The College of Arts and Architecture

Howard Johnson, tuba

guest recital logo
Thursday, January 23, 2014 - 8:00pm
Esber Recital Hall - University Park, PA

Free admission

Renowned jazz tuba and baritone saxophone player Howard Johnson presents a guest artist recital. He will be assisted by Penn State jazz faculty members Dan Yoder and Mac Himes, trombone faculty member Mark Lusk, as well as Penn State students Kate Anderson, Sean Durkin, Jaren Angud, and Donté Ford. Johnson is a guest of the School of Music's tuba-euphonium studio, taught by faculty member Velvet Brown.

This concert is available through live streaming video at CW Studios.


Howard Johnson is universally known as the finest proponent of the jazz tuba in the world. He also plays baritone saxophone, flugelhorn, bass clarinet, cornet, and penny whistle among other instruments. Howard was born in Montgomery, Alabama in 1941. He taught himself the baritone sax in 1954 and the tuba a year later. He moved to New York in 1963 at a time when the tuba was not a fashionable jazz instrument, but Charles Mingus welcomed Howard into his workshop in 1964. In 1965, he toured Howard Johnson, tubawith soul jazz alto saxophonist Hank Crawford, playing baritone sax, but returned to the Mingus’ workshop for a year beginning in July 1965. In 1966, he played with the Archie Shepp band for some months and appeared with him at the Newport Jazz Festival. Gil Evans used Johnson’s multi-instrumental capacity at various points between 1966 and 1988.

An active performer on the West Coast in the mid-1960’s, Johnson played with Buddy Rich, Gerald Wilson and Oliver Nelson. In 1968, he played in the Jazz Composers Orchestra, an epic combination of scores and extreme performances from Carla Bley, Cecil Taylor, Pharaoh Sanders, and Larry Corye ll. He formed a tuba ensemble named Substructure the same year. In 1974, he supplied the tuba solo on Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child” with the Gil Evans Orchestra.

Johnson’s career makes nonsense of the so-called division between commercial and avant-garde. He performed a stint as conductor of the Saturday Night Live Band in the late 1970’s, and also arranged for Taj Mahal, B.B. King, and Paul Butterfield. Johnson eventually changed the name of Substructure to GRAVITY, which has released two acclaimed CDs for Verve Records.

An in-depth list of associations and recordings includes John Scofield, Hank Crawford, Archie Shepp, Buddy Rich, Freddie Hubbard, McCoy Tyner, Marvin Gaye, Miles Davis, Quincy Jones, Abdullah Ibrahim, and John Lennon, as well as a four-year association with the NDR Big Band in Hamburg, Germany. In movies he can be heard on the soundtracks of Spike Lee’s School Daze, Mo’ Better Blues, Malcolm X, and Clockers.