American jazz musician Howard Johnson is dead

Howard Johnson, at a concert in March 1996.

Born August 7, 1941 in Montgomery (Alabama), multi-instrumentalist, conductor and arranger Howard Lewis Johnson died in New York on January 11 from cancer, as announced by his partner Nancy Olewine . A “breathtaking” specialist (the word made him laugh) in the tuba, but a practitioner of other serious instruments, he established himself for half a century alongside Charles Mingus, John Coltrane, Gil Evans, Miles Davis, Carla Bley, Beaver Harris, as well as in the group Blood, Sweat and Tears, blues (BB King, Taj Mahal), pop (John Lennon and Yoko Ono), rock, not to mention big bands (Buddy Rich, Dizzy Gillespie, Oliver Nelson, George Gruntz) and his own formations of five or six tubists, Gravity. How many ? Some 500 albums including his …

Walking around Manhattan with him was a treat. Everyone loved him, he knew everyone. Face with the smile of a chubby child, generous body, flexibility à la Cassius Clay, he took you to Local 802 of a tower where the Musicians’ Union was located. Just to meet a somewhat forgotten historical monument, Andy Kirk (1898-1992): Mr. Andy Kirk, late archivist, bass saxophonist, double bass player, leader of a big band in the late 1930s – Les Nuages ​​de la joie : « Howard !, Andy called out like he was talking to his son. How are you ? This morning I lost an incisor which the dentist, well sixty years ago, told me was doomed … “

Then we went to a refrigerated studio where he had a very well paid session for a soul singer in July 1978. Howard recorded in seven minutes twelve, the brass section with big names: Michael Brecker (tenor sax), Lew Soloff (trumpet), and he on baritone. As there were thirty-nine minutes left in the studio, the three artists showed each other shots, stuff they had heard at festivals. The most free that we have heard, it is probably there. The musicians among themselves …

Good-natured hero

We then went down to the store of the Plenda sisters where parade, from Archie Shepp to young David Murray, all the actors of the avant-garde. Then he wanted to have lunch in Chinatown in a boui-boui where the soda on tap tasted like his childhood. In the afternoon, galleries, the Monets of the Museum of Modern Art, in the evening, we would greet Ray Draper at Sweet Basil. Ray Draper, historical tubist (1940-1982) who had recorded with Coltrane, Horace Tapscott, later Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger… Billy Cobham, the stirring drummer of the fusion, climbed down from his purple Plymouth to kiss Howard. Who everywhere was celebrated like a good-natured hero.

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