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J.J. Johnson Dies at 77

J. J. Johnson, one of the greatest jazz trombonists of all time, passed away on Sunday, February 4th. He was 77.

The Marion County Sheriff’s Department reported the death as a suicide.

Johnson began his career as a jazz musician in the early 40s, performing with Snookum Russel’s band. He went on to play with the Benny Carter Orchestra, with whom he made his recording debut. Johnson’s playing was so fluent and clean his instrument was sometimes mistaken for a valve trombone rather than a slide. He always cited Lester Young and Roy Eldridge as his early influences, and later Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker.

Johnson helped to transform the sound of the jazz trombone during the bop era, managing to incorporate the new rhythms, tempos, and improvisations defined by the playing of Charlie Parker. Johnson performed and recorded with nearly every great jazz musician that has ever lived, including Miles Davis, Coleman Hawkins, Sarah Vaughan, and hundreds more. During the mid-50s, Johnson and Kai Winding performed and recorded as a trombone duo known as Jay and Kai, bringing them both critical acclaim and an enthusiastic audience nationwide.

Johnson had considerable success writing and performing music for film and television, and continued to record throughout the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Johnson recorded two final albums for Verve Records in 1997 and 1998; The Brass Orchestra and Heroes respectively. Both albums were well received and showed once again Johnson’s talent, sensitivity and his innovative nature as a great jazz artist; he will always be remembered as such.

Originally Published