Playing and recording with Jef Lee was like watching/hearing/feeling the time delayed blossoming of a dozen roses coming from a six string guitar. He sung the melodies I wrote with such warmth passion and humor that it made me laugh play and cry at the same time inside. A true Avant-Garde Harmolodic original, Jef Lee Johnson's spirit will never die. Ronald Shannon Jackson
I don't compose for instruments, I compose for people. I've had the privilege of having Jef Lee Johnson's sound and soul and spirit in my head for many years now. His sound, phrasing, unbelievably unique approach will never ever dissipate. Rob Reddy
This man is so humble it makes YOU humble just being around him. No ego. Because of this, he didn't have anything to prove, and when you truly don't have anything to prove you make art from an unadulterated place. Very few people have this. If even an ounce of this this rubbed off on me from our years playing together I am a way better musician and person because of it.
I think it's important to celebrate Jef for HIS music; for his prolific solo albums and his live trio concept. Most interviews over the years and now obituaries tend to focus on his career as a side man, and rightfully so since it's so immense. Jef was adamant about creating in the moment... having the exploration on stage be part of the audience's experience. "Play More," "This is the anti-gig where you play everything you wanted to play but held back...""Play whatever you want." As a drummer, these are the words you've wanted to hear your whole life! However this is equally daunting. I remember drummer Michael Bland talking about going through the same thing...most times drumming is all about structure and we're always trying to boil down to the essence of a song and support support support. Jef wanted everyone in the conversation...listen listen listen, flow flow flow. The improvisational journeys I've been on playing with Jef are the deepest musical experiences of my life.
Zimmerman Shadow was conceived and produced by Jean Rochard. He did pick most of the tunes, however each tune's interpretation was all Jef. It was funny, like Jef put on a disinterested vibe towards the record all the way up to the day of recording. I was calling him and asking "whats the vibe?, what are the tunes" etc. And he said these exact words: "Man, we're just gonna go in there, make some noise, and leave. I don't even want to hear playback." ...Not in an angry way, just in a nonchalant "just another day" kind of way... When it came time to actual moment of tracking, he was very much into it, spewing out tempos, feels, bass lines he'd clearly thought through... we'd come up w a groove and 30 seconds later He'd say "OK OK lets cut lets cut" ...Everything on there is a 1st or 2nd take with very little overdubbing. Never been more on my toes in the studio than that day. Because of that fresh hyper-awareness there's no time to focus on anything else but the moment, and that's what Jef wants the listener to feel.
Words cannot describe the impact he's had on me as a drummer and a person playing in his band the last 6-7yearssoul, groove, improv, noise, authority, sensitivity, when to play nothing, when to unleash, what really matters, and what really does not...and that X factor that will bring someone to tears and leave them with a "stank lip" at the same time. I am forever grateful for him seeing something in me when I was young and inviting me to play his own music on six European tours, many Philly/NYC gigs, and an incredible trio record The Zimmerman Shadow. Through these trips and experiences I got to know Jef and his one of a kind "call it as I see it"/"take it or leave it" outlook totally unimpressed by any level of celebrity, a true non-believer in hype or anything material (aside from guitars and clothes of course), and a preacher of being in the moment both on and off the stage. I cherish these memories and every second we've spent making music together. Jef is truly a rare musical energy. His playing is liquid; like a faucet of pure unadulterated creativity that's gushing when the guitar is in his hands, sounding like a master with infinite years of wisdom and simultaneously like a child that just discovered the guitar.
This is a huge loss I can barely wrap my head around. My deepest condolences to his family and the vast musical world he's touched over the years. Charlie Patierno
My wife and I were very close to Jef. We loved him like a brother, and we are grieving. We had been close for so long, and been through so much together. The tragedy of the death of his wife Trish, with whom my wife was very close, was unfortunately the dominant factor in the rest of Jef's life. He was profoundly sad and hurting.