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 may hear the bass line very effectively,” he remembered in a 2017 interview with Roll journal. “And that was very passable.”
A gifted scholar, he realized to learn earlier than he was 4 and skipped a grade in class. His first instrument was the baritone saxophone; after receiving simply two classes from his junior highschool band trainer, he taught himself the remainder. A 12 months later, he realized the tuba completely by watching different gamers’ fingerings in band rehearsals. He would wait till everybody had left the follow room, then tiptoe over to the tuba and check out what he had seen.
In the highschool band, he thrived on pleasant competitors together with his fellow tuba gamers. A lot of them had been receiving personal classes, however left to his personal units Mr. Johnson blew by them, stretching the instrument far previous its regular vary and sustaining a sleek articulation all through.
“I believed I used to be taking part in catch-up — that every one the stuff that I taught myself to do, the others may already do it,” he informed Roll. “Those who had been the perfect within the part had been sort of like position fashions: I wished to play like them sometime. However by the top of that college 12 months, I may play a lot better than they might. And I may do lots 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, he moved briefly to Chicago, considering it could be an excellent place to hone his chops earlier than finally shifting 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 stated, ‘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 feel you’re wanted in New York now,’” Mr. Johnson recalled. “So I believed, ‘It’s February, perhaps I ought to go to New York in August.’ I thought of it some extra, and I left six days later.”