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Max Johnson

Described as “an intrepid composer, architect of sound and beast of the bass...” (Brad Cohan, NYC Jazz Record) composer-bassist Max Johnson creates complex worlds of sound, challenging his listeners to engage deeply and be rewarded with an experience always crafted with love, care, and clarity. With nine albums and over two thousand concerts internationally with artists like Anthony Braxton, Mary Halvorson, Tyshawn Sorey, John Zorn, and Mivos Quartet, Johnson brings a wild energy and excitement. Johnson currently teaches music theory at Brooklyn College and is the father to a beautiful chihuahua named Gabby. Celebrated as “one of the more versatile figures… a leader with a strong, woody tone” (Peter Margasak, The Chicago Reader), Johnson is equally adept as a composer, improviser, and interpreter. He has carved out a unique path in the contemporary music, jazz, and bluegrass worlds as a boundless force of positivity, with a non-stop touring schedule and a prolific body of work. His music has been featured at Lincoln Center, the United Nations, Lollapalooza, Bern Jazz Festival, Delfest, Rockygrass, Greyfox, Old Settler's Music Festival, High Sierra Music Festival, Fayetteville Roots Festival, Strawberry Music Festival, 3 Sisters Music Festival, and the Quebec City Festival. Johnson also has a prolific recording history, having released nine albums under his own name, has been a part of over 50 albums, and can be heard Spike Lee’s Academy Award winning film the BlacKkKlansman. In 2012 and 2014 was voted No.2 Bassist of the Year and No. 5 Musician of the Year in El Intruso's International Critics Poll. In 2018 he was commissioned by the University of Glaskow to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Claude Debussy with his work for oboe, horn and harpsichord, Clawed, followed by a commission by the Steven R. Gerber Trust for I Have Heard the Chimes at Midnight for Brass Trio and Piano. In 2020 the Jerome Foundation commissioned him for a new extended work Transformations which was featured in a portrait concert at Roulette, in Brooklyn, NY, and in 2021 he was commissioned by the Society of Composers, Inc to compose Spangled Dots for the Kamratōn ensemble, based on text by Todd Colby. His debut album of chamber music, When the Streets Were Quiet, was funded by the Café Royal Cultural Foundation, and will be released in 2022. He has toured, recorded, and performed with some of the most legendary names in his fields, including Muhal Richard Abrams, Nels Cline, David Grisman, Ingrid Laubrock, Sam Bush, William Parker, Bryan Sutton, Joseph Jarman, Karl Berger, Kris Davis, Darol Anger, the Travelin’ McCourys, members of Talea Ensemble, Bang on a Can, and the De Capo Chamber Players.

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Album Review

Sam Newsome: Tubes

Read "Tubes" reviewed by Mike Jurkovic

Tubes, a riotous investigation into the sonic by outlaw soprano saxophonist Sam Newsome and provocateur bassist Max Johnson, burps to life with “Dust" and proceeds assuredly down its own peculiar byways and highways. It is a real treat. The track closes with Newsome's prepared horn pondering like a bluesman on his lone, lonely harp. It is a real neat treat too. That is pretty much the blueprint for Tubes. However, it is not as simple as that and ...

Album Review

Max Johnson Trio: Orbit of Sound

Read "Orbit of Sound" reviewed by Mike Jurkovic

Whereas Sketches (Fresh Sounds Records, 2022) could be considered a more traditional big bop trio recording with pianist/vibraphonist Karl Berger and drummer Billy MIntz, Orbit of Sound, NY bassist Max Johnson's second heady release of 2022 finds him in the instigative company of the ever undefinable Anna Webber on tenor saxophone and flute and drummer Michael Sarin. On the verge of completing a tour of Europe in the fateful February and March of 2019, the trio's final concert ...

Album Review

Karl Berger, Max Johnson, Billy Mintz: Sketches

Read "Sketches" reviewed by Mike Jurkovic

An exquisitely palatable sense of dance permeates the gregarious music bassist Max Johnson brings to the fore on Sketches, the second of two heady 2022 releases. Whereas the first, Orbit of Sound (Unbroken Sounds), teams him up with the rule-elusive sax and flute of Anna Weber and drummer Michael Sarin, Sketches presents a slightly more straight ahead approach with pianist and vibraphonist Karl Berger and drummer Billy Mintz. But straight ahead is not quite fair, or descriptive enough ...

Festivals Talking

Moers Festival Interviews: Max Johnson

Read "Moers Festival Interviews: Max Johnson" reviewed by Martin Longley

New York bassist Max Johnson has embarked on a European tour with his trio, in the run-up to the release of their new album Orbit Of Sound (Unbroken Sounds, 2022). They are playing crucial venues such as Roskam in Brussels and The Loft in Cologne, doubtless climaxing at the Moers Festival, also in Germany (3rd-6th June). Prior to the tour, the trio hadn't played together since August 2021, when they recorded the album. Your scribe was roaming around ...

Album Review

Max Johnson, Kirk Knuffke, Ziv Ravitz: Something Familiar

Read "Something Familiar" reviewed by Karl Ackermann

New York native Max Johnson does not appear to require sleep. The bassist/composer, whose career spans the wide terrain from the Trans-Siberian Orchestra to Lollapalooza to Anthony Braxton consistently delivers fresh, adventurous, high-quality music against an ambitious output. With his now-regular working trio of Kirk Knuffke on cornet and drummer Ziv Ravitz, the group has released their best work to date on Something Familiar. As Johnson's star rises, so too does Knuffke's whose been drawing high spots ...

Album Review

Max Johnson: The Prisoner

Read "The Prisoner" reviewed by Libero Farnè

L'emergente Max Johnson, cresciuto nel New Jersey e stabilitosi a New York, dopo una seria formazione e una gavetta al fianco di alcuni dei più bei nomi dell'avanguardia s'inserisce di diritto nell'ormai vasta schiera di validi contrabbassisti-leader dell'attuale scena jazzistica internazionale. Questa sua suite s'ispira ad un serial programmato dalla televisione britannica nel 1968 e rivisto con occhio critico dall'autore in anni recenti. Dopo una messa a fuoco dei temi e delle dinamiche del gruppo in alcuni ingaggi dal vivo, ...

Extended Analysis

Max Johnson: Big Eyed Rabbit

Read "Max Johnson: Big Eyed Rabbit" reviewed by Karl Ackermann

Bassist Max Johnson is one of the most prolific and versatile musician/composers in music today and likely on the verge of a major breakthrough. Barely past the year's mid-point Johnson has offered three fine releases with different groups and distinctly different styles. Recording with Kirk Knuffke on cornet on Johnson's namesake trio release The Invisible Trio (Fresh Sound New Talent, 2014) the approach was a broad mix of multi-layered structure and unfettered originality. Shortly afterward, Johnson released The Prisoner (NoBusiness ...

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“Max Johnson is one of the most prolific and versatile musician/composers in music today” (Brad Cohan, New York City Jazz Record).
Primary Instrument


Willing to teach

Intermediate to advanced

Henry Grimes
bass, acoustic
Mark Dresser
bass, acoustic
Tim Berne
saxophone, alto
Anthony Braxton
John Coltrane
Jimmy Garrison
bass, acoustic
Charlie Haden
bass, acoustic



Recordings: As Leader | As Sideperson


Unbroken Sounds



Fresh Sound Records


Orbit of Sound

Self Produced


The Prisoner

NoBusiness Records


Something Familiar

Fresh Sound Records


The Invisible Trio

Fresh Sound Records



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