One of the earliest Texas tenors, arranging boss of the Earl Hines Grand Terrace Orchestra, and pivotal swing-to-bop figure, Budd Johnson distributed his gifts through several eras of jazz. He was a major composer and arranger and a saxophonist whose style fit as comfortably into bebop as it did into swing.
Albert J. (Budd) Johnson was born in Dallas on December 14, 1910. His father was a choir director and cornetist who taught him piano at a young age. By Johnson's teenage years he had switched to drums and was playing with his brother, Keg Johnson, in bands around town. Eventually the two started their own group, the Moonlight Melody Six. They later joined Gene Coy's Amarillo-based band, the Happy Black Aces.
Switching instruments again, this time to the saxophone, Johnson headed to Kansas City and then to Chicago, where he met and joined Louis Armstrong in 1933. During his stint in the Windy City he also met Earl Hines; their musical relationship lasted nine years. It was during his tenure with Hines that he came into his own as an arranger on top of being a solid member of the reed section.
By 1944 Johnson had moved to New York City, where he became involved in organizing and playing in smaller jazz combos, joining up with Coleman Hawkins, Dizzy Gillespie, Woody Herman, and Billy Eckstine, in whose band he replaced Dexter Gordon.
Johnson became a pioneer of the emerging bop jazz style, and he is credited with organizing the first bop recording session. He remained an integral part of American jazz throughout the 1950s. In 1956-57 he played with Benny Goodman, with whom he toured Asia, and in 1958 he formed his own septet and recorded the album “Blues a la Mode.”