from Tyler, TX
November 15, 1913 - February 6, 2000 (age 86)
Gus Johnson worked steadily throughout his career, performing quite ably whether in big bands, combos, swing settings, or Dixieland. Johnson began playing piano before studying bass and drums. When he was ten in Dallas he started playing professionally at the Lincoln Theater in Houston. Other early jobs included working with McDavid's Blue Rhythm Boys and Lloyd Hunter. He moved to Kansas City after graduating from high school, playing drums and sometimes bass with a vocal quartet, the Four Rhythm Aces. Johnson worked in territory bands for a few years before becoming a key member of Jay McShann's Orchestra in Kansas City (1938-1943). After a period in the military, Johnson had stints with Jesse Miller, Eddie Cleanhead Vinson, Earl Hines, and Cootie Williams. Johnson, who had played with Count Basie for a couple weeks in 1948, joined Basie's band (at first a combo and then his new orchestra) in late 1949. Five years later, Johnson had to depart due to appendicitis. He soon returned to music, working with Lena Horne, and for nine years off and on as part of Ella Fitzgerald's trio (starting in 1957). In addition, Johnson was greatly in demand for mainstream bands, and through the years worked with Woody Herman (1959), Buck Clayton, Zoot Sims, Al Cohn, Gerry Mulligan (1962), Ralph Sutton, back with Jay McShann, Stan Getz, and the World's Greatest Jazz Band (starting in 1969). He was active into the '80s when he was forced to retire due to illness. Gus Johnson appeared on many records as a sideman but never had the opportunity to lead his own session. On February 6, 2000, Johnson died in Westminster, CO at the age of 86. ~ Scott Yanow, Rovi
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