J.J. Johnson - trombone; Harold Mabern - piano; Arthur Harper - bass; Louis Hayes - drums
Generally regarded as the father of bebop trombone, J.J. Johnson transferred the rhythmic and harmonic innovations of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie to his instrument. He made his recording debut in 1944 with Benny Carter, and in 1945 worked with the Count Basie Orchestra for a year. From 1946 to 1950, he worked with all the top bebop names on 52nd Street, including Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach, and Miles Davis, later appearing on the 1954 jazz classic Walkin' by the Miles Davis All-Stars. Later that year, Johnson formed his two-trombone quartet with Kai Winding that performed under the named Jay & Kai. They appeared together at the 1964 Newport Jazz Festival with the stellar rhythm section of Memphis-born pianist Harold Mabern, Philadelphia bassist Arthur Harper, and superb hard bop drummer from Detroit, Louis Hayes, a member of Horace Silver's quintet from 1956-1959 and a member of the Cannonball Adderley Quintet from 1959 to 1965.
Their '64 Newport set opened with John Coltrane's heightened modal vehicle, "Impressions" with Johnson flaunting peerless chops (and nimbly quoting from Sonny Rollins' "St. Thomas" at the outset of his urgent, remarkably fluent solo). Mabern is a marvel here on his extended solo while Hayes fuels the proceedings with the kind of hip, aggressively interactive playing that comes directly out of the Roy Haynes school of drumming. Next up is a warm, lyrical reading by the lyrical of the melancholy ballad "My Funny Valentine." Following a gentle piano trio intro, Johnson enters with warm tones and a sublime sense of lyricism on this timeless ballad. Harper takes an impressive, extended bass solo here that makes one wonder about the extent of his musical contributions on the Philly jazz scene. They close with a radical reinvention of "When the Saints Go Marchin' In," which has been re-harmonized and reconfigured as a highly-charged bebop romp. Johnson's remarkable ability to transfer the rhythmic innovations of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie onto the unwieldy trombone is most pronounced on this up-tempo burner. Mabern also turns in a virtuosic bop flavored solo while Hayes engages in some fiery exchanges with the trombonist at the latter half of the piece, attesting to Johnson's proclamation at the intro to this Dixieland anthem that "We are serious about this." Indeed.
The Indianapolis, Indiana native (born on January 22, 1924) would go on to lead his own bands through the '60s and spend the '70s and '80s working full-time as a Los Angeles studio musician, scoring movie soundtracks and TV show music. He returned to performing on the jazz scene in November, 1987 with a week-long engagement at New York's fabled Village Vanguard and continued to lead a quintet through the '80s and '90s. In 1996, at age 72, he formed his dream band, a full brass orchestra that made an exhilarating recording for Verve. His final recording was the 1996 small group outing, Heroes. Johnson died on February 4, 2001 in his hometown of Indianapolis, Indiana. (Milkowski)