Tag Archives: J.J. Johnson

45: “Thou Swell”/”Mad About the Boy” b/w “Gong Rock”/”Lope City” by Kai Winding and J.J. Johnson. Bethlehem Records. BEP-115. Recorded January 26th + 27th, 1955, in New York City.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

J.J. Johnson (not to be confused with MTV VJ J.J. Jackson) was born in Indianapolis in 1924. He learned to play piano at the age of nine, and then picked up the trombone at 14. By the age of 18 he was playing with Benny Carter’s band and by the age of 21 he was playing with Count Basie. So he knew how to play big band music, no problem. But what about the then-ascendant bebop school of jazz? In the mid-1940’s it was commonly thought there was no place for trombone in bebop, simply because the instrument lacked the keys that allowed trumpeters and saxophonist to be so nimble. Big notes on “Sing, Sing Sing!,” no problem. Trying to keep up with Charlie Parker on “Koko,” there’s a problem. But no less a bebop authority than Dizzy Gillespie heard Johnson’s playing and told him, “I’ve always known that the trombone could be played different, that somebody’d catch on one of these days. Man, you’re elected.”

Kai Winding was born in Aarhus Denmark in 1922. His family came to the United States when he was 12 years old and settled in New York City, where Kai attended Stuyvesant High School. He started playing trombone professionally as soon as he’d finished school but had to put it on hold to do his duty in the Coast Guard. After the war, Kai played with first Benny Goodman’s and then Stan Kenton’s orchestras. Clearly, he also knew how to play big band music.

Both trombonists were tapped to play on the sessions that would become Miles Davis’s Birth of the Cool. The album was recorded over the course of three sessions in 1949 and 1950, and employed a nonet. A nine member band was clearly more ambitious than the quartets that typified bebop, but this was an ambitious group, sprung from the musical discussions at salons hosted by Gil Evans. Those discussions would eventually lead to the creation of cool jazz, a sound that would come to be more associated with West Coast artists like Chet Baker. Kai played on the four songs from the first session—here he is with “Godchild.” Note the tasteful solo at the 2:35 mark.

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