It was on boyhood visits to his uncle’s home that Howard first grew to become enchanted with reside music. “He lived over a juke joint, and if I spent the night and slept on the floor, I could hear the bass line very well,” he remembered in a 2017 interview with Roll journal. “And that was very satisfactory.”
A gifted pupil, he discovered to learn earlier than he was four and skipped a grade at school. His first instrument was the baritone saxophone; after receiving simply two classes from his junior highschool band trainer, he taught himself the remaining. A yr later, he discovered the tuba completely by watching different gamers’ fingerings in band rehearsals. He would wait till everybody had left the observe 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. Many 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 swish articulation all through.
“I thought I was playing catch-up — that all the stuff that I taught myself to do, the others could already do it,” he informed Roll. “The ones who were the best in the section were kind of like role models: I wanted to play like them someday. But by the end of that school year, I could play much better than they could. And I could do a lot of other things.”
After highschool, Mr. Johnson spent three years within the Navy, taking part in baritone sax in a navy band. While 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, pondering it might be a very good place to hone his chops earlier than ultimately transferring 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 immediately.
“He said, ‘If you can do half of what you say you can do, you shouldn’t be waiting two years here; I think you’re needed in New York now,’” Mr. Johnson recalled. “So I thought, ‘It’s February, maybe I should go to New York in August.’ I thought about it some more, and I left six days later.”