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Darren Johnston

Canada-born trumpeter/composer/educator Darren Johnston’s interests rotate primarily between performing all styles of jazz, purely improvised music, new music, and various other traditional musics, especially that of the Balkans, Greece, and Macedonia. He is especially drawn to music that tends to defy categorization, and is also generally open to further suggestions.

After twenty one years in the Bay Area, Johnston recently relocated to Brooklyn, NY in 2019. In the time since moving there, he has played and/or recorded withChes Smith, Dayna Stephens, Carmen Staaf, Michael Formanek, Tony Malaby, Michael Attias, Slavic Soul Party!, Raya Brass Band, The Peter Hess Quartet, Michael Vatcher, and many more.

As a composer he has written for ensembles ranging from small jazz groups, to big-bands, brass bands, string quartets, choirs, rock bands, and countless combinations thereof. He has been commissioned to write for dance, dance film, theater, video games, and by museums such as San Francisco’s De Young Museum, and other presenting organizations such as the Yerba Buena Garden Festival, and Intersection For The Arts.

He has performed and/or recorded with luminaries such as Marshall Allen, Gerald Cleaver, Fred Frith, ROVA Sax Quartet, Ben Goldberg, Allison Miller, Mark Dresser, Myra Melford, Marcus Shelby, Pete Escovedo, Erik Jekabson’s “Electric Squeezebox Orchestra,” and many others, across the USA and around the world.

As a bandleader, past projects include The United Brassworkers Front, The Nice Guy Trio, The Darren Johnston Quintet, The Pipes, Broken Shadows Family Band, Trans-Global People’s Chorus, and innumerable one-offs. Current projects include the Chicago-based Life In Time, featuring Geof Bradfield, Clark Sommers, and Dana Hall, a NYC-based trio, Breathing Room, featuring Carmen Staaf, and Michael Formanek, and the NYC-based Wild Awake quintet, featuring Dayna Stephens, Jacob Sacks, Sean Conly, and Ches Smith. An all-Canadian collective quartet, temporarily put on hold by the pandemic, is now preparing to pick up where it left off, featuring Anna Webber, Michael Bates, and Toronto-based Nick Fraser.

As an educator Johnston has taught at Stanford Jazz Workshop’s summer program and throughout the year in their “Giant Steps” program, Jazz Camp West, The Jazzschool, and as an adjunct at UC Berkeley. As a guest lecturer he has been invited to present master classes on free improvisation, holistic approaches to music theory and practice, and an introduction to music of the Balkans at institutions such as Sonoma State University, Cal Arts, and others.


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“Johnston explores the limits of his instrument with a hankering for originality…running away and never looking back.” – San Francisco Bay Guardian, “Pick of the Week,”

“fantastic…with a big bell tone and a tart phrasing style that really cuts through.” – Signal to Noise #48.

“a resourceful improviser who writes vivid, episodic themes.” – Downbeat Magazine, “25 Trumpeters for the Future.”

“Someone to watch, on trumpet of course, but as a composer and bandleader as well.” – John Corbett, Downbeat Magazine


Concert Schedule

Album Discography

Recordings: As Leader | As Sideperson

Life in Time

Origin Records


Songs From The Urban...

Gold Lion Arts


Shipwreck 4

NoBusiness Records


The Big Lift



The Big Lift

Porto Franco Records


Little Gold Fish

From: Life in Time
By Darren Johnston


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