Johnson, Howard (Lewis)

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Johnson, Howard (Lewis)

Johnson, Howard (Lewis), jazz tubist, baritone saxophonist (also trumpet, flugelhorn, four different clarinets, bass saxophone, electric bass, and penny-whistle); b. Montgomery, Ala., Aug. 7, 1941. His fluency, range, and skill on the tuba are astonishing. A self-taught musician, Johnson started on baritone sax at age 13 and moved to tuba at 14. After serving in the Navy in the late 1950s, he settled in Boston, living with the family of drummer Tony Williams. In 1962, he moved to N.Y.C, on the advice of Eric Dolphy, where he met Pharoah Sanders, another recent arrival. From 1964-66, he worked with Charlie Mingus’s band. Four days after hearing Johnson at a gig in 1966, Gil Evans called to invite Howard to join him in Monterey. That relationship lasted on and off until Evans’s passing in 1988. Johnson also formed Substructure in 1966, a band that at one point included four tubas and backed Taj Mahal. He wrote arrangements for Maria Muldaur, Paul Butter-field, and B. B. King while working with Mahal. Over the years, Howard has worked with Hank Crawford, Archie Shepp, Buddy Rich, Freddie Hubbard, McCoy Tyner, Marvin Gaye, Miles Davis, Quincy Jones, The Band (with whom he appeared at Woodstock ’94), and the Saturday Night Live band (which he founded in 1975 and led in 1979). In 1971, he formed a second tuba band Gravity. They performed on SNL, in N.Y., and toured Europe. Johnson recorded with Jack Dejohnette’s Special Edition, Jimmy Heath, and Crawford again in the 1980s. Through the 1990s, he toured the world with George Gruntz, Dizzy Gillespie, Abdullah Ibrahim’s Ekaya, and others. He was heard on film soundtracks for Spike Lee’s School Daze, Mo’ Better Blues, Malcolm X, and dockers.After a four-year association (1990–94) with the NDR Big Band in Hamburg, Germany, he returned to N.Y. and continued doing sessions and heading bands into the 1990s.


Arrival (1995); Gravity!!! (1995); Right Now (1998).

—Lewis Porter

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Johnson, Howard (Lewis)

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