We Play the Music
We Play The Music Review FROST ILLUSTRATED, Fort Wayne Indiana - Arts & Entertainment 7/20/2005 All That Jazz By James Saunders David Johnson explains: 'We Play the Music' Guitarists are often the front men of any band or combo in which they play, yet, this guitarist chose to toil in almost anonymity, like a lot of great sidemen- unless of course you read the backs of album covers or the inserts of CDs. Then, maybe you would find his name. If he had one of the marquis names, he undoubtedly would've recorded albums and become something of a household name. But instead, it was his job to make these performers and singers 'sound good.' And, he did. After all, he performed with the O'Jays for five years and other groups like Roy Ayers Ubiquity, Dakota Staton, legendary jazz vocalist Joe Williams, jazz veteran Dee Dee Bridgewater and the one and only Stevie Wonder! The other very interesting detail about this man is he played mostly bass with these other musicians. This man who first picked up a guitar at age seven and hasn't put it down for 50-plus years is David Johnson. I had a chance to speak with David via phone, a couple of weeks ago. His ability as a bassist is notable- is as his guitar work is. If you're a jazz aficionado like me, you know that about 30 years ago in the age of 'jazz rock' or 'fusion,' Weather Report was one of 'the' bands. Lead by Joe Zawinul on keyboards and Wayne Shorter on sax, the bassists and drummers tended to come and go. When bassist Alphonso Johnson left the band, David Johnson was up for the bass player spot, but he chose to play behind organist Jack McDuff. As his impressive resume points out, that wasn't his only tour of duty with a big name band leader. Admittedly, Johnson most enjoyed playing alongside vibes master Roy Ayers. Why? Because of the 'fringe benefits' that came with touring with a world renowned musician- namely partying, women and drugs, he admitted frankly. Despite the 'benefits,' he got the most enjoyment from just playing the music and continues to do so. We covered many topics in our way too brief phone conversation. He spoke of his graduation from the school of 'hard knocks,' and is grateful and blessed to have endured and survived long enough to still be here. It made him a better man and a better musician. We spoke of the music business today and this 'ol' school' player feels there are 'real' musicians and 'perpetrators,' as he called them. Rap artists who sample other's music, he considers 'straight out thieves.' Johnson doesn't condemn all rap and hip hop. Some of it he considers very good and original. 'Some of it had me patting my foot,' he said-until women were called by derogatory terms. He said most of these guys are looked up to as heroes by kids and he only wishes they would set better examples. Johnson also said those who become successful in music, business or life, should stop and reach back to extend a hand to those who are trying to 'make it.' Recently, Johnson and the editor of this publication, Michael Patterson, an accomplished bass player in his own right (and protege of Johnson), got together and wrote some tunes and recorded nine tracks in the jazz/instrumental R&B vein. Whatever you decide to label them, they are very good. I was fortunate to get an advance copy of this almost 48-minute CD. As you listen to this, you think this was recorded in New York or L.A. Nope. It was recorded here in Fort Wayne by Patterson at 'R-crib' Studios. Both Johnson and Patterson took turns in the producer's chair, with Johnson writing seven of the nine tracks, Patterson and Johnson co-writing one and Patterson writing one track. Johnson plays electric bass, guitar, acoustic guitar, guitar synthesizer and keyboards and adds vocals. He also handles the arrangements. Patterson plays electric and acoustic bass, percussion, keyboards and guitar synthesizer and handles the rhythm and loop programming. The name of the CD is 'We Play the Music' which gets started with 'Big City Kitty,' a beautiful ballad Johnson leads with his 'Wes'-like guitar and electric bass. Patterson is on congas and bongos. It reminds me of Wes Montgomery's work on Verve and later on A&M. Check out Johnson's soft picking on his electric guitar. Very impressive. Next is 'DJ's Bossa,' another ballad with a bit of a Latin rhythm added in. Again check out Johnson's great guitar work. Patterson plays bass and rhythm. This is late night, curling up on the couch with your significant other music. Nice. Johnson honors his granddaughter with 'Jalisa's Waltz.' It's a slow waltz with a ballad feel that begins with Johnson out front on guitar and playing some guitar synth that resembles a harmonica. Patterson is there on electric, adding tone and richness, but not treading on Johnson's guitar. Very pretty. 'We Play the Music' is a mid tempo track with Johnson chanting the title at the beginning. He then begins 'going to work' on his electric guitar, with Patterson on bass, synth and rhythm set up. Johnson displays some of his guitar prowess on this track, while Patterson holds the bottom and allows him room to 'show out.' One of my favorites. Wow! 'Rasta Bob,' is a reggae tune, with Johnson on guitar and guitar synth, doing his blues thing. It features great guitar work of course from Johnson, with Patterson on bass and percussion. Impressive. This is another one of my favorites. 'Brian's Theme' is a pretty ballad, with Johnson on acoustic guitar and guitar synth and Patterson on processed acoustic bass. 'D' Tune' is their venture into funk, with Patterson's electric bass laying the foundation for the funk, and Johnson on top at first lightly strumming his axe. Then he goes into a kind of blues thing, picking his notes one by one, then in bunches. Check out Patterson's electric bass as he bends and stretches the notes. Johnson then 'goes to work' again. This is another of my favorites. I believe Johnson adds a bit of feedback for affect, and that's cool. 'Uptown Women,' one of Johnson's favorites, is a bluesy track with him on his acoustic axe and Patterson on a walking acoustic bass and congas. Again, Johnson's playing takes front and center. Impressive. 'The Gospel Blues' is just that, with Johnson on guitar and Patterson on acoustic bass on this gospel-flavored ballad penned by Patterson This one is nice. I liked this CD a great deal. It's kind of cool that this is folks you know, not some guys you've read about. If you would like your own copy it will be available in the next few weeks on CDbaby.com. (And, perhaps you'll be able to pick up a copy should you happen to catch Johnson live somewhere in the area.) I recommend this project, highly. Get it!