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Monday, May 21, 2018

First Place - J. J. Johnson

First Place
J. J. Johnson
Columbia CL 1030

J. J. Johnson - Trombonist
Max Roach - Drummer (courtesy of Emarcy Records)
Paul Chamber - Bassist
Tommy Flanagan - Pianist

Available from online vendors so I will not be posting a sample. Presented here to share the cover art and jacket notes.

From the back jacket: J.J.'s emergence into universal jazz recognize by listeners, critics and musicians occurred only after a number of years of apprenticeship, self-searching, and not a little scuffling. He was born in Indianapolis January 22, 1924; studied piano at 11, and trombone at 14. He told J. Lee Anderson of Theme magazine (he won their 1956 poll too): "... during my second year of high school, I began to hang out with a bunch of fellows, all musicians. As time went by, these particular guys induced me to take up an instrument to sort of fill out their little ensemble. There were all kinds of players except a trombonist. We used to be great record fans... that was a period of great Basie doings, Jimmie Luneceford, Duke Ellington, all the terrific big bands – and we used to spend a lot of time at each other's house listening to what was going on."

J.J.'s father, recognizing how serious the youngster had become about music, bought him a trombone. J.J. was graduated in 1941, and the next year, was on the road despite his family's opposition. He worked with Snookum Russell in 1942 when he met Fats Navarro. "Fats had a tremendous influence on my musical outlook in general," J.J. told Anderson, "because he was already playing so great and I was still trying to get with it, so to speak." When the Russell band evaporated, J.J. returned home. Benny Carter came through Indianapolis; in need of a trombonist, he let J.J. sit in for a couple of sets. J.J. left town again and was with Carter for nearly three years. "Benny Carter," J.J. emphasized in the Anderson review, "is one of the greatest musicians I've ever had the pleasure of working with. The whole time that I was with Benny's band, it was one continuous education in music."

After Carter came Basie, and J.J. was with the Count from 1945-46. Basie wasn't recording much at the time, and J.J. can be heard in solo only on Rambo and The King. J.J. returned home again after Basie; and somewhere around this time, he also played in various small combos on 52nd Street. During this period, he was further developing the ability to adapt the newly commanding jazz conception of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and others to the trombone. J.J. became the first throughly modern jazz trombonist on that instrument for most of the younger modern trombonists.

J.J.toured with Illinois Jacquet from 1947 - 49; worked with the Woody Herman and Dizzy Gillespie bands; went to Japan on a rather stormy Oscar Pettiford USO tour in 1951; and then, to quote from his talk with Anderson again, "things began getting sort of wound up, going around in circles for me, so I decided to leave the jazz scene for an indefinite period. I wanted to get my thoughts collected and see just what I wanted to do."

From August 1952 to June 1954, he was a blueprint inspector in a factory, and gigged occasionally, but not too frequently. I remember talking with him at Birdland during the spring of 1954; and it was clear by then that his relative inactivity as a musician was beginning to weigh on him. His job represented security; but the drive, the need to resume full-time musical living was becoming increasingly compelling. In August 1954, he teamed with trombonist Kai Winding for what resulted in two surprisingly successful years. The surprise was due to the fact that a two-trombone front line was unprecedented in jazz, and there were doubts at first whether the jazz public might not find that instrumentation limiting in sound. Rarely, however, has a new combo been received so warmly so quickly. They recorded a sizable number of albums, traveled and re traveled the jazz night-club circuit, and played the Newport Jazz Festival a month before their dissolution. The team split not because of a diminution of bookings, but because both by then had become attached and challenged by the idea of heading (and exploring with) units of their own.

Kai formed a septet with a front line of four trombones while J.J. added his horn the Belgian-born tenor, flutist and clarinetist, Bobby Jaspar. In the summer of 1957, J.J. toured the Scandinavian countries wth his present unit; and initial reports as of this writing, indicate that J.J. will win al Scandinavian polls for some time to come.

From Billboard - October 28, 1957: "First Place" refers to the trombonist's ascendance to the top rung of many recent jazz polls. In this new package, he adds more frosting to the cake. On these dates, contrary to previous ones, there's more free improvising and swinging blowing which is all to the good. Group also included Max Roach, drums; Paul Chambers, bass, and Tommy Flanagan, piano.

It's Only A Paper Moon
Paul's Pal
For Heaven's Sake
Harvey's House
That Tired Routine Called Love
Be My Love
Cry Me A River
Nickels And Dimes

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