A subtle player, Manzie Johnson was always considered a valuable drummer by prebop musicians. He grew up in New York and had some piano and violin lessons before settling on drums. In the 1920's he worked with Willie Gant's Ramblers (1926), June Clark, Elmer Snowden, Joe Steele, Fats Waller, James P. Johnson and Horace Henderson (1930). Johnson, who recorded with Jelly Roll Morton in 1928, was a member of the Don Redman Orchestra during 1931-37. After leaving Redman, he freelanced including playing with Willie Bryant, Lil Armstrong, Mezz Mezzrow, back with Redman (in 1940 and 1944) and James P. Johnson, Ovie Alston (on and off during 1940-44) and Fletcher Henderson (1941). By the late 1940's (after a period in the military) he was a parttime player although he recorded with Sidney Bechet as late as 1951 and continued playing into the 1960's including with Garvin Bushell and Happy Caldwell. Manzie Johnson, who also recorded with Red Allen and Benny Morton in the 1930's, never headed his own record session.
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