Sy Johnson (born April 15, 1930 in New Haven, Connecticut) is a jazz arranger and pianist who worked with Charles Mingus in the 1970s. He also worked with the Lee Konitz Nonet among others. His work with Mingus is his best-known.
Sy Johnson first performed with Charles Mingus at the Showplace, a jazz club on West 4th St., in the band that included Booker Ervin on tenor, Ted Curson on trumpet, Dannie Richmond on drums, and Mingus on bass, and on his first night with Mingus, Eric Dolphy performed on alto, bass clarinet and flute. The gig lasted two weeks and ended when Johnson came into work and found himself replaced by Yusef Lateef, the multi-instrumentalist. Mingus explained: "If you were me, and had the chance to hire Yusef Lateef or you, who would you hire?"[This quote needs a citation]
In 1971, eleven year later, Mingus climbed the stairs to Emile Charlap’s copying office, home to many great arrangers, and before he left, he gave Johnson Let My Children Hear Music to arrange, which featured two Mingus pieces, "Shoes of the Fisherman’s Wife (Are Some Jiveass Slippers)" and "Don’t Be Afraid, the Clowns Afraid Too". The album's emergence was heralded with a live concert, Mingus And Friends At Philharmonic Hall, also arranged by Johnson and released as an album. Johnson continued to work with Mingus until his death from Lou Gehrig’s disease in 1979. Mingus recorded two of Johnson’s compositions, "Wee" and "For Harry Carney", and nominated Johnson for a Guggenheim award following his own in Jazz composition.
Johnson continues to work with Sue Mingus arranging charts for all the Mingus repertory ensembles—the Mingus Big Band, the Mingus Orchestra and the Mingus Dynasty. His other collaborations in the music world have been with Joe Williams, Frank Sinatra, Wes Montgomery, Roy Eldridge, Ben Webster, Quincy Jones, Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Mel Torme, Terry Gibbs, and Sarah Vaughan among others. He has also worked on Broadway and in films such as The Cotton Club (1984). Sy Johnson is also a jazz photographer, writer, pianist, singer and teacher.
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With Craig Handy
- Reflections in Change (Sirocco Music, 1999) - as arranger
With Rod Levitt
- The Dynamic Sound Patterns (Riverside, 1963)
With Charles Mingus
- Let My Children Hear Music (Columbia, 1972) - as arranger
- Charles Mingus and Friends in Concert (Columbia, 1972) - as arranger
- Mingus Moves (Atlantic, 1973) - as composer and arranger
- Changes Two (Atlantic, 1974) - as arranger
- The rough guide to jazz by Ian Carr, Digby Fairweather, Brian Priestley, pg lxxii
- Visions of jazz: the first century by Gary Giddins, pg 453
- Texas Monthly Jan 1979, pg 130
- Lee Konitz: conversations on the improviser's art by Andy Hamilton, Lee Konitz, pg 88
- Sy Johnson