A resident of the Musicians Village, 27-year-old saxophonist Calvin Johnson Jr. is one of the brightest spots among New Orleans’ up-and-coming generation of jazz musicians. His ebullient and explosive playing has accompanied acclaimed artists such as Harry Connick Jr. and Aaron Neville as well as local favorites such as Glen David Andrews and Kirk Joseph. He’s performed at such prestigious venues as the White House and Lincoln Center but considers the streets of the Crescent City and the strip on Frenchmen Street second to none.
Born into a musical family, Calvin’s uncle — the late, Preservation Hall Jazz Band clarinetist Ralph Johnson — bought Calvin an alto saxophone and began giving him lessons at age 6. A few years later, Calvin began attending renowned saxophonist Edward “Kidd” Jordan’s after school music program at Southern University of New Orleans (SUNO). There, he met fellow musically inclined mates Big Sam Williams, Christian Scott, Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, Jonathan Batiste, Khris Royal and more. Johnson would go on to graduate from the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts (NOCCA) under the direction of Clyde Kerr Jr. and study jazz at the University of New Orleans.
Last year, Johnson released his debut album, the stirring Jewel’s Lullaby. Recently, he’s followed up the effort with Native Son, an endeavor highlighted by Johnson’s matchless soprano saxophone playing, its diverse list of performers and songs, and a shimmering rendition of his uncle’s tune “Petit Fleur.”
Tune in below to hear Johnson talk about the significance of the New Orleans music family, his own upbringing and his new record…