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Plas Johnson & Friends

Founders Hall
Orange County Performing Arts Center
Costa Mesa, California
November 25, 2005
Plas Johnson and his all-star band of Los Angeles jazz veterans brought a session of standards with them for their Orange County performance: standards that rang true with the historic perspective of their collective years of payin' dues on the road and off, in order to further their artistic goals. These are the songs that we can always rely on. They represent the tried and true formula, and it works just fine. The leader's mellow tenor saxophone purrs with a delightful tone that lends itself to these familiar tunes.

Nearly 60 years in the jazz performance arena have given Johnson a feel for what his audience wants. This night, in the quaint intimacy of Orange County's best jazz spot, he brought his audience a mixture of jazz and blues that traced his career from New Orleans to Los Angeles with plenty of stopovers along the way.

In 1951, Johnson left The Crescent City to go on the road with Charles Brown. After a stint in the Army and formal training at the Westlake School of Music in Los Angeles, he settled in L.A. for a career that afforded him many opportunities in the studio. His is the tenor saxophone solo that brought us Henry Mancini's original "Pink Panther theme. It's Johnson's piccolo that stands in for the bird call on Bobby Darin's hit "Rockin' Robin. With trumpeter Harry "Sweets Edison, his tenor provided the signature music for The Odd Couple TV series. There's more, but what he does best is to carry the banner for jazz and blues, and to remind us that it's got to have soul.
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All about Jazz, December 3, 2005-- By Jim Santella

Red Holloway Quartet with Plas Johnson

Saville Theater
San Diego City College
San Diego, CA

Red Holloway has "been there and done that" when it comes to jazz standards and all forms of the blues. While normally his specialties are both playing the tenor saxophone and belting out blues vocals, a recent fall had left him with an injured left hand. But no worries—he just placed a call to his long time friend, Plas Johnson, who covered the tenor chair and left him to concentrate on singing.

If there is one word to sum up the extraordinary group of musicians assembled for this date, it would be: experience. Holloway himself has a ridiculously long c.v., which includes work with hard-bopper Sonny Stitt, organist Jack McDuff, and bluesman John Mayall. Plas Johnson is most famously known as the tenor lead on Henry Mancini's inimitable "Pink Panther" theme, and has played on thousands of blues and jazz dates, backing everyone from Charles Brown and B.B. King, to Peggy Lee and Frank Sinatra. On piano was the elegant and adventurous veteran Art Hillary, and rounding out the instrumental quartet were bassist Richard Reid, whose huge sound and sure ear guided the proceedings, and drummer Garryck King, who swung, shuffled and soloed with exuberance throughout the evening.
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All about Jazz, February 24, 2011 -- By Robert Bush

"The only thing better than a tenor sax and B3 is Two tenors and B3, and that's what's on tap here in a brand new Rudy Van Gelder recording. Gene Ludwig is the swinging organist, Melvin Sparks the guitarist and Kenny Washington the drummer – no bass needed when there's those bass pedals on the B3. These blues immersed big-sounding tenor men honk away with gusto on nine tunes. Pass the Gravy is a funky down home mini-symphony at nearly nine minutes. Dig it all!" – John Henry, Audiophile Audition, 12/01/01

"An Oldie stacks up to goodies"
"...That this previously unissued music (Miles Davis' "Live at Fillmore East") makes such a deep impression more than 30 years later speaks to Davis' reach across style and time lines, and to the fact that few contemporary artists are doing anything to shake up the status quo.
"Still, some memorable albums were released this year by artists working within established borders. Times are tough for jazz, with a mere handful of major labels showing any interest in the music and even the most intrepid independent labels finding it hard to get their sounds heard. The diminished state of things makes the following efforts my favorites of 2001, all the more valuable.
"..9. Plas Johnson and Red Holloway. "Keep That Groove Going!" (Milestone): A memorable pairing of soulful tenor veterans – the former a New Orleans native, the latter from Chicago – who met in the studioland of Los Angeles. Holloway's deep, resounding solo on "Serenade in Blue" is classic." – Lloyd Sachs, Entertainment Critic Chicago Sun-Times, 12/30/01

"Just returned from a very memorable experience – a concert by the Red Holloway/Plas Johnson Quintet. There was no guitar, just piano, bass, drums and tons of tenor sax, alto sax and baritone sax (played splendidly by both Plas and Red). I had played guitar on some Red Holloway tracks way back in the 80's but hadn't seen him since. Some people just get better and better with age, an Red is certainly one of those folks. As I mentioned, there was no guitar but Red and Plas played so incredibly well, I felt I just had to mention it." – Doc Dosco, Guitar News Weekly Edition #171, 12/03/01

"It's too bad they don't make enough recordings like this anymore, as it's really wonderful to see this era of music still alive and kicking. Enjoy these two tenor titans, Johnson & Holloway, as they wail and sail along with our own NY area legend Melvin Sparks who shares much of the spotlight on guitar.

"This album's title track by Holloway, opens the disc in pedal to the metal fashion, with hot opening lines from Johnson, straight ahead blowing from sparks, and a roaring sax break from Holloway. Coleman Hawkins, often recorded, "Stuffy" is next, and serves as an excellent vehicle for all the artists to take short and very tasty swinging solos. Arnet Cobb's, "Go Red Go" takes us back to those 40's/50's pioneer days of R&B, and these guys nail this track to track to the wall! Pay close attention as Holloway & Johnson trade tenor licks under a solid foundation from Sparks, Ludwig, and Washington. Holloway's "Bretheren" has that late 60's Blue Note label feel, and even a smattering of early, uncluttered 70's CTI recordings. Check out Melvin paying homage to the likes of a young George Benson and Grant Green, on this third quarter twentieth century sound. It's blues time, on my favorite track on the album, Johnson's "Pass the Gravy", which really lets Sparks stretch out with some of the nicest blues work that I have ever heard him record, followed by neat tenor passages from Pas & Red. "Jammin' for Mr. Lee", also written by Johnson, is a fascinating swinging affair, once again given ample time for the great players on this CD to show off their superb soloing and attentive listening abilities. The classic, "Dream a Little Dream of Me" closes the album in a slow glowing swing, that will no doubt bring back warm memories, a smile, and perhaps a gleeful tear to the listener's eye.

"Alright, if you have enjoyed recent recordings by Greg Piccolo, Joe Houston, Sax Gordon, and/or older records by Stanley Turrentine, Bill Dogget/Clifford Scott, Sil Austin, Red Prysock, and Sam the Man Taylor, this disc is for you! What also makes "Keep That Grove Going" so cool, is the "as always" above par recording process and sound from Rudy Van Gelder's studios in Englewood cliffs NJ. May Rudy's recording studios live on forever! Finally, special kudos to the man who more than thirty years ago signed Melvin Sparks to (sister Co. of Milestone) the Fantasy record label, producer Bob Porter, who continues to record music of this style and caliber, keeping it in the forefront of the twenty-first century!

I highly recommend, "Keep That Groove Going!". Happy listening. – Bob Putignano, President NY Blues & Jazz, and radio host @ WFDU's, "Across the Tracks".


A bit of a cutting contest occurs here, and even organist Gene Ludwig and guitarist Melvin Sparks get in on the game.
Keep That Groove recalls the days when Dexter Gordon and Wardell Gray would go at it, mano a mano. There’s honkin’ and boppin’ a plenty here. Hard to believe Plas Johnson and Red Holloway are now in their seventies, but there you go, a testimony to the jazz fountain of youth.
What’s cool is the mixture of jazz, R&B, and roadhouse fist fighting music.
“Jammin’ For Mr. Lee” is an homage to New Orleans swingmeister Lee Allen. -- Keith Zimmerman, Yellow Dog Jazz Report contributing editor. 1/18/02

Plas Johson Biography (all about

Plas Johson Discography (all about

Los Angeles Times, May 29, 2000

Sax Players Johnson, Riley Rip Through a Workout

By DON HECKMAN, Special to The Times

Two tenor saxophonists in action, tossing challenging phrases back and forth, their driving solos supported by a surging rhythm section: It's one of the more thrilling jazz experiences, one that has been present in every era of jazz.

On Saturday night at the Jazz Spot in Los Feliz, the instrumentation surfaced once again, this time in the capable hands of tenor saxophonists Plas Johnson and Herman Riley, with the accompaniment of organist Art Hillery and drummer Johnny Kirkwood. And the opening set was all one could ask for in hard-driving, straight-ahead, blues-based jazz.

Riley's first solo, in fact, kicked off the evening at such a high-voltage level that Johnson, at the end of the number, stepped to the microphone and drolly commented, "That's the last time I'm going to let Herman take the first chorus."

But Johnson was fully up to the high level of competition. Working through a set of material that seemed crafted for the two-tenor sound--especially in pieces such as Gene Ammons' "Water Jug" and Dexter Gordon's "Fried Bananas"--the two players kept raising the bar for each other.

The blues-based numbers were especially provocative choices, driving each to the heights of their improvisational skills. And in the set's sole ballad, "Lover Man," they exchanged phrases in a delightful juxtaposition of styles--Johnson's slippery, sliding phrases and Riley's blues- and gospel-based cries of passion.

Hillery and Kirkwood's accompaniment was precisely right, firmly based in a propulsive rhythmic pocket, occasionally adding solo contrast, but always interacting and responding empathetically to the front-line players.

The combination made for a rare evening of eminently listenable jazz--the sort of evening that deserves to be repeated many, many times.

Copyright 2000 Los Angeles Times

L. A. Jazz Scene, Oct. 14, 2000

Plas Johnson Quartet at the Jazz Spot

Bob Comden

The Plas Johnson Quartet performed a two-night engagement at The Jazz Spot. Located in the back of the Los Feliz Restaurant, The Jazz Spot is a beautiful and classy place to hear some of the best musicians around. Owner Rick Clemente loves the music and his restaurant has gotten rave reviews since it opened. Clemente is offering music five nights a week and is assisted by Jim Britt. Together they've established a first-rate room for first-rate musicians.

Johnson's group included some stellar musicians: Herman Riley on tenor and baritone sax, Art Hillery on organ and drummer Johnny Kirkwood. Johnson played tenor and baritone sax. The group played with lots of fire, and energy, with plenty of sparks flying around the room.

I caught the last two sets of their second night. As I was entering they were finishing a very mellow and laid back version of 'Lover Man." Singer Sonny Craver was in the audience and joined them for a lively "Just Friends." Craver's full toned voice and marvelous phrasing and interpretation was a real treat. The two tenors tore it up with Johnson's lyrical solo, fast runs and Riley's full-powered tenor driving right through. Kirkwood's drumming added a swinging groove.

"Mama Leila,' an original by Riley, was funky and soulful with a Cajun flavor to it. Both Johnson and Riley showed off their tenor mastery on this one. "Blue Capers," by Blue Mitchell, was done uptempo and had the two sax players switching to baritones for a real punch. The interplay between Johnson and Riley was amazing. Hillary was his usual, swinging self, a real groove at the organ.

Some other classics played were 'On Green Dolphin Street," "Dolphin Street Blues," (dedicated to Dolphin's of Hollywood Music Store). The latter was a real hand clapper, with Kirkwood's drumming right in the pocket. Hillery's smooth lines flowed like wine. Johnson poured his heart into "I've Got It Bad And That Ain't Good." Riley was outstanding on "I Can't. Give You Anything But Love," on bari-sax. Craver returned to the stage to the delight of the crowd, with "Gee Baby, Ain't I Good To You?" and a lively version of "I Thought About You."

Johnson closed out a very entertaining night with Henry Mancini's "The Pink Panther," which is one of Johnson's trademark tunes. He played on the original and it never fails to delight audiences when he plays it.

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Last update: 08-Apr-2013

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