ALLYN JOHNSON, is a multi-talented musician, composer, arranger and producer whose trademark sound gives brilliance and fortitude to the art of jazz improvisation. Allyn, a prodigy who began playing piano at the tender age of five, got his start playing piano for the youth choir in his uncle’s church. There he honed his inner musical gift.
While a student at the University of the District of Columbia, Allyn was mentored by the late great jazz legend Calvin Jones, a venerable figure in the international jazz community. At UDC, Allyn was the first recipient of the Felix. E Grant Scholarship Award in jazz performance. He graduated magna cum laude from UDC in 1997 with a Bachelor of Music Degree in Jazz Studies. Now Allyn has served for more than six years as an adjunct professor of music and assistant director of the Jazz Studies program before succeeding Jones as the director in 2005.
Allyn hopes to continue Jones’ rich legacy of service, musicianship, and academic excellence. Allyn is one of the nation’s most sought after musicians in the jazz community. He is revered by musical giants as well as the “young lions” of his generation. He was chosen for the highly competitive Betty Carter Jazz Ahead program in 2001 and returned to teach in the program in 2002. As a composer-arranger, he has a growing library of works for ensembles of varying sizes and instrumentation.
in 2005 Allyn started an ensemble combining Gospel, Jazz and Classical music called Divine Order. He also has a group called Sonic Sanctuary which may be heard as his trio or small ensemble which ranges from acoustic straight ahead jazz to jazz fusion and funk. No matter what configuration Allyn may be heard in, you can best believe it will be just “good music for the soul”.
Robert E. Person: Thank you for taking out the time Allyn.
Allyn Johson: Thank you for asking .
RP: So, Who is Allyn Johnson?
AJ: When you ask someone who they are it’s a very deep question. I heard some musician’s answer this question by naming what they do, who they’ve performed with, where they’re from..etc. But is that really who we are?
I’ll answer this question by saying, I really don’t know yet but I’m someone that strives to have integrity and loves life and music.
RP: Why Jazz?
AJ: First let’s clearly define the word JAZZ. Jazz comes from the word Jass, which was used in the brothels houses to keep business moving quickly. They used to tell the piano players or musicians to “JASS it up” to help the ladies that were working to hurry up and finish their business, if you understand what I’m saying. Then I just read that Duke Ellington and Mary Lou Williams said they never really liked the Word Jazz either..they never really called their music Jazz. So the music I play isn’t Jazz. It’s Black American Music. Even though it can appeal to the sensual part of the mind ..my music comes from the soul and the spiritual side of life. So that’s what appealed to me about this music. It’s also the freedom and creativity within the music that I’m drawn to.
On the technical side, I’m drawn to the beautiful harmonies, rhythm, melodies and vast textures that this music has.
RP: What is your first memory of hearing jazz and saying this is for me?
AJ: I first heard Jazz when I was in the 10th grade! I turned on the radio and as I was flipping through channels, I came across one of our local jazz stations. I heard this piano player that blew my mind. I didn’t know the piano could sound that way. It turned out to be Art Tatum. from that day forth I was determined to learn how to play the piano that and learn about this music. Needless to say , I still can’t play like Art Tatum, nobody can!
RP: Who are musical influences?
AJ: I’m influenced by everything I hear. Even if I don’t particularly like a certain thing, I’m still influenced by it. But some of my main influences are Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson, Phineas Newborn Jr. Mulgrew Miller, Thomas Whitfield, Henry Butler, Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner, Keith Jarrett, Kenny Kirkland, Billy Childs, Brad Meldhau, Reuben Brown, Don Blackman, Bernard Wright, Jan Hammer, George Duke…I’ll stop there
RP: Do you feel that the younger generation is moving farther and farther away from jazz? Meaning I hear a lot of people in general, say to me “I really don’t like and can’t name a single jazz artist”.
AJ: Well we do have some young people out here playing this music and sounding great, but we always could use more. It’s ok not to like something but if you never heard of it how can you make an evaluation of not liking it? Most of the stations that young people listen are not playing jazz, so if they are not exposed to it at home or in school how can they learn about it. So I can’t really blame the children, it’s really our society’s fault and what we deem as art and good music. if you watch the Grammies, that will tell you what we think is good music. Need I say more. You never really see jazz, classical or gospel artist getting awards on the stage. So I think it’s a societal issue.
RP: What as the inspiration for your group Divine Order?
AJ: I simply wanted to combine the music that I love into a group. Jazz, spiritual, and Gospel music.
RP: There are critics that say there is no room for “Gospel Jazz”, it’s secular. What do you say?
AJ: I say that they’re ignorant and falling into a trap that the music industry has set up from the beginning. that is to succumb to labels and genre names. Great music is great music. People said the Thomas Dorsey’s music was secular..but I see we are still singing “Precious Lord’ in churches? We still sing Kirk Franklin’s music in church and most of it is sampled grooves and hooks formal R&B music. Sometimes saints can be so holy till they’re ignorant and narrow-minded. That’s what I say!
RP: How do we introduce jazz to young people? Especially young African Americans.
AJ: We have to expose them to it at home and school. While the music teachers are teaching them about European classical music , they should also teach the children about Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie because the African American composer contributions to American Music is just as important.
RP: What advice do you give to musicians and singers just starting out?
AJ: To keep practicing and not to be so pressed or so quick to be an artist to get behind someone’s mic or on a stage before you are ready. Fall in love with the process of becoming better. Real musicians and artist practice even when there’s no gig to practice for. Be ready for that opportunity so when it comes you won’t be trying to get ready. Be prepared for it. that means continuous practice and honing your skills!
RP: What’s next for Allyn Johnson?
AJ: I’m getting ready to release a 2 cd set with a mixture of straight ahead jazz and jazz fusion compositions this summer. Also, I’m working on writing and arranging some of my music for string quartet! I’ll be recording some of that this year! Also, I’m working on my Audio engineering skills and studio work. I’m also working on getting a publishing deal for my book “Things That I Practice” that I self-published last year. And I’m ALWAYS practicing trying to go to the next level on the piano!
Native Washingtonian Robert E. Person’s classical vocal training and blend of classic hymns, contemporary gospel and Jazz have helped him carve out a unique place in today’s music arena.
Robert honed his musical gift at the prestigious Morehouse College—where he held membership in the world renowned Morehouse College Glee Club—as well as at the University of the District of Columbia. The recent 3-time 2016 Rhythm of Gospel Award recipient has a shelf full of independent music awards for his vocal performances of classics like “Someday We’ll All Be Free,” “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” and his original works “God Has A Plan” and most recent hit “Testify.”
Robert just released his fourth album titled Love Divine, on his own music label – REP Music. In addition to self-producing three other well-received projects, Robert has worked with musical heavyweights that traverse genres, including Josh Groban, Patti LaBelle, George Benson and Karen Clark Sheard. Robert is a member of Holy Comforter-Saint Cyprian Roman Catholic Church, where he serves in music ministry.
“I will sing of the mercies of the Lord forever; with my mouth will I make known Thy faithfulness to all generations.” -Psalm 89:1