Tuba player Howard Johnson dead at 79 after long illness

He played with Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Archie Shepp and Gil Evans.

Howard Johnson, the tuba player who has played with the likes of Taj Mahal and Gil Evans, has died. He was 79 years old.

Johnson passed on January 11 “after a long illness,” according to a statement by Nancy Olewine, who described herself as his partner of many years. Plans for a memorial service will be announced in due course, she said.

“During his remarkable life, Howard dedicated himself to creating a distinctive jazz legacy, and to advancing the stature and versatility of his signature instrument, the tuba,” she wrote. “It is his wish that—in lieu of flowers or other tributes—memorial donations be made to benefit The Howard Johnson Tuba Jazz Program Fund at Penn State, an endowment which will provide a residency program for low brass musicians and baritone sax.”

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Born in Montgomery, Alabama on August 7, 1941, Johnson mastered the tuba, but was also a multi-instrumentalist who played other reeds and cornet. Over the course of his nearly 50-year-long career, he played with the likes of Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Hank Crawford and Archie Shepp. He also formed a tuba band called Gravity who recorded three albums for Verve Records.

In 1966, Johnson began a 20-year-long association with Gil Evans, recording frequently with his orchestra, and contributed to albums by Muddy Waters, The Band, John Lennon and Yoko Ono and bluesman Taj Mahal. Johnson was also a conductor for the Saturday Night Live band from 1975 to 1980, and was involved in several musical numbers and sketches. He also contributed to the soundtracks for Spike Lee films such as Malcolm X and Clockers.

RIP, Howard Johnson. Revisit his work with Taj Mahal on the latter’s 1968 self-titled album here:

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