Freddy Johnson Day
March 12, 1904 – March 24, 1961
A tribute to the swing pianist
Pianist Freddy Johnson was born on March 12, 1904 in New York City.
Johnson began playing professionally in the early 1920s as the accompanist to Florence Mills.
He led his own band in 1924, worked with Elmer Snowden the following year, had stints with Billy Fowler, Henri Saparo and Noble Sissle, and made his recording debut with trombonist Te Roy Williams in 1927.
As a member of the Sam Wooding Orchestra, Johnson traveled to Europe in 1928, made quite a few recordings with the band during 1928-29, and then stayed in Paris as a soloist and co-leader of a band with trumpeter Arthur Briggs.
Johnson recorded in Europe in the 1930s with Briggs, banjoist Maceo Jefferson, trumpeter Louis Bacon, his own groups, Benny Carter, and Coleman Hawkins (including duets and trios with the great tenor).
Johnson, an excellent swing and stride pianist. was a fixture in Amsterdam until late 1941 when he was arrested by the Nazis, spending two years in a prison camp.
In February 1944 he was released, returning to the United States and settling in New York where he played in small clubs, recorded with r&b baritonist Paul Williams, and worked as a piano and voice coach.
Freddy Johnson went back to Europe in 1959 with the Free and Easy show, passing away from cancer in 1961.
Here is a recording of the Freddy Johnson Orchestra (a sextet) in Paris from June 28, 1939 performing “Blue Room.”
Freddy Johnson, piano
Louis Bacon, trumpet
Alix Combelle, clarinet, tenor
Johnny Mitchell, guitar
Wilson Myers, bass
Tommy Benford, drums