Welcome to the supplemental website to the John Johnson recording of “Songs For My Father.” I’ve put this site together because even before I started writing the music for this record, friends and family have asked what I’m up to, and what certain details would be surrounding the recording.
I will start by saying that I wanted to fulfill this urge to do a record as a tribute to my father over 10 years ago, at the 10 year anniversary of his death in 1983. As I was 24 at the time, I didn’t believe I had the experience, time or chops to do it the way I wanted to do it. Therefore I put off until this last year, at the 20 year anniversary of his death.
My dad cultivated and maintained in me, both by direct contact and osmosis, an interest in jazz music that has so far lasted a lifetime. He was a jazz trumpeter, who loved jazz of all styles-especially Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard and Chuck Mangione.
I remember on Saturday and Sunday mornings he would get up somewhat early and put on his old jazz records and play along with them. My earliest recollections of recorded music come from this period. I was first introduced to Miles Davis’ “Blue Haze” when I was very young, probably before I was 4 or 5 years old. He would put that record on and play along to every song. Sometimes he would improvise his own solo, sometimes he would play along with Miles note for note in his solo.
My dad was a semi-professional horn player when he was younger, but his career was cut short by an accident while fighting forest fires in Northern California. Goofing off with his friends, he broke several of his front teeth on a fire truck bumper that forever changed his embouchure.
I can still remember his tone, which was particularly airy, a little buzzy and soft-spoken, since he played out of the right side of his mouth. He owned an old Conn coronet manufactured in the early 30’s that he bought in a pawn shop in the late 50’s or the early 60’s. That exact horn is the one pictured everywhere on this record here.
He started me out on the trumpet, and though he taught me how to read and even write music, it was his influence in what he listened to that has proven to be the most valuable. Jazz is not a science of how things are written, such as you would find in classical or other types of music. It is an art form of how things sound, how everything works together.
As I moved through high school and later college, I was inspired by many other ‘father figures’ along the way. Steve Lishman was the jazz music teacher at my high school that convinced me that playing the bass and later piano was a better choice for musical style and taste. His musical contribution to my jazz upbringing was essential, and I still carry thoughts and lessons from his instruction surrounding the circle of fifths, 2-5-1 and improvisation to his vast knowledge and catalog of influential jazz artists. I remember and use some of these lessons even today, 20 years after I first learned them.
Outside of music, many father figures mentored me after my father passed, and I wanted to honor them with this record as well. John Atilano, Robert Adamovich, and especially my older brother Jimmy Johnson. Many people have asked why I would have a recording called ‘Joan of Geneva’ on a record about my father. Sometimes mothers make great fathers, too. ‘Joan of Geneva’ is a tribute to my mother, who made a wonderful surrogate father as well as caring mother when it was necessary to fill both roles.
I believe one of the greatest achievements a person can do in their lifetime is something to honor their parents. This record is an honor not only to my biological father, but also a handful of others who inspired me to be the person I am today.
With this record I give a heartfelt thank you to each and every one of them.