Thursday, March 7, 2013

A Swinging Saxophone:
University of New Orleans Alumnus Calvin Johnson Jr. Rocks the Ogden Museum

Calvin JohnsonUNO Alumnus Calvin Johnson Jr. swings his saxophone at venues ranging from Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro on Frenchmen Street to the White House. Photo courtesy Ogden Museum of
Southern Art.

New Orleans native and tenor saxophone Calvin Johnson Jr. was born into a vibrant musical family. The University of New Orleans alumnus is the grandson of acclaimed saxophonist, clarinet player and musical arranger George "Son" Johnson, Jr. He began his musical journey following in the footsteps of his older sister, who played piano. At age eight, he received an alto saxophone as a gift from his Uncle Lionel and from then on engaged throughout the years in weekly lessons taught by various relatives. Since then the multi-instrumentalist has never stopped, swinging his saxophone at venues ranging from New Orleans' Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro to the White House.

Johnson performs tonight at the University of New Orleans Ogden Museum of Southern Art, where he will play at a weekly "After Hours," event. Tonight's fun is slated from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, March 7 at the Ogden Museum, 925 Camp St., New Orleans. Admission is free for Ogden Museum members members and $10 at the door for nonmembers.

Johnson began his formal music education at 10, Johnson began attending the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation's School of Music, where he met longtime mentor and friend, Edward "Kidd" Jordan, who is now a renowned Jazz saxophonist and music educator in New Orleans.

The following year he attended the annual Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong Summer Jazz Camp, where he currently serves as faculty. The camp, once run by the city with the help of the University of New Orleans, now operates under the nonprofit New Orleans Arts and Cultural Host Committee and is led by some of New Orleans top jazz educators and performers.

Johnson continued his musical education at the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts (NOCCA), the city's prestigious public arts high school, said Ogden Museum spokeswoman Sue Strachan. After graduating from NOCCA, he enrolled at the University of New Orleans, where he studied finance and music, pursuing courses in the University's esteemed jazz studies program.

Since then, Johnson has performed, recorded, and toured all over the world with acclaimed musicians, including New Orleans-born musicians Harry Connick Jr., Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Aaron Neville, Irvin Mayfield and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, Big Sams Funky Nation and  Rebirth Brass Band.

Johnson has also demonstrated his versatility performing with hip hop icons Mannie Fresh and Mystikal," Strachan said. He has played venues ranging from hometown jazz clubs to the world-renowned Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. He has also performed at the White House.

Johnson has also frequently been a headline event at New Orleans festivals, including the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, the French Quarter Festival and the Voodoo Music Festival.

In January, the tenor saxophonist released his debut CD, Jewel's Lullaby, originally named "Introducing Calvin Johnson, Jr." The album, produced by Alma Records, includes both original compositions and traditional jazz standards. Johnson is joined by fellow NOCCA alumni drummer Joe Dyson, pianist Courtney Bryan and bassist Nathan Lamberson on the recording. All are New Orleans natives.

Johnson is also now developing an educational workshop series for New Orleans Public Schools.

Learn more about the weekly After Hours music sessions at the University of New Orleans Ogden Museum of Southern Art, which boasts the world's largest collection of Southern art >>