Q&A with Richard Johnson

img_5395How did you become a trumpet player? Did you play other instruments before the trumpet? If so, did those instruments inform how you played trumpet? Or did your view of how music is played change once becoming a trumpeter?

My dad had an old horn he played in high school that he kept in the closet at home. A few times a year we would get it out and the whole family would take turns trying to make a sound on it. When I started 5th grade I wanted to play drums or saxophone, but when they said both those sections were full I figured I could try the trumpet, since we already had one at home. I remember once I got started it just felt like the right thing, like I was supposed to play trumpet all along. Eventually a solo on “Sleigh Ride” that ended with a half-valved horse whinny planted the seed for sonic exploration. What other sounds could I get out of this horn?

Were there recordings in the beginning and even years into learning the instrument that drew you into the trumpet’s sound and possibilities?

When I first started playing my Dad brought home a jazz trumpet compilation tape from the discount bin at a local record shop. It had a little of everything – Armstrong, Eldridge, Dizzy, Miles, Chet Baker, Art Farmer, Maynard, Al Hirt. It was amazing to hear all the different sounds everyone had on this one instrument. Later on in high school my band director, an alto player, would give my records to take home and check out. One day he sent me home with copy of “Bitches Brew”. I still remember putting it on the turntable, shutting off the light and sitting on my bed to listen. It completely blew my mind!

People often talk about how the trumpet is the hardest instrument to play. Do you feel this is true? What doesn’t the general public understand about playing the trumpet that you wish people would realize?

Maybe it isn’t that the trumpet is the hardest to play, but that it’s one of the easiest to hurt yourself with. No one really likes to talk about it, but a lot of us struggle through periods of serious, sometimes almost career ending, injuries from playing too hard or too much.

If you had to identify with one or two gurus, trumpeters or otherwise, who had the greatest impact on your musical journey to date, whom would they be?

That said, Laurie Frink has had and will always have a huge impact on my musical journey. Her teaching and support helped me through more than one rough spot in my playing and I’m forever grateful.

Growing up, two local trumpeters, Dr. George Hitt and Bernie Bernstein, were my musical grandfathers. Their teaching, support and encouragement started me on my path.

How did you select the people you wanted to showcase in your particular curation?

We’re these people you felt we’re deserving of wider recognition? We’re they people you felt shared a similar working aesthetic as you or came from someplace completely differently?

I curated this years run at Douglass Street Music Collective. Douglass Street is one of those spaces people can explore their own ideas and sounds without having to worry about commercial success. A place you can take risks that you may not feel comfortable taking somewhere else. Some of the players I know from sitting alongside them in big bands in the city. It’s always great to play in those groups and hear about what everyone is working on. The rest are people have submitted recordings to FONT and we have a chance to feature them this year. In my opinion, all the groups are deserving of wider recognition as they all bring their own visions to the concept of small group improvisation and composition and I’m excited to hear them all.

Who is your favorite trumpeter today (as in today, the day you are writing this email) and what recorded song available to the public best exemplifies why this trumpeter is so badass?

My favorite trumpeter right now, this morning?
Mr. Trumpet Man

What event besides the events you curated are you most looking forward to checking out live?

The Zendo, Smoke, Jazz Standard – it’s hard to pick just one thing… but I am looking forward to the Henry Brant piece at Roulette – Fifty. Two. Trumpets