Three Great Blue Note CDs Featuring J.J. Johnson as Sideman

During his career as a jazz musician, the late J.J. Johnson recorded many times as a leader. His well known musical vision and skills as a writer and arranger — not to mention his virtuosic translation of modern jazz to the trombone — meant the leader role fit him well. That same reputation, too, meant he was in demand as a sideman. In these instances, J.J.’s playing always adds something special to the musical proceedings, and, while freed from the responsibilities of a leader, he might sound a little more relaxed than usual. Below are three Blue Note CDs you may not have heard yet: all feature J.J. as a sideman. Check them out. The titles and cover art will link to the music at Amazon.


Kenny Dorham: Afro Cuban

Leader: Kenny Dorham, Recording date: March 28, 1955

  1. Afrodisia
  2. Basheer’s Dream
  3. Lotus Flower
  4. Minor’s Holiday
  • J.J. Johnson, trombone
  • Kenny Dorham, trumpet
  • Hank Mobley, tenor saxophone
  • Cecil Payne, bass sax
  • Horace Silver, piano
  • Oscar Pettiford, bass
  • Art Blakey, drums
  • Carlos Valdez, percussion

Volume 2

Sonny Rollins: Vol. 2

Leader: Sonny Rollins, Recording date: April 14, 1957

Page for this recording at Wikipedia

  1. Why Don’t I?
  2. Wail March
  3. You Stepped Out of a Dream
  4. Poor Butterfly
  5. Misterioso
  • J.J. Johnson, trombone
  • Sonny Rollins, Tenor saxophone
  • Horace Silver, piano
  • Paul Chambers, bass
  • Art Blakey, drums

Cape Verdean Blues

Horce Silver: Cape Verdean Blues

Leader: Horace Silver, Recording date: October 22, 1965

Page for this recording at Wikipedia

  1. Nutville
  2. Bonita
  3. Mo’ Joe
  • J.J. Johnson, trombone
  • Horace Silver, piano
  • Woody Shaw, trumpet
  • Joe Henderson, tenor saxophone
  • Bob Cranshaw, bass
  • Roger Humphries, drums

The Pride of the Southland

A Marching Band Memory

Picture of 1982 World's Fair serving Tray

Yeah…well…you had to be there

In the Fall of 1981, I was a freshman at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. It was an interesting time to be there, with the 1982 World’s Fair just about to break out in the city. Just look at the commemorative serving tray, pictured here. Yes, the future seemed within our collective grasp.

Anyway, fortunately for me, I had a band scholarship. Perhaps somewhat unfortunately, as a condition of that scholarship I was obliged to play in the University of Tennessee Pride of the Southland Marching Band.

There must have been some aspect of marching that I enjoyed, and maybe I thought that membership in the marching band provided a kind of continuity from high school. In retrospect especially, this notion is crazy. As a naive freshman, I was simply not prepared for the gargantuan priority shift that was occurring all around me. Inebriating liquids would play a huge role. On campus, the Pride of the Southland Marching Band was no exception to this college drinking trend, and probably was its true standard-bearer.

The marching style, too, was very different from what I was used to. In contrast to the wannabe-drum-and-bugle-corps style of high school, the “Pride of the Southland” style of marching was a military style, involving circles, diamonds and straight lines up and down the field. While the pre-game show — featuring Rocky Top — was relatively fixed in execution, each half-time show was freshly envisioned for each game. To accomplish these new marching drills, each band member was issued a printed chart telling him or her where and when to move. Negotiating the formations could be tricky.

Many of the marching drills were charted by the long-suffering assistant band director, Walter McDaniel. During rehearsals on the field, McDaniel did his best to be civil, but not surprisingly, the half-crazed-college-kid-marchers could drive him to a level of exasperation that would be difficult for any sane man to handle. On one occasion, in a conflicted fit he famously uttered, “Damn it…Please…Damn it…Please…” It became a band catchphrase.

Then there was the band’s leader, Dr. W.J. Julian, who was simultaneously reviled and loved by those in the band. Although Dr. Julian, then the president of the American Bandmaster’s Association, had his genteel moments in which he spoke about sipping cognac by the fire, he was on the other hand a man who truly understood what it meant to be hell-bent. Undoubtedly, part of the reason for W.J’s disposition was something that happened many years earlier: three years to the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the ship he was on as a young man — LSM318 — was sunk by a Kamikaze pilot in the Philippines.

During parts of a show, Julian would conduct atop a ladder on the sidelines. His conducting style was deliberate and jerky, and often seemed to be an expression of his own frustrations with trying to get the band to perform as he wanted. During show run-throughs, he’d take to the field, run through the formations, and deliver in-face, generally non-positive reviews of how you were doing. These displays were almost always issued with the true histrionic furor common to tyrants and some who try to motivate those in post-secondary education. A favorite gesture was one in which Dr. Julian, his angry, beet-red face already apparent, would rip off his sunglasses, revealing furious eyes. After a dramatic pause, there would come the smack-down utterance, the coup de gras. Once, when I made a misstep during rehearsal, Julian got up in my face, performed the glasses rip, and quietly growled in my ear, “You don’t know shit about this show.”

After rehearsals on field, the whole band would get their notes on how we did. Dr. Julian would ascend his ladder, Douglas-MacArthur-like. We’d all gather around. He’d look out at the horizon, the sun gleaming off of his aviator sunglasses. Eventually, he’d say, “That was better, but it was still horrible.” Expanding a bit further, he’d say, “Some of you…” — his voice would trail off, then — “MOST OF YOU! — are INSOLENT and COMPLACENT!”

On one occasion, the band was handed a reprieve from learning a new and complicated halftime show: a tribute to the United Way. The band would forego its usual repertoire of constantly moving circles and diamonds. Instead, we’d simply form the United Way symbol, face the press box, and play a touching song meant to pull at the heartstrings of the assembled fans.

When halftime arrived, everything seemed to go well. On a crisp and clear Fall day, the Pride of the Southland Marching Band formed the United Way symbol in the middle of the field. We were almost ready to play “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” First, though, the sound of the announcer’s voice boomed through the PA and slapped around the stadium in that bigger-than-life-college-football way:

“Ladies and Gentlemen!…The United Way!…Thanks to you it’s working!…Listen as the University of Tennessee Pride of the Southland band plays…You’ll Never Walk Again.”

When Trombones Fly Redux

It looks as though my last entry here at Commander Trombone has grown old and crufty. Still, for the new year I’d like to add some potentially valuable information for those traveling with a trombone. (By the way, happy new year.)

The basic issue of the trombone case may be easily solved. After all, most trombones ship with a case. However, these standard-issue cases vary in size, weight, and the amount of protection they provide. For plane travel, bigger trombone cases, including bass trombone cases, may be a problem as a carry-on. On the other hand, a relatively thin tenor trombone case can likely be taken on as a carry-on despite the fact that it will easily exceed most airlines official limitations of about 45 linear inches.

If you’re in the market for a trombone case (find some money somewhere and stimulate the economy, bub), below is a list of trombone case manufacturers. Most of these cases will likely need extra external protection if checked under a plane, with the possible exception of this one. As noted elsewhere, some musicians have further protected trombone cases by putting them inside a golf-club case or bag.

Here are some good online guides to check out:

Aurex Jazz in Translation

Out of the randomness that makes up YouTube content these days, real surprises occasionally surface that don’t have to do with dogs riding skateboards or cats playing the piano. One such find is the “Aurex Jazz Special” that aired on Japanese television in the 80s, apparently concurrent with the Aurex Jazz Festival. In the clip below (click movie to start play), J.J. Johnson explains his early musical influences:

There’s also a version of Jay and Kai playing It’s All Right With Me with a rhythm section that includes Tommy Flanagan on piano and Roy Haynes on drums. On what seems to be the same occasion, Dexter Gordon and Clark Terry join for I’ll Remember April, and Milestones. There are a few awkward Lost in Translation moments during the show as the musicians smile and “play along” with whatever is being said by the show hosts.