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An interview with
Alphonso Johnson

"I have nothing but the highest opinion of Joe Zawinul
as a husband, father, musician, composer and a great human being"


The great Alphonso Johnson, the Weater Report bassplayer from 1974 to 1976, honored us with a brief interview. It's a great privilege for us to have him as guest on our pages. Many thanks to Alphonso for his courtesy and for his music.
Marco Piretti

Alphonso Johnson Biography:

Internationally acclaimed Bassist and Chapman Stick artist Alphonso Johnson has accumulated numerous performing, recording, teaching, producing, composing and publishing credits during his illustrious career. His touring and recording credits read like a "Who's Who" of jazz and fusion, and he is considered one of the topperformers in the world on his instrument.
Alphonso studied bass at the Philadelphia Music Academy with John Lamb, former bassist with the Duke Ellington Orchestra. His touring career began when he was seventeen, and it was at this time that he also began to develop his own style of fusion music. At the age of twenty-one, Alphonso toured the world with the Woody Herman Orchestra, with which he recorded the album The Raven Speaks. He then joined the Chuck Mangione Quartet and played on the album "The Land of Make Believe." Wayne Shorter heard Alphonso with the Mangione group and asked him to record the album "Mysterious Traveler" with the group Weather Report. Alphonso co-wrote two songs for the album and toured with the band from 1975 to 1976, during which time he recorded his first solo album for CBS/Epic titled "Moonshadows."
In 1976, Alphonso became fascinated with the Chapman Stick, a ten-stringed electric touchboard. He recorded a second album "Yesterdays Dreams" for CBS/Epic. A year later, he recorded his third album, "Spellbound," featuring the Chapman Stick. In 1979, he toured the United States with the CBS All-Stars (Tom Scott, Billy Cobham, and Steve Kahn) and recorded a live album in England with rock artist Rod Argent. That same year Alphonso received a Grammy Nomination for Best R&B Instrumental for the album "Street Life" with the group The Crusaders.
Alphonso's first film scoring attempt, which was a soundtrack for a childrens film entitled "Sound of Sunshine......... Sounds of Rain" in 1983, netted him anAcademy Award Nomination for Best Animated Film. A year later he joined Santana and with that group toured in Europe with Bob Dylan and recorded the album "Real Live" from that tour. Alphonso was also featured on Santana's "Beyond Appearances" for which he co-wrote two compositions. That group also contributed a performance to the Live Aid concert which was simulcast around the world by satellite.
A summary of his many touring and performing credits includes: Santana, Weather Report, The Crusaders, Bob Weir, Chuck Mangione, George Duke, En Vogue, Wayne Shorter, Sergio Mendes, Tony Williams, Joe Williams, and Gregory Hines. Discography credits include albums and CD's with Woody Herman, Weather Report, Eddie Henderson, Flora Purim, Quincy Jones, Lee Ritenour, Phil Collins, The Whispers, John McLaughlin, Jeffrey Osborne, Sarah Vaughan, Dori Caymmi, Carl Anderson, and The Meeting. Alphonso has appeared on Don Kershner's In Concert (with Weather Report), the Arsenio Hall Show (with Santana) and the Johnny Carson Show (with The Meeting), as well as in an MTV Video (with Jeffrey Osborne).
Alphonso's teaching experience is as extensive and impressive as his work in performing, recording, touring and producing. Institutions and organizations for which he has taught include the Mesar Hause Institute of Music in Tokyo (Japan), the Bass School of Music in Koln (Germany), the Musicians Institute in Los Angeles, the National Guitar Summer Workshop, and the California Institute of the Arts. He has conducted bass seminars and clinics in Germany, England, France, Scotland, Ireland, Japan, Switzerland, Australia, Brazil and Argentina. In 1997 Alphonso was asked to become the director of the bass department at The Los Angeles Music Academy in Pasadena, California.
Alphonso has also contributed a chapter in "The Guitar Teacher's Handbook" published by Oxford University Press. He wrote "The Bass Guitar," which was also published by The Oxford University Press in 1994. In addition, he wrote a chapter in Lessons with the Greats, which was published by DCI/Belwin in 1993. In 1995 Alphonso was asked to become a member of the group Abraxas, which is comprised of all the original members of the group Santana. They released their debut album, "Abraxas Pool," in 1997 on the Miramar recording label. In 1998 & 1999 Alphonso toured with the group Jazz Is Dead with Billy Cobham (Miles Davis), T. Lavitz (Dixie Dregs) and Jimmy Herring (Aquarian Rescue Unit), paying tribute to the late Jerry Garcia. This year Alphonso was asked to tour with Furthur Festival 2000 and play with former Grateful Dead members (Mickey Hart, Bruce Hornsby, Bill Kreutzman, and Bob Weir) in "The Other Ones." They toured this fall and will play New Year's Eve. Alphonso is also working on a new project called "Bombay Chill" which will feature vocalist Greg Walker (Santana), Walfredo Reyes Jr. (Steve Winwood) and Indian guitarist Prasanna Ramaswamy. The group should begin recording shortly and plans for a release next year.

Alphonso Johnson official biography
Embamba Music Productions
Text and photos are courtesy of Alphonso Johnson


Alphonso Johnson Interview
by Marco Piretti

1) Mr. Johnson, thank you so much first for your courtesy in accepting this interview. Our first question is concerning your first approach to the electric bass. Why did you choose to play bass?

A: Actually, I started playing the Bass Viol in elementary school because I was the tallest boy in the class and my teacher felt that I was the only person who could physically hold the instrument. Later I played the bass in the elementary school orchestra which gave me a lot of experience in reading and playing with a large group of musicians.

2) Can you tell us something your first meeting with Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter, and the beginning of your collaboration with them in the Weather Report group?

A: I first met Joe and Wayne at a concert in Philadelphia at The Academy of Music concert hall. I was playing with the opening act, The Chuck Mangione Quartet. After hearing me play they invited me to come out to California to record "Mysterious Traveller". It was an audition and after it worked out they asked to join the next tour.

3) When you was with the WR, what was your playing style? What was the percentage of improvised music, and the relationship with written music?

A: We always started rehearsals with charts but they were open to interpretation. Sometimes the written music was just a sketch and we were expected to embellish and improvise as much as we wanted. Then again certain songs were very structured and arranged.

4) In the "Mysterious Traveler" album, you co-wrote the "Scarlet Woman" and "Cucumber Slumber" tunes; also you composed the great "Herandnu" on Black Market. Can you give us some details about the genesis of these songs?

A: Scarlet Woman was a song that I brought in that sounded very different originally in my head. I was glad that Joe opened up the song and realized it's potential. Cucumber Slumber was totally improvised in the studio. It started with me playing the bass line and the tape started rolling and the rest fell into place. Herandnu (which means "Here and Now") was the name of a shop in Copenhagen and I was amazed at how that provided a section of the store for children to play while the parents could browse. Once again Joe and Wayne saw the potential of what I had and found the best parts and that is what we recorded.

5) Can you tell us something more about your decision to leave the group? What were the causes?

A: I knew that my time with Weather Report was coming to an end after we found Chester Thompson on drums. There was so much time and energy spent in my first year on finding a drummer that by the time Chester joined the band I was burned out. So when I heard that George Duke and Billy Cobham were putting together a new group I decided to check it out. The potential of playing with a fusion group that featured vocals intrigued me.

6) What's your global opinion about the years you passed with the Weather Report? What their impact into your playing style and your way to make music?

A: That's a funny question because there is no doubt in my mind that if it wasn't for Joe and Wayne that I wouldn't have gotten the musical exposure on an international level that I received. But if you look at the bigger picture we all are where we are supposed to be at the right place and at the right time because the universe is perfect. I believe that if I hadn't joined Weather Report that some other event would have taken place in my life and that would have been perfect as well.

7) What is your personal opinion about Joe Zawinul, as man, as musician, as composer... ?

A: I have nothing but the highest opinion of Joe as a husband, father, musician, composer and a great human being. Nobody is perfect and I've seen Joe at his worst and at his best so he has taught me so much through my being able to observe him in our short time together.

8) You played with some of the greatest jazz/fusion musicians in the World. What is the experience that you remember more gladly?

A: It's all good........there is no one situation that is better than is a part of the continuing musical journey that I've been blessed to be a part of in this life.

9) We are italians so... we remember your collaboration with italian guitarist/singer Pino Daniele in the "Bella Mbriana" recording sessions. Also Wayne Shorter played in that album. Can you give us some particular about this experience? Can you tell us what were the elements of that kind of music that interested you and Shorter?

A: The thing that I remember the most about that collaboration was seeing the joy in Ana Maria's (Wayne's wife at that time) face when she walked through the castle at the studio and got to pick which room they were going to stay. She was like a queen and she seemed very much at home. Also I could see how proud Wayne was to have his beautiful wife there with him surrounded by royalty and it all came out in his playing on that record.

10) Can you tell us something about your recent experience with Jazz Is Dead?

A: Well it's been almost two years now since I've played with the band and I just got a call to go back out and do another tour in March. It was interesting to play the music of The Grateful Dead with jazz musicians and then turn around and play that same music with the original guys in "The Other Ones". There were so many musical phrases that we thought were mistakes in Jazz Is Dead that I found out were actually being played on purpose with The Grateful Dead. There were time during rehearsals with The Other Ones that I would just start laughing because I would remember how we played a certain song with JID and see how different we were laying it with TOO.

11) What are your projects for the near future?

A: I have a new project that's called "Bombay Chill" and it has elements of Eastern Indian music mixed with Western jazz and r&b music. So far I have asked guitarist Prasanna Ramaswamy, vocalist Greg Walker and drummer Walfredo Reyes to join me. After a few false starts we now have a some time put aside in April to get into rehearsals and start tracking. There is some interest from a japanese lable called Oasis but nothing concrete yet. And I have been talking with drummer Billy Kretuzman about putting together something with guitarist Vernon Reid.

Read more about Alphonso Johnson
Embamba Music Productions



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