Friday, May 13, 2005

Profile - Ed Johnson

Profile is a regular feature on the Redhouse Jazz blog in which you get to know a San Francisco bay area jazz musician a little better. Check out previous Profiles from the pull down menu in the right hand column.

Ed Johnson is a Palo Alto based guitarist, vocalist, composer and educator and heads the band Novo Tempo.

When did you first start playing an instrument?
I started piano and E-flat alto horn at age nine.

Who/what were your first influences?
At an early age, it was the music my parents listened to; a lot of swing. My older brother and sister were also playing instruments in a youth symphony, so I heard a lot of classical music from going to their concerts and from records they brought home. Later on, my brother influenced my musical tastes even more by introducing me to Miles and Coltrane when I was around ten or eleven. The first time I heard Coltrane, I couldn't believe it; it was unlike anything I'd ever heard before. When I was eleven, I switched from the E-flat alto horn to French horn, to which I took a liking, and started taking private lessons. When I got to be thirteen, fourteen, I became obsessed with the Beatles, and started playing guitar when I was fifteen. In my senior year of high school, I had a friend who was taking classical guitar and learning all this great music from South America, so stopped playing electric guitar, bought an inexpensive nylon-string, and started studying with his teacher. Later on that same year, the great blues singer/guitarist Lightnin' Hopkins played at our high school, and I was blown away. I got out my grandmother's old Sears Silvertone acoustic and started to learn country blues.

So, as you can see, my interests and influences were quite varied from ages 8 to 18.

How did you get your experience?
I started out playing in rock bands in high school, but at the same time was doing recitals and orchestra concerts playing French horn. I stopped playing horn after college, but continued studying music and playing in bands, as well as taking private jazz guitar lessons. I got more and more experience by putting myself in situations where I could learn a lot - sort of trial-by-fire. A lot of times I didn't know what I was getting into, and when I finally realized it, I was scared to death! But, I found that you can learn from intimidating playing situations, and, really, what's the worst that can happen? So you mess up? Learn from it and move on. Music, like life, is a journey, and it's going to have bumps along the way.

What instruments do you play?
I play guitar, and I'm a vocalist. I also play piano.

What instruments do you own?
I own several guitars: Four nylon-string guitars, including an Alan de Jonge 2004 Chelsea model and a Rick Turner solid body electric nylon-string; three electrics, including a Fender Stratocaster and a vintage Epiphone Broadway; and two steel-string acoustics, a Taylor 810C and a Martin J21. I also own a nicely refurbished upright piano and a couple of Roland synths.

Would you talk about composing?
Composing is my favorite musical experience. For me, ideas can come in a myriad of ways: I can be practicing, and then I'll take a break and start improvising chord progressions, out of which will come a melodic and/or rhythmic motif. Or, I'll be driving, washing dishes, walking outside, or somehow otherwise engaged, and an entire melody and chord progression will come to me. Over the years I've learned to be ready for those "visitations," and I always have a notebook of manuscript paper wherever I go so that I can get these ideas written down before they disappear into the ether. When I'm back at the guitar or piano, I'll take out these notated fragments and try to develop them further.

What is your fondest gig memory?
There are many. Over the past two or three years my fondest memories are playing with my band Novo Tempo. Every time we play, it feels even better than the last.

What was your worst gig from hell?
That's easy! It was a quintet gig at a winery about twenty years ago. Our bass player and sound man were coming to the gig together, and the truck broke down somewhere on the coast. They had to hitch a ride to where they could call the sound man's wife and have her pick them up. They arrived at the gig an hour-and half late (about five minutes before we were scheduled to play). Knowing everyone would be agitated and uptight (especially the promoter!), they arrived wearing these ridiculous looking ties. We all took one look at them and immediately everyone cracked up! It helped defuse the tension for awhile. We all scrambled like mad to set up the PA. Meanwhile, the crowd was getting drunker by the minute, and by the time we started, they were totally gassed, falling all over themselves. About midway through the performance (if you can call it that), one guy got really agitated and abusive, and I tried to reason with him, and then warned him to stop his rude behavior. That only set him off more. We managed to get through the gig, but we were literally fearing for our safety as we were hurriedly packing up afterwards.

What do you listen to now?
I mainly listen to a lot of Brazilian music, old and new. Also a lot of classical music. I listen a lot to the music my friends put out - people like John Worley, Jennifer Scott, Kristen Strom, Scott Sorkin, Jovino Santos Neto, and many other people I've met through teaching at various music camps over the years. With two young kids now, I don't have a lot of free time to actively listen to music as I once did. I mainly listen in the car! Or, on my iPod if I'm taking long walks.

What current projects are you involved in?
I am currently working on a new CD with my band Novo Tempo; we just started last week. It's been great! This is such a fine group of musicians, and we love what each of us brings to the table. I've written a bunch of new songs, and it's really satisfying to hear what the band does with them. This past year I also did some playing, singing, and production work on a soon-to-be-released CD by Jennifer Scott, an amazing singer/pianist from Vancouver, B.C. She and her husband, bassist Rene Worst, are also in in my band. I also recently did a vocal arrangement for Kris Strom's soon-to-be-released CD. Kris and her husband, guitarist/producer Scott Sorkin, are also in my group.

What would you like to plug?
I'd just like everyone to know that we are continuing to gig more and more in promotion of last year's CD "Movimento," we're hard at work on recording the next CD, and we hope you come to hear us soon! Novo Tempo is myself on guitar and vocals; Jennifer Scott, keyboards and vocals; Kristen Strom, sax, flute, and vocals; John Worley, trumpet and fluglehorn; Scott Sorkin, guitar, mandolin, and vocals (and also serving as a co-producer on the last CD as well as the next); Rene Worst, bass; Mark Ivester, drums; and Michaelle Goerlitz and Jeff Busch on percussion. Leslie Evers is producing this project along with me on her Cumulus Records label. Keep up to date with what we are doing by going to my website Thanks for your support!


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