from Billy and I came to totally trust his instincts. We never discussed how we should play. We just listened to each other.

Billy Mintz, along with multiple wind instrument wizard Hans Tuber, played on three of my recordings for Origin Records. Free in 1999, The Art of Falling in 2001, and Tall Stranger in 2002.

John Gross, the tenor saxophonist on this session, was also around LA in the '80s where he often played with Billy Mintz. Billy introduced me to John Gross and I met another one of my mentors. One of the first times I heard John play was at a Vinny Golia Ensemble concert in LA, which included Billy at the drums. The players in the ensemble were reading rather difficult music which seemed to demand all of their attention. However, when it came time for a John Gross solo, he stood up, closed his eyes, and didn't look at the music again. He just started to play, weaving the most beautiful and mystical lines. Seemingly keyless and timeless melodies rendered over the top of a most difficult musical structure. I felt that John had let go of that structure and was freely searching out his solo by ear and instinct. It was just incredible, the depth and grandeur of it. He was soaring above the Earth! I remember it brought to mind Wayne Shorter. When I hear Wayne Shorter or John Gross play, I feel that anything is possible.

John and Billy have their own incredible rapport. They have played and recorded many times as a duo. Just listen to "Studio City" here in this program. That track was originally 17 minutes long with the full band. Due to technical sound issues, I edited the track down to the duet between John and Billy which occurred midway through the take. This totally improvised tandem solo section showcases their magical bond. Once John made a comment about Billy. "Playing with Billy is like being in the ocean."

December 1991. Art Resnick is living in Portland, Oregon. I'm living up the coast in Seattle. The quartet met up in Portland to finish up a sequence of gigs we had played in Oregon and Washington state. An 11th hour decision, I wanted to take the band into the studio to record some tunes I had written for the quartet. I also really wanted to capture the chemistry of these players together. The day before this session, we found a place in Portland called Falcon Studios which could get us in on short notice. We could only book the studio for four hours so we recorded the music as quickly as we could. The tunes were almost all first takes and we all agreed that the results of the session were magical. I put out a limited cassette release of this session in the early '90s that we mainly used for promotion, then it gradually sat in the vault as we went our separate ways again. I always wanted to put it out "for real" to honor how beautifully John, Art, and Billy interpreted my songs. Origin Records has given me the opportunity to finally do this. 32 years later...

Liner Notes copyright © 2024 Jeff Johnson.

My Heart can be purchased here.

Jeff Johnson Contact Jeff Johnson at All About Jazz.
Jazz bassist, Jeff Johnson, received an acoustic guitar at age 9 and began his personal musical journey.

Track Listing

Linden Station; Leviathan; Companions; My Heart; Studio City; Watercolours


Jeff Johnson
bass, acoustic
John Gross
saxophone, tenor

Album information

Title: My Heart | Year Released: 2023 | Record Label: Origin Records

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