Clarence J. Johnson III
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Clarence J. Johnson III

New Orleans, Louisiana, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2014 | SELF

New Orleans, Louisiana, United States | SELF
Established on Jan, 2014
Band Jazz Fusion

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"Clarence Johnson III, "Watch Him Work.""

In the hands of Clarence Johnson III, smooth jazz finds its edge. The New Orleans saxophonist, who is best known in straight-up or creative jazz though is regularly heard working as a sideman in rhythm and blues, brings his huge improvisational powers to the often-scorned genre. As heard on his self-penned opening title cut, Johnson attacks tunes with his very identifiable and individual tone and percussive saxophone pops. His arrangement on “Watch Him Work” utilizes the sharp horn section much as if it was a big band. Very much at center stage throughout the album, Johnson ultimately takes the song further than one might expect from smooth jazz.

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Violinist Michael Ward, one of the best-known local purveyors of the genre, prefers to call the style contemporary instrumental music and that description really works when considering Watch Him Work. The music here sways rather than swings—though, with Johnson blowing tenor or soprano sax, it also slurs and soars in displaying the leader’s profusion of ideas.

Johnson’s romantic, soulful and spiritual nature pours out on another one of his fine originals, “Mama’s Prayer.” It finds completeness with the interchange between his saxophone and the guitar of Steve Masakowski.

The funky vibe Johnson gives to the classic “Grazin’ in the Grass” offers a good change of pace. We hear yet another of Johnson’s voices, his wonderfully warm vocals, on a fine arrangement of romantic standard “The Way You Look Tonight.”

Johnson called in the cream of New Orleans musicians for this outing, with Mike Esnault strongly holding down the keyboards on most cuts and a variety of artists moving in and out of the band. Guitarist Bill Solley takes off on Johnson’s original “Brian’s Journey,” aided by drummer Jamison Ross and bassist Chris Severin.

Johnson is ultimately an intuitive musician. The saxophonist’s performance on Watch Him Work elicits a smile, or perhaps a wistful sigh, and, as always, contains the element of surprise. - Offbeat Magazine


"Jazz Saxophonist Clarence Johnson III returns with his first CD in 15 years"

Fifteen years separate local jazz saxophonist Clarence Johnson III’s new CD, “Watch Him Work,” and its predecessor. What accounted for the long delay?

“It was a few things,” Johnson said this week. “A lot happened in that 15 year period, one thing after another. With going here, going there, it took us a minute to get resettled.”

In the interim, Johnson, now 39, experienced a myriad life-changing events, including marriage, the birth of his son, Hurricane Katrina, and the loss of his father, with whom he was close.

“The direction of the music exhibits the things that I’ve gone through, the things that have made me mature and grow up,” he said. “At 22, you’re one way. When you’re in your late 30s, you’re a seasoned veteran, looking at things from a mature perspective. I think all of that is reflected in the music and the life choices that I’ve made.”

Johnson’s previous recordings focused on straight-ahead jazz. “Watch Him Work” favors jazz fusion and smooth jazz, with Johnson blowing both tenor and soprano saxophones on mostly instrumental, mostly original compositions. “This is the other side of my musical personality that has always been there, bubbling up,” he said. “I finally got a chance to explore it.”

He celebrates the new CD with a performance inside the Old U.S. Mint’s third floor studio on Saturday, Aug. 17, at 8 p.m. He’ll be joined by a first-call band consisting of guitarist Steve Masakowski, keyboardists Mike Esneault and Dwight Fitch Jr., bassist Donald Ramsey and drummer Ricky Sebastian.

Johnson first turned heads as a sax-playing drum major for the Brother Martin High School marching band in the early 1990s. Within a few years, he was one of the Crescent City’s most acclaimed young modern jazz saxophonists, with an array of awards to prove it.

In 1998, he released a CD called “Dedicated to You” via STR Digital Records. He spent the next couple years touring and promoting it, as well as performing with bassist George Porter Jr.’s Runnin’ Pardners.

Life intervened. He got married in 2000; he and his wife, Joy, welcomed a son named Brian the following year. In 2005, they lost their home to Katrina’s levee breaches, and moved to Atlanta.

From his new base in Georgia, he toured with other displaced New Orleans musicians, including Delfeayo Marsalis, Bill Summers and Davell Crawford, and as a member of R&B and gospel singer Jennifer Holliday’s backing band. He taught music and directed bands at Spelman and Morehouse colleges.

CLARENCE JOHNSON III
•What: A CD release party for the saxophonist’s new CD of jazz fusion, ‘Watch Him Work.’
•With: Guitarist Steve Masakowski, keyboardists Mike Esneault and Dwight Fitch Jr., bassist Donald Ramsey and drummer Ricky Sebastian.
•When: Saturday, Aug. 17, 2013, 8 p.m.
•Where: Old U.S. Mint, 400 Esplanade Ave.
•Tickets: $17.50 in advance via eventbrite.com, $20 at the door.

In 2009, he and his family moved back to the New Orleans area, eventually settling in Kenner. “Atlanta was cool, but we missed home.”

After returning, he took part in “House” star Hugh Laurie’s “Let Them Talk” New Orleans recording project. He resumed teaching music, in Algiers charter schools and at Southeastern University in Hammond.

And he raised funds to record and release the long-delayed follow-up to “Dedicated to You” independently. He named his record company, as well as a track on the new record, “Like Father Like Son.”

“It’s a tribute to the way my dad raised me in godly instruction, and the way I’m trying to do the same thing with my son. Looking at my father, the way he carried himself with such dignity and class, I learned how to be a man.”

The “Him” of the “Watch Him Work” title track is a reflection of Johnson’s deep-seated, non-denominational Christianity.

“That’s exactly what this record represents. The ‘h’ will always be capitalized to signify that I’m talking about God. No matter how tough things become, just offer it up in prayer. Once you let God deal with it, just step back and watch Him work.”

“Watch Him Work” contains only two cover songs. Both factor into Johnson’s personal history.

His father was a fan of the Hugh Masekela classic “Grazin’ in the Grass.” “That was one of those tracks that my dad, God rest his soul, used to play on Sunday mornings. That stuck with me throughout the years.” Johnson outfitted it with a “stepper’s groove,” in light of a resurgence in line-dancing.

He performed the romantic standard “The Way You Look Tonight” at his wedding. His arrangement shifts from a major to a minor key and eases back on the tempo. “By slowing it down as a ballad, it gave me more of a chance to express the emotion I was feeling that day.”

After so many years, he is relieved to finally have a new work that is entirely his creation.

“When you have complete control, it’s much more daunting, and much more difficult financially. As daunting and scary as it was, when you see the final result, the only person I have to answer to is myself.” - The Times Picayune-Greater New Orleans


"Clarence Johnson III "Watch Him Work""

It has been quite a few years since Clarence Johnson III’s last album. Now with Watch Him Work, his new album, the saxophonist often identified with straight-ahead jazz is staking out some new territory. Call it smooth jazz, call it fusion—call it jazz lite. It doesn’t matter what you call it. It is an album with a lot of very listenable music, nothing experimental, nothing avant garde, just some very pleasurable sounds from an excellent musical talent.

With a variety of different musicians, Johnson has put together a set of 10 tunes, including eight original compositions, a funky cover of the Hugh Masekela hit “Grazin’ in the Grass,” and a sweet arrangement of the Jerome Kern/Dorothy Fields ballad “The Way You Look Tonight,” which adds a little vocalizing to the mix.

Of Johnson’s compositions “Mamma’s Prayer,” “Cornerstone,” and “Like Father Like Son” suggest the spiritual nature of the man’s music. As he writes in the liner notes: “One of the greatest blessings in life is the power of prayer inspired by true belief.” Compositions like “Brian’s Journey” and “Joy” would also seem to reflect the spiritual journey and its culmination. Even the party atmosphere of “Struttin’” is a reaction to the “bliss felt in conquering demons and mountains.” This is prayer made manifest in music. Watching him work is watching God working.

Clearly for Johnson this is music with an implicit message.

Sidemen on the album include Bobby Campo playing trumpet and flugelhorn and guitarist Steve Masakowski on four tracks (including “Mamma’s Prayer”), trombonists Jeff Albert and William “B.J.” McGibney on two tracks each, and Mike Esneault on keyboards. He works with four different bass players and three drummers, but whoever he works with the music is emotionally powerful. It comes from the heart - Blogcritics.com


Discography

Still working on that hot first release.

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Bio

Clarence Johnson III ~ Known for his fierce and often sultry saxophone sound and astounding virtuosity, New Orleanean Clarence Johnson III enjoys a successful career as a recording and performing artist, an educator, and also appears in films and television. Currently, Clarence is celebrating the national release of his latest recording, "Watch Him Work", his first release in nearly 15 years. The new original material, which features himself and his latest creation, Cornerstone, can best be described as a fresh take on jazz fusion, which is reminiscent of the compositional styles of Stanley Clarke, George Duke, the Brecker Bros., and the Yellow Jackets.

Most recently, Clarence appeared on both the 2012 recording and PBS Television documentary of Hugh Lauries (Dr. House) Let Them Talk, produced by Allen Toussaint. During his time in Atlanta GA. from 2005 to 2009, his career highlights included a stint with Jenifer Holiday and serving on the esteemed music faculties of Morehouse College and Spelman College.  

Clarences film and television credits include various scenes with actor Jamie Fox in the award winning movie, RAY, where he is seen as a member of the Ray Charles Septet and Orchestra. He has also appeared in television commercials for the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation with Emeril Lagasse, Community Coffee, and the New Orleans Contemporary Art Center. (CAC)

Clarences bands, which have garnered such past descriptions as Coltranesque Impressionism and Sun Ra Futurism, have performed at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, French Quarter Festival, and also headlined the inaugural 1998 Yerevan International Jazz Festival in Armenia. They have also opened shows for Les McChan and Billy Cobham & Culture Mix.

Johnson has appeared on the recordings of such artists as Tori Amos (Boys for Pele WEA, 1996), Bruce Hornsby as part of a tribute to Keith Jarret (Long as Youre Living Yours RCA, 2000), and Davell Crawford (The B-3 and Me Rounder Records, 1998).

Johnsons resume also includes past work with the Delfeayo Marsalis Quintet, the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, Dr. John, members of the Neville Brothers, Allen Toussaint, Jimmy Smith, David Fathead Newman, John Scofield, and members of the Meters. Additionally hes performed with orchestras that have backed such international acts as Aretha Franklin, The Temptations, Kirk Franklin, Gladys Knight, the OJays, Billy Preston, and Wynton Marsalis.

As an educator, with a Master of Music from the University of New Orleans, and a Bachelor of Music-Jazz Studies from Loyola Univ. (New Orleans), Clarence has taught and conducted various music courses and ensembles at Loyola Univ. and Delgado Community College. Additionally, Johnson has served as a clinician at the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences Grammy in the Schools. (New Orleans Chapter)




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