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Trombonist "J.J." (James Louis) Johnson was born in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1924. His interest in music began in his church where he eventually studied piano with the organist.

 

In high school he started playing the only instrument then available, the baritone saxophone, and soon moved to the trombone.

 

Johnson joined Snookum Russel's band when he was 18. He spent most of the 1940s moving through the ranks of some more notable bands led by Benny Carter, Illinois Jacquet, Count Basie, and Benny Carter. It was with Carter's band that he made his first recorded solo on "Love for Sale."

 

Johnson gained notoriety for his inventive, rapid, and clean style beginning in 1944 with his first concert as part of Norman Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic. In 1951, he joined Oscar Pettiford's sextet for a USO tour. Johnson left the music business in 1953 for about a year, playing only occasionally as when he recorded some titles with Miles Davis for Blue Note. He came back, however, as part of the much-acclaimed group, Jay & Kai, which included trombonist Kai Winding.

 

The late 1950s saw Johnson at work as both a composer (Poems for Brass, a piece for brass ensemble and orchestra) and the leader of a sextet that included Cedar Walton, Albert Heath, Clifford Jordan, Freddie Hubbard, and Arthur Harper. The group disbanded in 1960, but Johnson remained active, playing with Miles Davis, Sonny Stitt, Clark Terry, and others. He also continued to compose for large, classically oriented ensembles.

 

In 1970, J.J. Johnson moved to Los Angeles to work almost exclusively as a composer and arranger of music for TV and films. Among his TV projects were scores for "Mayberry R.F.D.," "The Danny Thomas Show," "That Girl," and "The Mod Squad." His movie credits include Cleopatra Jones and Shaft. Throughout the decade and into the 1980s, he periodically recorded as a jazz trombonist, but rarely played live. Eventually he moved back to Indianapolis. It wasn't until 1988 that he started playing and recording more frequently.

 

J.J. Johnson retired from performing in 1997 and spent the rest of his life in Indianapolis, composing on his Macintosh computer. He died in February of 2001.

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