One of the rare jazzmen whose early credits includes a reference to celery, William "Bill" Johnson's greatest claim to fame was as one of the co-writers of "Tuxedo Junction," a snappy chart originally crafted for the Erskine Hawkins band, with whom Johnson performed from 1936 through 1943. That tune has made it into the priority list of standards associated with the swing era, and has been performed and recorded by hundreds of artists over the years. While a tuxedo is only considered proper attire for specific formal occasions, the tuxedo-inspired tune seems to be considered fitting for performers to try on in genres as casually diverse as rock, country, and easy listening. Johnson began his musical life as a pianist, grabbing the alto saxophone during high school. His first professional group was Billy Steward's Celery City Serenaders; he also played with C.S. Belton's Band, Jimmy Dudley, and Jabbo Smith in the late '20s, a time when he undertook formal music studies in several conservatories. Prior to Hawkins swooping down, Johnson was in the saxophone sections of groups led by Sam Marshall, Baron Lee, and others. Hawkins made extensive use of Johnson's arrangements. In his later years Johnson spent time in Canada, although he eventually returned to New York, succumbing there to a malady in his lungs.
Share this page