By Doug Levine
Meet up-and-coming trumpeter Gabriel Johnson, whose spare, jazzy melodies have drawn comparisons to the legendary Miles Davis.
Johnson was especially drawn to the orchestral collaborations between Miles and arranger Gil Evans. But, it was another iconic entertainer that helped jump-start 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.’ ”
Johnson agreed to return the next day and he wound up performing the closing theme to Eastwood’s film, “Changeling.”
Johnson, 32, discovered jazz while growing up in Salinas, California. His grandmother encouraged him to listen to Dizzy Gillespie and Freddie Hubbard, and she supported his decision to become a musician. After graduating from the New England Conservatory in Boston, he returned to California to work with a variety of artists, such as Gladys Knight, Jill Scott, Dave Koz, Lyle Lovett, Andrea Bocelli, and fellow trumpeter Chris Botti who became Gabriel’s close friend and collaborator .
His debut album is comprised mostly of original songs and interludes. But, he also put his own spin on tunes by Radiohead and Roberta Flack.
He also offers a melancholy take on the time-honored Gershwin standard, “Summertime.”
“That tune in that particular key just had something of a moody quality,” Johnson says. “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.”
For more on Gabriel Johnson, including info about his upcoming tour and new album, go to gabrieljohnsonmusic.com.