Up-and-coming trumpeter Gabriel Johnson's spare, jazzy melodies have drawn comparisons to a young Miles Davis.
While Miles Davis was one of Johnson’s most important musical influences, it was another iconic entertainer who helped jumpstart his solo career: filmmaker and jazz enthusiast Clint Eastwood. Johnson recalls making a good first impression at Eastwood’s home in Northern California.
“He was real cool and complimentary and he said, ‘You’ve got a great sound. Do you want to come back tomorrow, I’m working on this movie and I think you could be right for it.’ And I said, ‘Ok, sure.’ So he played me the theme to what ended up being the end titles to ‘Changeling,’" he said. "I cut it by myself in that house, and he said, ‘Ok, that’s great.’ So, I ended up going back there for about a month every day. But that thing we did that first day ended up being the end titles.”
Johnson discovered jazz while growing up in Salinas, California. His grandmother encouraged him to listen to horn greats Dizzy Gillespie and Freddie Hubbard, and she supported his decision to become a musician. After graduating from the New England Conservatory of Music, he returned to California to work on recordings by a variety of jazz and R&B artists, among them trumpeter Chris Botti.
“I owe all of my knowledge -- as far as the way that I approach having a career, my vision, and thinking outside of the box -- I owe 110 percent of that to the advice that he’s given me and just his friendship,” Johnson said.
Johnson's debut album consists primarily of original songs and interludes. But, he also put his own spin on tunes by Robert Flack and Radiohead, as well as a melancholy take on the time-honored standard, “Summertime.”
"That tune in that particular key just had something of a moody quality," he said. "Many people have done it many ways. A lot of people have done it in a really up way or a really happy way, and I always just thought that my horn fits best in like a moodier context.”
“From the moment I wake up until the time I go to bed I’m sort of consumed with music and obsessed with it, but it never feels like work to me at all," Johnson said. "I really like doing it. I sort of enjoy the monotony of playing long tones on the horn every day and all that that kind of stuff. It’s great! If this is hard work, bring me all the hard work I can get.”