Phillip Johnston

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This article is about the American saxophonist, see Philip Johnston for others with the same name
Phillip Johnston
Born (1955-01-22) January 22, 1955 (age 64)
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
GenresAvant-garde jazz, classical, film
Associated actsMicroscopic Septet, Fast 'n' Bulbous, Big Trouble, Transparent Quartet

Phillip Johnston (born January 22, 1955) is an American avant-garde saxophonist.[1] He came to prominence in the 1980s as co-founder of The Microscopic Septet and went on to write extensively for films, particularly new scores for classic silent films from the early 20th Century.


Phillip Johnston was born in Chicago, Illinois on January 22, 1955, and raised in the New York City area.[2]

During the 1970s he met and formed relationships with some of his earliest musical associates (John Zorn, Joel Forrester, Dave Hofstra, Eugene Chadbourne), and moved often between San Francisco and New York City. In 1980 he settled in New York, and soon formed his first ongoing music groups, The Public Servants (with vocalist Shelley Hirsch) and The Microscopic Septet (with pianist Joel Forrester).[3]

Throughout the 80s and 90s and early 2000s, he worked as a leader (The Microscopic Septet, Big Trouble, Transparent Quartet) co-leader and sideman (Mikel Rouse, Kitty Brazelton, Bobby Radcliff), and began a parallel career in composition for film, theatre, dance and the concert hall. He has a particular interest in contemporary scores for silent film.[4]

In 2005, he moved with his wife, Australian playwright Hilary Bell, and their two children to Sydney, Australia. As of 2015 he lives and performs in Sydney, but travels regularly to New York and Europe to perform, collaborate and record. He also teaches film music history at the Australian Institute of Music.[5]


As leader[edit]

  • Music for Films (Tzadik, 1998)
  • Rub Me the Wrong Way (Innova, 2004)
  • Diggin' Bones (Asynchronous, 2018)[6]
  • The Adventures of Prince Achmed (Asynchronous, 2018)

Big Trouble

  • Big Trouble (Black Saint, 1993)
  • Flood at the Ant Farm (Black Saint, 1996)
  • The Unknown (Avant, 1999)

The Transparent Quartet

  • The Needless Kiss (Koch Jazz, 1998)
  • The Merry Frolics of Satan (Koch Jazz, 1999)[7]
  • Page of Madness (Asynchronous, 2009)[8]

As co-leader[edit]

The Microscopic Septet

  • Take the Z Train (Press, 1983)
  • Let's Flip! (Osmosis, 1984)
  • Off Beat Glory (Osmosis, 1986)
  • Beauty Based on Science (Stash, 1993)
  • Seven Men in Neckties: The History of the Micros, Vol. 1 (Cuneiform, 2006)
  • Surrealistic Swing: The History of the Micros, Vol. 2 (Cuneiform, 2006)
  • Lobster Leaps In (Cuneiform, 2008)
  • Friday the 13th: The Micros Play Monk (Cuneiform, 2010)
  • Manhattan Moonrise (Cuneiform, 2014)
  • Been Up So Long It Looks Like Down To Me: The Micros Play The Blues (Cuneiform, 2017)

Fast 'N' Bulbous

  • Pork Chop Blue Around the Rind (Cuneiform, 2005)
  • Waxed Oop (Cuneiform, 2009)

The Spokes

  • Not So Fast (Strudelmedia, 2011)


  • Boggy Creek Bop (Rufus, 2010)

Joel Forrester/Phillip Johnston

  • Live at the Hillside (Asynchronous, 2011)

Guy Klucevsek/Phillip Johnston


  • 1984 Committed dir. by Lynne Tillman and Sheila McLaughlin.
  • 1986 Paradise (songs only) dir. by Doris Dörrie
  • 1987 When, If Not Now (songs only) dir. by Michael Jüncker
  • 1988 How To Be Louise dir. by Ann Flournoy
  • 1988 What Then dir. by John Inwood
  • 1989 Geld dir. by Doris Dörrie
  • 1992 Money Man dir. by Philip Haas
  • 1992 The Clean Up dir. by Jane Weinstock
  • 1993 The Music of Chance dir. by Philip Haas
  • 1994 Umbrellas dir. by Henry Corra/Graham Weinbren/Albert Maysles
  • 1996 Faithful dir. by Paul Mazursky
  • 2000 Sana Que Sana dir. by Ron Daniels
  • 2001 Mackenheim dir. by Adam Barr
  • 2004 Frames dir. Henry Corra & Charlene Rule (conductor/supervisor only)
  • 2007 Stolen Life dir. Jackie Turnure/Peter Rasmussen
  • 2008 Noise dir. Henry Bean
  • 2010 Mr. Sin: The Abe Saffron Story dir. Hugh Piper

Silent filmography[edit]

  • 1993 The Unknown (1927, dir. Tod Browning)
  • 1997 The Georges Méliès Project (1899-1909)
  • 1998 Page of Madness (1926, dir. Teinosuke Kinugasa)
  • 2003 Faust (1926, dir. F.W. Murnau)
  • 2013 The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926, Lotte Reineger)


  1. ^ Ankeny, Jason. "Phillip Johnston | Biography & History". AllMusic. Retrieved 25 November 2016.
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