Budd Johnson: Let's Swing! - JazzWax

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February 02, 2012


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I read somewhere that when Budd left the Eckstine band they had to beg him to come back because nobody else could keep those guys in line.
He has a lot of great work spread out over those 400 sideman sessions including, occasionally, some nice clarinet. He often likes to emulate Lester Young but plays those Prez-like lines with his big fat Texas sound.
Budd's compositions and arrangements are also excellent. For the Four Brass Giants album he wrote a piece for Ray Nance called Driftwood which is as perfect a vehicle for Nance's fiddle as anything that Duke wrote for him.
Budd's last album, recorded shortly before his death, was with Phil Woods. It got some great reviews so I'm hoping that Uptown will see fit to reissue it and would encourage everyone to send them a note demanding this.

Bill Kirchner

In 1983 (if I remember correctly), the then-JVC Jazz Festival in NYC had a tribute concert for Gil Evans, featuring both Gil's then-current band and a specially-assembled ensemble to play some of Gil's older pieces.

One of the pieces played by the latter was "La Nevada," recorded in 1960 on Gil's OUT OF THE COOL album for Impulse. Budd Johnson was the featured tenor soloist on the record for that piece. As good as Budd's recorded solo was, he played a solo that night that stole the entire concert. I hope that an archival recording of it exists. I'll never forget it.

Not long afterward, I got to play with him one night at a club in Yonkers called DeFemio's. Another unforgettable experience.


The Budd-Johnson-meets-four-brass-giants album is a very nice reply to Al Cohn's "Four Brass, One Tenor" session from 1956:


Budd's brass efforts are not as polished as Al's, but swingier, and much rougher.

Budd's album has more in common with a jam session. -- Love 'em both anyway: Splendid writing, and inspired solos by all participants.

Michael Palmer

One Budd Johnson session not to be missed is Jimmy Rushing's last recording "The You And Me That Used To Be" Budd plays beautifully and shows how a soprano should sound. NOT like a strangled chicken which is the sound most post-Coltrane players seem to aim for.

Michael in Australia

Han Schulte

Difficult to find but a treat to hear: The International Jazz Group featuring Budd Johnson. Especially "Blues Concerto" with Budd paving the way to jazzheaven followed by Arvell Shaw with a subtle bowed bass solo and Taft Jordan with an infectious trumpet feature.
This group was handpicked autumn 1956 by the French piano player André Persiany and recorded for Columbia in New York.
Also on a Columbia (UK) EP record and on the French Jazztime label as cd.
Budd visited Europe in the winter of 1959/1960 with Quincy Jones a/h Orchestra for the musical revue "Free and Easy" which stranded in Amsterdam because of lack of money (= visitors).


Another great Budd Johnson session from the 1950's is "Blues A La Mode" originally on the Felsted label. Charlie Shavers, Jo Jones and Vic Dickenson join Budd on this one. I have this on lp and don't know if it ever made it to CD, but it's prime Budd Johnson.

david wilson

Nice article on Budd Johnson, a major force in the music but under appreciated. First he was "Texas Tenor," a hard-blowing soloist who was very inventive. Second, you mention his role as the straw-boss for Earl Hines band. He was one of the established swing musicians who understood the current that was developing through the introduction of bebop in the 40s. He encouraged all the younger guys and gave them the the opportunity to play with musical geniuses like Earl Hines and himself. By so doing he helped move the tradition further. Then at the end of his career, he kept showing people how do it by example.

Steve Barrow

I'd add Budd's contribution to "The Real Earl Hines" [Focus, 1965], a lovely version of "Someone To Watch Over Me".

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  • Marc Myers writes regularly for The Wall Street Journal and is author of "Anatomy of a Song" (Grove) and "Why Jazz Happened." Founded in 2007, JazzWax is a two-time winner of the Jazz Journalists Association's best blog award.

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