Darren Johnston

Trumpet – Jazz Camp Week 2

Since settling in San Francisco in 1997, Canada-born trumpeter/composer/songwriter Darren Johnston has collaborated and recorded with an extremely diverse cross-section of artists. His interests rotate around composing instrumental music, writing songs, and performing all styles of jazz, experimental and purely improvised music, as well as traditional music of the Balkans, Greece, Macedonia, Turkey, and the Arab world. These interests have coalesced into his primary ensemble of late, The Broken Shadows Family Band. He has performed with luminaries such as Hamid Drake, Fred Frith, ROVA Sax Quartet, Myra Melford, Ben Goldberg, Matt Wilson, and others.

As a composer, he has written for small jazz groups, big bands, string quartet, chamber ensembles and more. He has written for dance companies such as Axis Dance, Amy Seiwert’s Imagery, Robert Moses’ Kin, and others, as well as for short films. In his song writing the last few years Johnston has focused on using found text to create lyrics from. In 2012 he composed a suite extracting text from a series of interviews he conducted with a diverse collection of immigrants living in the Bay Area called “Songs of Seven Miles.” The following year he continued this technique by commissioning letters from immigrants who wrote either to their own selves at the time they first arrived in the US, as if they were able to send a message with insights and advice back through time, or to a beloved of their choosing back in their country of origin. He then set the resulting songs on an elementary-school class, three middle-school classes, a high-school choir, a collection of professional singers, a Bulgarian tupan drummer, and six horns, all using body-percussion and choreography, in order to form the Trans-Global People’s Chorus. Other projects as a band-leader include the award winning Nice Guy Trio, The Darren Johnston Quintet, and the category defying Broken Shadows Family Band, which mixes song-writing in American folk traditions with Balkan, Arabic, Turkish, and Greek music.

Johnston was featured as one of Downbeat Magazine’s “25 Trumpeters for the Future,” and has been listed multiple times in the critic’s polls. His debut quintet recording, “The Edge of the Forest” received four stars by four very different critics in the Downbeat “Critics Polls,” and was given an honorable mention by the Village Voice for the top 10 CDs of the year. Other recordings to receive similar accolades were “Reasons For Moving,” the Nice Guy Trio’s “Here Comes the Nice Guy Trio,” and “Sidewalks and Alleyways/Waking Music,” his Gone To Chicago ensemble’s “The Big Lift,” and the collective ensemble Cylinder’s self titled release on the Clean Feed label.

Johnston has a BA from the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, and an MFA in composition from Mills College. As an educator, Johnston currently teaches brass sectionals at the Oakland School for the Arts, and as adjunct faculty at the University of California, Berkeley for private instruction in trumpet, and approaches to jazz and improvisation.

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