Jay Jay Johnson: The Quintessence

The bebop trombone pioneer is heard between 1946 and 1961 with leading lights of the swing to modernist persuasion


The Oxford Compact English Dictionary describes “quintessence” as an “embodiment of quality or class” which sums up Jay Jay Johnson’s virtuosic approach to the trombone. Overcoming the difficulties presented by its seven slide positions, he was the first to adapt the instrument to the intricacies of bebop, where speed and dexterity were de rigueur. On a 1946 All-Stars date his swiftly articulated solo on Indiana Winter convinced some critics that he was using a valve-trombone – he wasn’t.

His amazing facility once prompted a Philadelphia club-owner to advertise him as “The fastest trombone player alive!” Quite early in his career he was endorsed by Dizzy Gillespie – “I’ve always known that a trombone could be played different. Man you’re elected.” This retrospective highlights selections from his recordings as a leader (CD1) together with his appearances as a sideman (CD2).

The opening two titles represent Jay Jay’s debut as a leader. Mad Bebop (a Just You, Just Me contrafact) also features Cecil Payne on alto, sounding remarkably like Benny Carter. Bone-logy (based on Robbins’ Nest) has a unison with Leo Parker so perfect it might be just one horn. Lament, which was one of his finest originals, was given a seal of approval by Miles Davis and Gil Evans on Miles Ahead. Years later it benefited from one of Meredith d’Ambrosio’s sensitive lyrics. Trombone For Two and This Could Be The Start Of Something features the group Jay Jay had with Kai Winding that was musically and commercially successful in the 50s. I was very impressed in 1958 when I heard them in London on the Jazz From Carnegie Hall tour. Crazy Rhythm finds Jay Jay and Stan Getz at their most extrovert.

Jay Jay’s middle-eight on Benny Carter’s 1945 Love For Sale represents his first solo recording. Using a cup-mute he is perfectly at home in the intricacies of Crazeology with Charlie Parker and Miles Davis. There are two classic blues selections – The Champ (with Dizzy Gillespie, Budd Johnson and Milt Jackson) and Walkin’ (with Miles Davis and Lucky Thompson). Teapot opens as a themeless romp on Sweet Georgia Brown with Jay Jay at his most fluent, closing with a little riff with Sonny Stitt. The final selection is part of an ambitious suite he wrote for Dizzy Gillespie titled Perceptions which the soloist described as “the most difficult piece I’ve ever played”.

CD1: (1) Mad Be Bop; (2) Bone-Ology; (3) Fox Hunt; (4) Lover Man; (5) Lament; (6) Jay; (7) Viscosity; (8) Trombone For Two; (9) Night In Tunisia; (10) In A Little Provincial Town; (11) Commution; Blue Trombone Part 1; Blue Trombone Part 2; (12) Crazy Rhythm; (13) Almost Like Being In Love; (14) In A Sentimental Mood; (15) This Could Be The Start Of Something; (16) Gigi (70.44)
CD2: (17) Love For Sale; (18) Crazeology; (19) Teapot; Blue Mode; (20) The Champ; (21) Kelo; (22) Jay Jay’s Blues; (23) Walkin’; (24) The Queen’s Fancy; (25) Minor Holiday; (26) Chant; (27) Wail March; (28) Venetian Breeze; (29) Blue Mist (77.08)
Johnson (tb) with:
(1) Cecil Payne (as); Bud Powell (p); Leonard Gaskin (b); Max Roach (d). NYC, 26 June 1946.
(2) Leo Parker (bar); Hank Jones (p); Al Lucas (b); Shadow Wilson (d). NYC, 24 December 1947.
(3) Kenny Dorham (t); Sonny Rollins (ts); John Lewis (p); Gaskin (b); Roach (d). NYC, 26 May 1949.
(4) Clifford Brown (t); Jimmy Heath (ts, bar); John Lewis (p); Percy Heath (b); Kenny Clarke (d). NYC, 22 June 1953.
(5) Kai Winding (tb); Billy Bauer (elg); Charles Mingus (b); Clarke (d). New Jersey, 24 August 1954.
(6) Wynton Kelly (p); Charles Mingus (b); Clarke (d); Sabu Martinez (cga). New Jersey, 24 September 1954.
(7) Hank Mobley (ts); Horace Silver (p); Paul Chambers (b); Clarke (d). New Jersey, 6 June 1955.
(8) Kai Winding (tb); Dick Katz (p); Chambers (b); Osie Johnson (d). NYC, 23 June 1955.
(9) Winding, Bob Alexander, Eddie Bert, Urbie Green, Jimmy Cleveland (tb); Tom Mitchell, Bart Varselona (btb); Hank Jones (p); Milt Hinton (b); Johnson (d). 6 April 1956.
(10) Bobby Jaspar (f); Tommy Flanagan (p); Wilbur Little (b); Elvin Jones (d). NYC, 31 January 1957.
(11) Flanagan (p); Chambers (b); Roach (d). NYC, April, May 1957.
(12) Stan Getz (ts); Oscar Peterson (p); Herb Ellis (elg); Ray Brown (b); Connie Kay (d). Opera House, Chicago, 19 October 1957.
(13) Nat Adderley (c); Bobby Jaspar (ts); Cedar Walton (p); Spanky De Brest (b); Al Heath (d). NYC, 19 March 1959.
(14) Frank De Vol’s Orchestra. NYC, 28 June 1960.
(15) Winding (tb); Bill Evans (p); Chambers (b); Roy Haynes (d). NYC, 3 October 1960.
(16) Vic Feldman (p); Sam Jones (b); Louis Hayes (d). NYC, 14 December 1960. 
(17) Benny Carter Orchestra. San Francisco, 25 October 1945.
(18) Miles Davis (t); Charlie Parker (as); Duke Jordan (p); Tommy Potter (b); Roach (d). NYC, 17 December 1947.
(19) Sonny Stitt (ts); John Lewis (b); Nelson Boyd (b); Roach (d). NYC, 17 October 1949.
(20) Dizzy Gillespie (t, p); Budd Johnson (ts); Milt Jackson (vib, p); Percy Heath (b); Art Blakey (d). NYC, 16 April 1951.
(21) Davis (t); Jimmy Heath (ts); Gil Coggins (p); Heath (b); Blakey (d). NYC, 24 April 1953.
(22) Al Cohn (ts); Henri Renaud (p); Milt Jackson (vib); Heath (b); Charlie Smith (d). NYC, 7 March 1954.
(23) Davis (t); Lucky Thompson (ts); Silver (p); Heath (b); Clarke (d). New Jersey, 29 April 1954.
(24) Gunther Schuller (flh); Jim Politis (f); Manny Ziegler (bassoon); Tony Scott (cl); Getz (ts); John Lewis (p); Heath (b); Connie Kay (d); Janet Putman (hp). NYC, 14 March 1955.
(25) Kenny Dorham (t); Hank Mobley (ts); Cecil Payne (bar); Silver (p); Oscar Pettiford (b); Blakey (d). New Jersey, 29 March 1955.
(26) Idrees Sulieman (t); Coleman Hawkins (ts); Hank Jones (p); Barry Galbraith (elg); Oscar Pettiford (b); Jo Jones (d). NYC, 12 March 1957.
(27) Rollins (ts); Silver (p); Chambers (b); Blakey (d). NYC, 14 April 1957.
(28) Kenny Dorham (t); Benny Golson (ts); Kelly (p); Chambers (b); Roach (d). NYC, 23 December 1957.
(29) Dizzy Gillespie Big Band. New Jersey, 22 May 1961. 
Frémeaux FA 3072