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"In Conversation with
Dave & Rachael Johnson"
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May 2012
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Dave Johnson and, daughter, Rachael, are both well known in Northamptonshire for their commitment to jazz in the locality. Most weeks finds them playing jazz piano in one or other of the jazz haunts in the county.
Dave began playing an instrument at the age of 10 and, when 11, he joined a band playing guitar. “There was no family influence in my musical development,” he explains, “I simply found music very interesting and, at quite an early stage, I moved over to the piano, simply because I found it more rewarding - I just preferred it.”
He describes himself as having “drifted into jazz all on my own back” and he studied music under Michael Garrick. By the age of 22, he was playing jazz piano seriously.
Not surprisingly, his influences are principally jazz pianists. “Bill Evans, Keith Jarrett, Oscar Peterson and Thelonious Monk were all major influences for me,” he says, “they very much shape the way my piano-playing has developed.”
Dave began by concentrating mainly on the standards offered in a ‘modern jazz’ style, but has also written a wide variety of his own compositions. He was heavily involved in the development of Kettering Jazz Club in the 1980s, which unfortunately folded after six years or so. During its time, though, the Club was lucky enough to feature such ‘greats’ as Bill Le Sage and Dick Morrissey.
As for his present engagements, Dave, rather modestly, describes himself as a “jobbing, gigging musician.” Local jazz fans will have heard him in most of the favourite jazz venues around Northampton.
He also has a number of commercial commitments. “I play at weddings and have frequently been engaged on cruises - I’ve even played on the QE II! I help Kettering Borough Council with its jazz programme and, somehow, my agents
manage to provide me with a full-time living.” He also used to teach jazz frequently and specialised in compositions in his early years.
As to the future, “I’m concentrating on helping Rachael in the development of her career, now,” he says. “She already has a number of CDs to her name and I want to help her realise the ambitions she has for herself.”
Rachael followed in Dave’s footsteps but with a rather more formal introduction. She first completed her classical music grades on the piano under the influence of Dave and her sister. “I actually started gigging when I was 14” she says, “in the beginning, I played bass, and then converted to piano after listening to the combos of Herbie Hancock, Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett.”
Her jazz influences also include Bill Evans (“definitely my favourite”) but extend to Cannonball Adderley, Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk. Rachael describes her style as “something in between be-bop and modern jazz - sort of from Monk and Evans to Miles Davis.”
Her current commitments include gigs (“my preference”) together with private tuition to would-be jazz players. “I’d really like to have a post at a university and offer regular tuition on a one to one basis. Tuition is very important - it’s a safety net.”
At the moment, she finds herself playing with her band in Northamptonshire, but her appearances as a soloist seem to take her to Leicester and Birmingham, “but I’ll happily play anywhere,” she says.
Rachael already has three CDs to her name and is planning to release a fourth, Live Trio. As this is written, it is due for public release and will be on sale at a gig at the George Inn, Tiffield on 26 May for the Gayton Jazz Appreciation Society. Enquiries for tickets should be directed to John Shaw on 01604 859364.
Rachael holds formidable ambitions for the future. “I’d like to make my name in London,” she explains, “and eventually live and work in New York.” Northants Jazz wishes her every success in her venture.