23

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

Marc Davis By

Sign in to view read count
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. 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 or Juan Tizol of the Duke Ellington 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 are the albums with fellow trombonist Kai Winding. 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 sounding an awful lot like a latter-day Dizzy Gillespie. The Johnson original, "Turnpike," even sounds uncannily like Dizzy's "Salt Peanuts."

(Unfortunately, Volume 1 also includes a John Lewis 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

Related Video

Shop

More Articles

Read Walter Davis Jr.: Davis Cup - 1959 My Blue Note Obsession Walter Davis Jr.: Davis Cup - 1959
by Marc Davis
Published: March 21, 2017
Read Paul Chambers: Paul Chambers Quintet - 1957 My Blue Note Obsession Paul Chambers: Paul Chambers Quintet - 1957
by Marc Davis
Published: March 3, 2017
Read The Best of Lou Donaldson, Volume 1 – 1957-1967 My Blue Note Obsession The Best of Lou Donaldson, Volume 1 – 1957-1967
by Marc Davis
Published: February 13, 2017
Read Lee Morgan: The Sidewinder – 1964 My Blue Note Obsession Lee Morgan: The Sidewinder – 1964
by Marc Davis
Published: January 23, 2017
Read Sabu Martinez: Palo Congo – 1957 My Blue Note Obsession Sabu Martinez: Palo Congo – 1957
by Marc Davis
Published: January 17, 2017
Read Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra: Consummation – 1970 My Blue Note Obsession Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra: Consummation – 1970
by Marc Davis
Published: January 5, 2017
Read "Leo Parker: Rollin' With Leo – 1961" My Blue Note Obsession Leo Parker: Rollin' With Leo – 1961
by Marc Davis
Published: November 21, 2016
Read "Dr. Lonnie Smith: Then and Now – Think! (1968) vs Evolution (2016)" My Blue Note Obsession Dr. Lonnie Smith: Then and Now – Think! (1968) vs...
by Marc Davis
Published: April 4, 2016
Read "Lee Morgan: The Sidewinder – 1964" My Blue Note Obsession Lee Morgan: The Sidewinder – 1964
by Marc Davis
Published: January 23, 2017
Read "Louis Smith: Here Comes Louis Smith – 1957" My Blue Note Obsession Louis Smith: Here Comes Louis Smith – 1957
by Marc Davis
Published: September 12, 2016
Read "Horace Silver: Serenade to a Soul Sister - 1968" My Blue Note Obsession Horace Silver: Serenade to a Soul Sister - 1968
by Marc Davis
Published: July 18, 2016
Read "Cannonball Adderley: Somethin' Else – 1958" My Blue Note Obsession Cannonball Adderley: Somethin' Else – 1958
by Marc Davis
Published: May 9, 2016

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!