Gus Johnson, Jr.
b. 15 November 1913, Tyler, Texas, USA. Active in music from about the age of 10, Johnson played piano, bass, drums and sang in a vocal quartet. Choosing drums, he played in a number of territory bands, then in 1938 joined the Jay McShann band in Kansas City. This was the unit that included the young Charlie Parker. Johnson stayed with McShann until entering the US Army in 1943. After the war he played with several bands, including those led by Earl Hines and Cootie Williams, and in 1949 joined Count Basie, with whom he remained until 1954; playing in both the sextet Basie briefly led during hard times and the powerful new-style big band that heralded a change in the leader's fortunes. Later Johnson worked as a freelance, accompanying singers including Lena Horne and Ella Fitzgerald and playing on numerous club dates, concert and recording sessions with Buck Clayton, Jimmy Rushing, Woody Herman and the World's Greatest Jazz Band. An exemplary drummer, Johnson's style combined fluid grace with skilful dynamics and he was just as happy discreetly supporting singers and soloists as explosively driving a big band. By the early '70s he was living in semi-retirement in Denver, Colorado.
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