The 100th Birthday of J.J. Johnson

January 22, 2024

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January 22, 2024 marks the 100th birthday of jazz trombone great J.J. Johnson. One of my career highlights was working with him.

In 1984 I had just finished a spotting session with Earle Hagen on the Warner lot for the best-forgotten “Dukes of Hazzard.” J.J. and Earle were both scoring episodes of “Mike Hammer” for Columbia and Earle told me that J.J. was jammed up with a short-schedule episode and needed someone to help out by writing a few cues. Earle said, “Here’s his number. He’s waiting for your call.”

This took a moment to process. J.J. Johnson, winner of multiple jazz trombone polls, who played with Miles Davis on “Birth of the Cool,” as well as with multiple jazz legends on dozens of albums, was waiting for my call.

On my way home I stopped at a pay phone (remember pay phones?) and called J.J. We met at his home that night and he gave me several cues to compose, along with timing notes (remember timing notes?) and a VHS tape of the show (remember VCRs?) and said, “I’ll see you at the session.” Glad I had a Knudson book (remember Knudson books?)

J.J. liked everything I wrote and didn’t change a thing. He was the nicest guy in the world. What a pleasure it was to get to know him.

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