Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians
Johnson, Aaron Joseph (AJ)
Johnson, Aaron Joseph (AJ), trombone, bass trombone, tuba, shells, composer; b. Washington, DC, 10 June 1958. Third son of Mary E.(nee Garvin, b. 1926) and Lawrence K. Johnson (b. 1924) with two brothers (Lawrence, b. 1949; and Martin, b 1951). Brother Lawrence was percussionist and singer.
Aaron started on piano and drums in grade school, but switched to trombone by 6th grade. Started on the trombone in the DC Youth Orchestra (DCYO) Program in 1968 and continued to study there until college. Aaron became a bass trombonist in the 10th grade as a member of the DCYO where he got the opportunity to play three Mahler symphonies, among other repertoire. In 1974 the DCYO performed at the 3rd International Festival of Youth Orchestras in Aberdeen, Scotland and London, England. He was a music major at McKinley Technical High School where he played trombone, bass trombone and tuba, and conducted and arranged for the student ensembles under the direction of Peter D. Ford, a noted freelance trumpeter. Ford gave Aaron his first professional (adult) gigs and brought him into contact with Ellington alumni, bandleader, and alto saxophonist Rick Henderson. While in high school, Aaron also performed extensively with funk bands. Aaron attended Carnegie Mellon University, where he received a BS in Electrical Engineering and Economics in 1980, before completing a MS in Electrical Engineering at Georgia Tech. While in Pittsburgh, he played in the University of Pittsburgh Jazz Ensemble, under the direction of Nathan Davis. Kenny Clarke also directed the band for one year. Aaron was active as a trombonist and bass trombonist during his college years and throughout the 1980is first in Washington, DC, then in the New York area. During this period, Aaron studied privately with reed multi-instrumentalist Makanda Ken McIntyre. Since the early 1990is, Aaron has been active with major artists and ensembles including Steve Turreis Sanctified Shells, Reggie Workman, Jimmy Heath, Charles Tolliver, Oliver Lake, Muhal Richard Abrams, Bill Lee, Frank Lacy, the Mingus Big Band, the Count Basie Orchestra, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, and the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra. Aaron's compositions and arrangements have been performed or recorded by Frank Foster, Steve Turre, the Nancie Banks Orchestra, Frank Lacy, and Paradigm Shift. Aaron has recorded CDs with Steve Turre (Rhythm Within, 1995), Nancie Banks (Bertis Blues 1995, Ear Candy 1999, and Out of It 2001) Paradigm Shift (The RAW Field Recordings 1999 leaders Steven Haynes and Taylor Ho Bynum). He has recorded film scores with Frank Foster (The Bulls Night Out 1997) and Steve Turre (Anna Oz 1996) and a series of television commercials with Steve Turre. Aaron has been featured on pub lic radio broadcasts with the Reggie Workman Legacy Project, Jazz at Lincoln Center with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, and the Millennium New Year edition of Jazzset with Steve Turre and Sanctified Shells. Aaron has also appeared in the film Naqoyqatsi in a non-musical role. Aaron was awarded a 2000 Fellowship in Music Composition by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts.