The complete Bunk Johnson Discography available.
You can also visit the one and only Bunk Johnson Picture Gallery.
This page is not intended to be a complete biography of Bunk Johnson. It will give some information about this famous trumpet player. Because the story of Bunk Johnson is one of the most extraordinary in the history of jazz, it is worthwhile to describe his life and his musical carreer in some detail.
Bunk Johnson is most probably born on 27th December 1889. The exact year of his birth is not clear because it is believed that for some reason he choose to add 10 years to his age and stated to have been born in1879. Although jazz-historians made efforts to find evidence of his actual birthday, there is no real proof. There are strong indications however that is was 1889.
He died on 7th July 1949. The period he lived covers the birth of jazz, the growth in variety and the revival of early New Orleans jazz in the 1940s. He played with the men that are considered responsible for the rise of the music, build a considerable reputation and then fell into obscurity. His rediscovery in the revival era brought him a second career and made him the most influential and most controversial figure of this time.
After his death on july 7th 1949 there was an obituary published in The New York Times. It is interesting to read.
He moved to New Iberia and tried to make a living in different jobs. Music was only a minor interest.
Jazz was developping during the years and by the end of the thirties 'swing' was in. However, many people remembered the traditional jazz and were interested in the bachground of it. In 1938 Frederic Ramsey jr. and Charles Edward Smith did research for a book on the subject and involved Bill Russell, a well-known collector of early jazz records. They interviewed many of the musicians of the early days and many of them remembered Bunk Johnson. At last they found him and he indicated that he still was able to play, given two problems solved: trumpet and teeth. Leonard Bechet, Sidneys brother, was a dentist and solved the problem 'teeth'. The members of the Lu Watters band in San Fransisco, who were enthousiastically re-creating the old styles of jazz, collected money and thus solved the problem 'trumpet'. The results were more than anybody had expected. Bunk played like he did in the old days.
In 1942 Bill Russell and Eugene Williams started making records. They recruited a band, consisting of Bunk Johnson (trumpet), George Lewis (clarinet), Jim Robinson (trombone), Walter Decou (piano),Lawrence Marrero (banjo), Austin Young (bass) and Ernest Rogers (drums). Later that year Russell and Williams recorded Bunk's band in San Jacinto Hall (New Orleans). It was the start of a successful period, with recording sessions in San Fransisco with Lu Watters' Yerba Buena Jazz Band, again at San Jacinto Hall and in New York. Most successful was his time at the Stuyvesant Casino in New York where 'Bunk Johnson and his New Orleans Band' was on contract for more than a year. You can hear 'I can't escape from you", recorded for a live audience at the Stuyvesant Casino on January 6th 1946 by downloading this .wav (287kb) file.
In the Picture Gallery you will find pictures of Bunk's band taken at performances at Jacinto Hall and the Stuyvesant Casino. You can also see pictures of bandmembers.
This picture shows Bunk with Louis Armstrong.
In the spring of 1945 Bunk recorded also with a specially-formed brass band. Beside of the regular band-members this brassband consisted of: Kid Shots Madison (second trumpet), Adolphe Alexander and Isidore Barbarin (baritone horn) and Joseph 'Red' Clark (tuba).
Bunk returned to New Iberia in 1948. He was in bad health and died the 7th of july 1949.
See the chronology of Bunk's life, based on the statement that he was born in 1879.
Links to information about this fine musician:
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