J.J. Johnson | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe


Not many jazz musicians actually deserve the descriptor "living legend"--that is, besides J.J. Johnson. At the dawn of the bebop era, Johnson confronted a formidable task. Such giants-to-be as Bud Powell (piano) and Dexter Gordon (tenor sax) had begun to adapt the innovations of Parker and Gillespie to their instruments; but Johnson's instrument was the slide trombone, best known for sweet ballads and swing-band special effects and seemingly resistant to the high-speed exactitude of bebop. Johnson single-handedly lifted the instrument to bebop's high-water level of virtuosity with a technique that made early listeners think it was some sort of trick and an imperturbable cool that made it sound easy. When Johnson returned to performing in public a few years back after a two-decade layoff, the technique and the cool remained intact, giving his work a dry and distanced quality. So the arrival of last year's Let's Hang Out (Verve) came as an all-the-more-welcome surprise; spilling over with musical enthusiasm, it displays not only his stunning perfectionism but also a renewed emotional connection to the music, plus a few new tricks. In person, Johnson generously shines the solo spotlight on his accompanists; with a group as good as this one, who'll complain? It includes a lively and progressive pianist in Renee Rosnes; a paladin of the bass fiddle in Rufus Reid; yet another crackerjack young drummer in Billy Drummond; and the excellent tenor saxist Doti Braden, who gets overlooked in the shuffle of his mid-20s contemporaries but who plays with a controlled fire that many of them would do well to emulate. Friday through Sunday, Joe Segal's Jazz Showcase, Blackstone Hotel, 636 S. Michigan; 427-4846.

Support Independent Chicago Journalism: Join the Reader Revolution

We speak Chicago to Chicagoans, but we couldn’t do it without your help. Every dollar you give helps us continue to explore and report on the diverse happenings of our city. Our reporters scour Chicago in search of what’s new, what’s now, and what’s next. Stay connected to our city’s pulse by joining the Reader Revolution.

Are you in?

  Give $35/month →  
  Give $10/month →  
  Give  $5/month  → 

Not ready to commit? Send us what you can!

 One-time donation  → 

Add a comment