It was on boyhood visits to his uncle’s home that Howard first grew to become enchanted with dwell music. “He lived over a juke joint, and if I spent the evening and slept on the ground, I may hear the bass line very properly,” he remembered in a 2017 interview for Roll journal. “And that was very passable.”
A gifted pupil, he discovered 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 yr later, he discovered the tuba fully by watching different gamers’ fingerings in band rehearsals. He would wait till everybody had left the apply room, then tiptoe over to the tuba and check out what he’d seen.
In the highschool band, he thrived on a way of pleasant competitors along with his fellow tuba gamers. A lot of them had been receiving personal classes, however left to his personal units Mr. Johnson blew past what they had been being taught, stretching the instrument far previous its regular vary and sustaining a swish 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 instructed Roll. “Those who had been the most effective within the part had been form of like function fashions, I needed to play like them sometime. However by the tip of that college yr, I may play significantly better than they may. And I may do a number of different issues.”
After highschool, Mr. Johnson spent three years within the Navy, taking part in baritone sax in a navy 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. Mr. Johnson met Eric Dolphy, one other distinguished multi-instrumentalist, one evening when Dolphy was taking part in in John Coltrane’s band at a Boston membership. 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.
“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 considered it some extra, and I left six days later.”