It was on boyhood visits to his uncle’s home that Howard first grew to become enchanted with stay music. “He lived over a juke joint, and if I spent the night time and slept on the ground, I might hear the bass line very nicely,” he remembered in a 2017 interview for Roll journal. “And that was very passable.”
A gifted scholar, he realized to learn earlier than he was four and skipped a grade in class. His first instrument was the baritone saxophone; after receiving simply two classes from his junior highschool band instructor, he taught himself the remaining. A yr later, he realized the tuba fully by watching different gamers’ fingerings in band rehearsals. He would wait till everybody had left the apply room, then tiptoe over to the tuba and check out what he’d seen.
In the highschool band, he thrived on a way of pleasant competitors along with his fellow tuba gamers. Lots of them had been receiving personal classes, however left to his personal units Mr. Johnson blew past what they had been being taught, stretching the instrument far previous its regular vary and sustaining a swish articulation all through.
“I assumed I used to be taking part in catch-up — that every one the stuff that I taught myself to do, the others might already do it,” he advised Roll. “Those who had been one of the best within the part had been sort of like position fashions, I wished to play like them sometime. However by the top of that college yr, I might play a lot better than they might. And I might do plenty of different issues.”
After highschool, Mr. Johnson spent three years within the Navy, taking part in baritone sax in a army band. Whereas stationed in Boston, he met the drummer Tony Williams, a teenage phenom who would quickly be employed by Miles Davis, and fell in with different younger jazz musicians there. After being discharged, Mr. Johnson moved breifly to Chicago, considering it might be a great place to hone his chops earlier than an eventual transfer to New York. At a John Coltrane live performance one night time, he met the distinguished multi-instrumentalist Eric Dolphy, a member of Coltrane’s band. When he talked about that his vary was as nice on the tuba because it was on the baritone, Dolphy urged him to maneuver to New York straight away.
“He mentioned, ‘If you are able to do half of what you say you are able to do, you shouldn’t be ready two years right here, I believe you’re wanted in New York now,’” Mr. Johnson recalled. “So I assumed, ‘It’s February, possibly I ought to go to New York in August.’ I thought of it some extra, and I left six days later.”