A Dick Johnson Reprise
When I first started writing The Boston Jazz Chronicles, the clarinetist, saxophonist and bandleader Dick Johnson was one of the first jazz artists to take me under his wing. I knew very little about the history of Boston jazz when I embarked on that project, and I needed help. Johnson’s music is one of the reasons I became a jazz fan in the first place, and it was a pleasure to meet him. He was affable and down-to-earth as well as knowledgeable, and we talked often.
Dick Johnson died on January 10, 2010, and it’s become my custom to remember him around that date each year by listening to a few of his recordings. This year I pulled out his 1958 Riverside release, Most Likely; his self-produced and sadly out-of-print CD Artie’s Choice! from 2004; and my personal favorite, Swing Shift, released by Concord Jazz in 1981. This one is out of print, too. Shame on you, Concord.
Come to think of it, Dick Johnson recorded eight albums as a leader, and most are unavailable:
- Music for Swinging Moderns, EmArcy MG 36081, recorded 1956
- Most Likely, Riverside RLP 12-253, recorded 1957
(These albums are available as Music for Swinging Moderns: Dick Johnson Quartet Sessions 1956-57, Fresh Sounds FSR CD 528.)
- Dick Johnson Plays, Concord CJ-107, 1979
- Spider’s Blues, Concord Jazz CJ-135, 1980
- Swing Shift, Concord Jazz CJ-167, 1981
- Broadway Openings, North Star Records NS0061, 1994
- Artie’s Choice!, Self-produced, 2004
- Star Dust & Beyond: A Tribute to Artie Shaw, Crazy Scot Records 20061, 2006 (might still be available on CD Baby)
While listening to the music, I updated my previous Dick Johnson posts: on Dick’s first album as a leader, Music for Swinging Moderns, and on his becoming leader and featured soloist in the reborn Artie Shaw Orchestra in 1983. And then I updated an article I first wrote in 2010, “Dick Johnson: Never on the Ragged Edge,” and added the link to the PDF to my library page.
Lastly, I added the opening track from Swing Shift to my YouTube channel. Here is a version of Clark Terry’s “Jones” that I guarantee will get you moving. This is Dick Johnson’s conception of the small big band at its best!
This version of the Swing Shift band was a hard-working joy to behold. It featured Dick and Jimmy Derba on the woodwinds, and Kenny Wenzel and Rick Hammett playing the brass. The rhythm section included pianist Paul Schmeling, bassist Paul Del Nero, and drummer Gary Johnson.
I should post the whole album on YouTube…