The Smooth Sounds of Dr. J
By Zaira Vaquero
Two years ago, Novato High had the wonderful opportunity to introduce saxophone musician, composer, and Jazz educator Greg Johnson into the community as the Director of Jazz studies. He has been able to teach aspiring student musicians the art of Jazz through his classes: Jazz Band 1-4, and Jazz combos.
Sophomore band student Preston Gasser enjoys Johnson's teaching approach.
“Dr. J always knows what the music needs, which is one of the most important things for me. He tells you what you want the audience to feel and he’s also a really engaging person,” said Gasser. “He’s by far the most talented band teacher I've ever had.”
Johnson is often referred to as Dr. J by his students, which is sometimes seen as an informality, but is actually true to his official title. Johnson began his studies at Penn State University, took two years off, and completed his undergrad at the University of Northern Colorado. Later on he completed both his Masters and Doctorate at the University of Southern California. During the years he took off, he played professionally in Pennsylvania for two years.
Johnson's students have always been a priority to him. He often finds the opportunity to hire them for paying gigs. Students get a real-life learning experience of what it means to be a hired artist.
“Gigs are dope, they pay really good money, and take place in beautiful locations,” said Gasser.
Johnson has had a variety of teaching experiences prior to landing his teaching job in the MSA program. He believes teaching represents a part of who he is.
“Whether it was private students or classes at USC, teaching is part of my identity even when I'm on tour,” said Johnson.
The MSA Jazz band program is aimed at students who wish to expand their musical abilities and potentially form a career in Jazz.
“I think the students at MSA are a refreshing transition,” Johnson said. “They really want to learn and get better, which makes it a fun and easy job for me.”
Before Johnson began teaching to a prodigious amount of students, he toured with his own band GJ3. They Produced multiple tracks and released an album on iTunes in 2013, Way Back When. On his own, he has released two other albums, City People and Invisible. He is currently in the process of putting together another album, due out in late spring.
“On any given week, I could be playing on a Pop recording, on tour with a band, at a Jazz club or on stage with a symphony orchestra,” Johnson said. “After a while, I didn't really distinguish between styles, I just played music. When it came time for me to record my own music, all of those styles kind of combined organically.”
Johnson has been able to work with artists like Robin Thicke, Barry Manilow, and Saint Motel. All three artists differentiating in music styles, yet able to incorporate someone as talented as Johnson into their musical projects.
“Unlike others, Dr. J is active in both the music scene as well as teaching,” said Novato High alum Tristan Mitchell. “Being in his class was a very cool experience, and it has definitely helped me out in the long run.”
Although Johnson has already done many magnificent things, his growth as an artist is still in the works and you can expect to hear more from him at Novato High and beyond.