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with Howard Johnson

by Dan Ouellette

The "Blindfold Test" is a listening test that challenges the featured artist to discuss and identify the music and musicians who performed on selected recordings.  The artist is then asked to rate each tune using a 5-star system.  No information about the recordings is given to the artist prior to the test.

    * This Blindfold Test included selections from the following recordings:
1. Fletcher Henderson "Copenhagen" (from The Fletcher Henderson Story, Columbia/Legacy, rec.1924/1994);
2. Weird Nightmare: Meditations On Mingus "Meditations On Integration" (from Weird Nightmare: Meditations On Mingus, Columbia, 1992);
3. Henry Threadgill "Try Some Ammonia" (from Too Much Sugar For A Dime, Axiom, 1993);
4. Bob Stewart "Law Years" (from Then & Now, Postcards, 1996);
5. Plunge "394" (from Falling With Grace, Accurate, 1995).

    While Howard Johnson plays a number of different instruments, ranging from pennywhistle to baritone saxophone, he's best known as a tuba maestro.  He got his first big break in 1964 with Charles Mingus and later went on to enjoy a long musical association with Gil Evans.
    He also toured with Dizzy Gillespie, Abdullah Ibrahim and George Gruntz, recorded with McCoy Tyner's Big Band and Carla Bley; and founded and led the Saturday Night Live Band.  Even though he formed his jazz tuba choir Gravity in 1968, the band didn't make its recording debut until earlier this year when Verve released Gravity!!!.
    This Blindfold Test was not only Johnson's first but also the first to be given in front of an audience.  It took place at this year's Monterey Jazz Festival before a crowd of 150 people in the Dizzy's Den nightclub.  Even though he agreed in advance to give the selections a star rating, Johnson declined to do so at the onset of the Blindfold Test.

"394" (from Falling With Grace, Accurate, 1995) Mark McGrain, trombone; Marcus Rojas, tuba; Avishai Cohen, bass; Bob Moses, drums.

HJ: "I'm totally mystified by who this is.   It reminds me of those guys from Chicago, 8 Bold Souls with Aaron Dodd on tuba.   But I can't zero in on who this might be.  I like the piece even though I don't care for the multiphonics the tuba player plays at the beginning.  But overall, I thought the piece hung together and was performed quite well.  The tuba player's groove was really something.  Tuba players today are learning that to play tuba bass they don't have to sound like a string bass.  This guy definitely works the groove as a tuba thing."



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