Jazz bassist, Jeff Johnson, received an acoustic guitar at age 9 and began his personal musical journey.
British rock and American soul music were his earliest influences. Early 1960’s AM radio became his first “teacher”. Jeff learned the licks and chords of popular music of the time by listening and copying what he heard. At age 15, Jeff took a job offer to play electric bass guitar in a steadily working band which introduced him to jazz. By age 17 he was teaching himself the acoustic double bass, learning onstage with veterans and peers of the fertile “Twin Cities” jazz scene.
Jeff credits saxophonists Irv Williams, Larry Hillman, Bob Crea, Dick Oatts, and Bob Rockwell, as well as pianists Buddy Davis, Tom O’Donnell, Bobby Peterson, Art Resnick, and Bobby Lyle, along with guitarist Dean Granros, bassist Billy Peterson, and drummers Jay Epstein, Kenny Horst, Paul Lagos, and Eric Gravatt as early Minneapolis/St.Paul mentors.
In 1975, at age 20, Jeff left Minneapolis for Philadelphia to join legendary drummer Philly Joe Jones’ then touring group called “Le Gran Prix”. After touring the Eastern seaboard for several months and experiencing the great cities of that coast, Jeff began following leads for gigs which had him living and working in many cities across America including Atlanta, Oklahoma City, Austin, San Diego, and Los Angeles, finally settling with his wife Marcy in Seattle in 1990.
Since his arrival in Seattle, Jeff has embarked on many musical collaborations with Pacific Northwest area musicians. Many of these relationships continue today. Several of these musicians are featured on Jeff’s own recordings and he on theirs.
Since 1991, Jeff has also worked off and on with pianist Jessica Williams with whom he has recorded six CD’s and played major venues such as Jazz Alley and the Monterrey Jazz Festival. Jeff’s work with Williams created collaborations with drummers, Dick Berk, Ralph Penland, Victor Lewis, Mel Brown, and Eddie Marshall, as well as saxophonist Gary Bartz.
Since 1993, on the International scene, Jeff has worked in pianist Hal Galper’s trios with drummers Steve Ellington and John Bishop. “Origin” records released their first trio recording in 2007 called “Furious Rubato” to great critical acclaim. In 2010 this trio released “E Pluribus Unum” which was recorded live for the Earshot Jazz Festival in Seattle. Jeff has toured the United States and Europe several times with Galper’s groupings, playing major venues, festivals, and schools. He has recorded eight CD’s to date on various labels with Galper in trio, quartet, and quintet configurations. (See “Recordings” section). Collaboration with Hal Galper has included gigs and recording sessions with saxophonists, Jerry Bergonzi, Steve Grossman, Dick Oatts, Walt Weiskopf, Ira Sullivan, Gary Foster, and trumpeters Tim Hagans, Jack Walrath, and Franco Ambrosetti.
Jeff Johnson has worked with many other great jazz instrumentalists along the way including Chet Baker, Claudio Roditti, Martin Banks, Ray Vega, Barney Kessell, John Pisano, John Stowell, Vic Juris, Red Holloway, Jim Snidero, Houston Person, Wilton Felder, Benny Golson, Charlie Rouse, Lew Tabackin, Sonny Stitt, Byard Lancaster, Steve Wilson, Kim Richmond, Lee Konitz, Ron Eshte, Steve Nelson, Ali Ryerson, George Cables, Joanne Brackeen, Randy Porter, Patti Wicks, Ralph Sutton, Tardo Hammer, Frank Kimbrough, Taylor Eigsti, Aaron Parks, George Colligan, Gary Versace, Laurence Hobgood, Orrin Evans, Sunny Murray, Billy Hart, Joe Locke, and Steve Nelson. Vocalists who have called upon Jeff’s accompanist skills include Ernestine Anderson, Karrin Allyson, Rebecca Parris, Annie Ross, Gail Pettis, Dee Daniels, Jackie Ryan, Karin Plato, Marlena Shaw, and Kendra Shank, to name just a few. Kendra has recorded three original Jeff Johnson compositions for which he also wrote the lyrics and one original on which Jeff wrote the music to Kendra’s lyric.
In 1984, Jeff created his own “Jefson Records” label to produce his first two recordings as a leader. “HARBINGER” was released on vinyl in 1986 and “MY HEART” on cassette only in 1991. Since 1997, Jeff has recorded four CD’s as a leader for the Pacific Northwest label, Origin Records. 1997’s “FREE” (Origin 82370), 2000’s “THE ART OF FALLING” (Origin 82386), which won the 2000 Earshot Jazz recording of the year in Seattle, and 2004’s “NEAR EARTH” (Origin 82429), and his latest release, 2008’s “TALL STRANGER” (Origin 82518).
Jeff won Seattle’s Earshot Jazz “Northwest Jazz Instrumentalist of the Year” awards in both 2000 and 2001.