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Take Five With Douglas Johnson

Douglas Johnson By

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Meet Douglas Johnson:
Douglas Johnson is a bassist, composer and bandleader in Chicago, Illinois. He earned a bachelors' degree in music performance from Northwestern University, studying with Jeff Bradetich, and has been a Fellow for the Tanglewood Music Institute and Bach Aria Festival.

Doug served as Associate Principal Bass of the Honolulu Symphony for one season, and is currently active with the symphonic, chamber music, and progressive music scenes in Chicago, including playing as a substitute bassist with the Chicago Symphony, Access Contemporary Music, and the Chicago Composers Orchestra.

Doug has written music for the River North Chicago Dance Company, the Dutch National Ballet Project, and a 15-minute soundtrack for a Quay Brothers silent film scored for violin, viola, clarinet, horn, piano and percussion. Doug also completed and, as the soloist, premiered the middle movement of the Concerto for Double Bass in D minor, which is 1/3 completed. He has written string arrangements for a number of recording projects, most recently for the singer Maddy Meyer.

Doug is also the bandleader of the progressive improvisational group, Gunnelpumpers.

Double bass, Clevinger bass, bass guitar.

Teachers and/or influences?
Primary Teachers: George Black (New York Philharmonic); Ronald Simon (Seattle Symphony); Jeff Bradetich.

Additional study with Warren Benfield, Brad Opland, Rob Kassinger, Michael Hovnanian, Joe Guastafeste and Joe DiBello.

Master classes with Klaus Stoll, Jon Deak, Hal Robinson, Edgar Meyer, Edwin Barker and Timothy Pitts.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when...
I was a junior or senior in high school and realized there was nothing I'd rather do. And, maybe, the girls in the orchestra were always so damn cute.

Your sound and approach to music:
I tend to think of the double bass as a melodic instrument, and use the bow more often than not. I love orchestral playing: the combined power of 9-10 basses playing the same part, the sheer physicality of pulling a solid, full fundamental sound out of the instrument, the electricity of the music making.

In my own improvised music and with my group, Gunnelpumpers, I enjoy pioneering new sonic possibilities, primarily with my upright electric Clevinger bass. I have a large pedal board with which to help find that sound, at least for that moment.

Your dream band:
Gunnelpumpers is already my dream band.

I'm looking forward to upcoming collaborations with percussionist Bob Garrett, flutist Dean Evenson, and bassist Jeff Greene, and hopefully this is just the beginning.

Road story: Your best or worst experience:
I have freelanced as a bassist in and around Chicago for years, so it's only natural that strange things happen from time to time. In my book, this wedding takes the cake:

A pianist, violinist and I were hired to play at a wedding in a small synagogue on Chicago's north side. The couple to be wed was fond of The Beatles, Billy Joel and others, so our plan was for our trio to play some simple arrangements of these songs. We had rehearsed the previous day, decided the song order, and that Billy Joel's "Just the Way You Are" would be the processional at the beginning of the ceremony.

On the way to the synagogue for the wedding, it so happens that Chicago's Gay Pride Parade was taking place along the route I intended on using. After being turned back several times by police and fringy floats, I finally circumnavigated the affair and made it to the synagogue on time. Fortunately I had left home early. Not so for the pianist.

Minutes before the ceremony, the violinist and I are wondering where the pianist is. Because, after all, "Just the Way You Are" without piano was unthinkable. We keep thinking the pianist would magically appear to save the day, but, alas, he does not. We have to go to Plan B.

Of course, Plan B was not thought out beforehand. The violinist and I look at each other moments before the processional and I, for inexplicable reasons, whisper-blurted "Eight Days a Week." And, I must say, it was a very enthusiastic performance. I even slapped the sides of my bass where the hand clapping occurs in the recording.

Now, wedding processionals are usually rather solemn affairs. Not this time. Grandma and Grandpa were laughing down the aisles, the congregation started chuckling, and throughout the wedding, the nervous soon-to-be newlyweds kept giggling. In fact, giggling kept happening everywhere during the entire wedding: the rabbi, the parents, others in attendance. It turned out to be a rather buoyant affair. Afterwards, the father of the bride said he enjoyed our musical choices, and then started laughing.

If anything, I would like to think that couple will have a wonderfully happy marriage. If any sort of argument breaks out, just one of them has to start humming "Eight Days a Week" and the laughter will surely begin.


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