Tommy Johnson (tubist)
John Thomas Johnson was an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

An orchestra is a sizable instrumental ensemble that contains sections of string, brass, woodwind, and percussion instruments. The term orchestra derives from the Greek ορχήστρα, the name for the area in front of an ancient Greek stage reserved for the Greek chorus...

l tuba
The tuba is the largest and lowest-pitched brass instrument. Sound is produced by vibrating or "buzzing" the lips into a large cupped mouthpiece. It is one of the most recent additions to the modern symphony orchestra, first appearing in the mid-19th century, when it largely replaced the...

 player. He performed on more than 2,000 film soundtracks, most notably John Williams
John Williams
John Towner Williams is an American composer, conductor, and pianist. In a career spanning almost six decades, he has composed some of the most recognizable film scores in the history of motion pictures, including the Star Wars saga, Jaws, Superman, the Indiana Jones films, E.T...

' Jaws
Jaws (film)
Jaws is a 1975 American horror-thriller film directed by Steven Spielberg and based on Peter Benchley's novel of the same name. In the story, the police chief of Amity Island, a fictional summer resort town, tries to protect beachgoers from a giant man-eating great white shark by closing the beach,...

score, in which he played a high-register tuba solo as the melodic theme for the shark.

Early life, career

He was born in Los Angeles
Los Ángeles
Los Ángeles is the capital of the province of Biobío, in the commune of the same name, in Region VIII , in the center-south of Chile. It is located between the Laja and Biobío rivers. The population is 123,445 inhabitants...

, California
California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area...

 to a tailor
A tailor is a person who makes, repairs, or alters clothing professionally, especially suits and men's clothing.Although the term dates to the thirteenth century, tailor took on its modern sense in the late eighteenth century, and now refers to makers of men's and women's suits, coats, trousers,...

 and his wife. Johnson had a musical upbringing as his father was a baritone
Baritone is a type of male singing voice that lies between the bass and tenor voices. It is the most common male voice. Originally from the Greek , meaning deep sounding, music for this voice is typically written in the range from the second F below middle C to the F above middle C Baritone (or...

 soloist in the choir
A choir, chorale or chorus is a musical ensemble of singers. Choral music, in turn, is the music written specifically for such an ensemble to perform.A body of singers who perform together as a group is called a choir or chorus...

 at the Angelus Temple
Angelus Temple
Angelus Temple was the central house of worship of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel in the Echo Park district of Los Angeles, California....

 in Echo Park
Echo Park, Los Angeles, California
Echo Park is a hilly neighborhood in Los Angeles, California, northwest of Downtown Los Angeles and southeast of Hollywood.-History:At the end of the 19th century, when the hills were still covered with native vegetation, a horse-drawn streetcar line served the dirt road that is now Echo Park Avenue...


He attended the University of Southern California
University of Southern California
The University of Southern California is a private, not-for-profit, nonsectarian, research university located in Los Angeles, California, United States. USC was founded in 1880, making it California's oldest private research university...

 Thornton School of Music
USC Thornton School of Music
The University of Southern California Thornton School of Music, founded in 1884 and dedicated in 1999, is one of the premier music schools in the United States...

, studying under Robert Marsteller
Robert Marsteller
Robert Loren Marsteller . Prominent US symphonic trombonist and music educator. He was a graduate of the Eastman School of Music, where he studied under Emory Remington...

. He received a bachelor's degree in music in 1956. He played on his first film in 1958, the score for Al Capone. He went on to become Hollywood's "first-call" tuba player, playing for television commercials and TV series, such as The Flintstones
The Flintstones
The Flintstones is an animated, prime-time American television sitcom that screened from September 30, 1960 to April 1, 1966, on ABC. Produced by Hanna-Barbera Productions, The Flintstones was about a working class Stone Age man's life with his family and his next-door neighbor and best friend. It...

. In addition to Jaws, his films included, The Godfather
The Godfather
The Godfather is a 1972 American epic crime film directed by Francis Ford Coppola, based on the 1969 novel by Mario Puzo. With a screenplay by Puzo, Coppola and an uncredited Robert Towne, the film stars Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall, Sterling Hayden, John Marley, Richard...

, the Indiana Jones
Indiana Jones
Colonel Henry Walton "Indiana" Jones, Jr., Ph.D. is a fictional character and the protagonist of the Indiana Jones franchise. George Lucas and Steven Spielberg created the character in homage to the action heroes of 1930s film serials...

series, the Star Trek
Star Trek
Star Trek is an American science fiction entertainment franchise created by Gene Roddenberry. The core of Star Trek is its six television series: The Original Series, The Animated Series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise...

film series, The Lion King
The Lion King
The Lion King is a 1994 American animated film produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation and released by Walt Disney Pictures. It is the 32nd feature in the Walt Disney Animated Classics series...

, Titanic
Titanic (1997 film)
Titanic is a 1997 American epic romance and disaster film directed, written, co-produced, and co-edited by James Cameron. A fictionalized account of the sinking of the RMS Titanic, it stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Jack Dawson, Kate Winslet as Rose DeWitt Bukater and Billy Zane as Rose's fiancé, Cal...

, The Thin Red Line
The Thin Red Line (1998 film)
The Thin Red Line is a 1998 American war film which tells a fictional story of United States forces during the Battle of Mount Austen in World War II. It portrays men in: C Company, 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division; in particular those soldiers played by Sean Penn, Jim...

(1998 remake), The Matrix
The Matrix
The Matrix is a 1999 science fiction-action film written and directed by Larry and Andy Wachowski, starring Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano, and Hugo Weaving...

, Cats & Dogs
Cats & Dogs
Cats & Dogs is a 2001 American-Australian action-comedy film directed by Lawrence Guterman. The screenplay by John Requa and Glenn Ficarra centers on the relationships between cats and dogs. It was shot in Victoria and Vancouver. The film was released on July 4, 2001 by Warner Bros...

, Forrest Gump
Forrest Gump
Forrest Gump is a 1994 American epic comedy-drama romance film based on the 1986 novel of the same name by Winston Groom. The film was directed by Robert Zemeckis, starring Tom Hanks, Robin Wright and Gary Sinise...

, Air Force One
Air Force One (film)
Air Force One is a 1997 American action-thriller film written by Andrew W. Marlowe and directed by Wolfgang Petersen. It stars Harrison Ford, Gary Oldman, and Glenn Close, and also features Xander Berkeley, William H. Macy, Dean Stockwell and Paul Guilfoyle...

, Back to the Future
Back to the Future
Back to the Future is a 1985 American science-fiction adventure film. It was directed by Robert Zemeckis, written by Zemeckis and Bob Gale, produced by Steven Spielberg, and starred Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Crispin Glover and Thomas F. Wilson. The film tells the story of...

, A Bug's Life
A Bug's Life
A Bug's Life is a 1998 American computer animated adventure comedy film produced by Pixar and released by Walt Disney Pictures in the United States on November 25, 1998. A Bug's Life was the second Disney·Pixar feature film after Toy Story, and the third American computer-animated film after Toy...

and Lethal Weapon
Lethal Weapon
Lethal Weapon is a 1987 American buddy cop action film and the first in a series of films, all directed by Richard Donner and starring Mel Gibson and Danny Glover as a mismatched pair of LAPD detectives, and Gary Busey as their primary adversary...


The Jaws solo was written in an extremely high range for the tuba. In a 2004 interview with, Johnson remembered being late to the recording session and opened his music to find the tuba solo. It wasn't until later that he found out it was the theme for the shark. Johnson said he asked composer John Williams
John Williams
John Towner Williams is an American composer, conductor, and pianist. In a career spanning almost six decades, he has composed some of the most recognizable film scores in the history of motion pictures, including the Star Wars saga, Jaws, Superman, the Indiana Jones films, E.T...

 why he didn't write the solo for the French horn
Horn (instrument)
The horn is a brass instrument consisting of about of tubing wrapped into a coil with a flared bell. A musician who plays the horn is called a horn player ....

, an instrument better suited for the register. Williams' response was, "Well, I wanted something that was in that register but I wanted it to sound a little more threatening."

Upon Johnson's death, Williams praised him as "one of the great instrumentalists of his generation. Not only was he the voice of the shark in Jaws, his performance across the full range of the repertoire inspired not only me, but a whole generation of young tubists."

In addition to his work on film soundtracks, Johnson played on recording sessions for many albums by such artists as Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley
Elvis Aaron Presley was one of the most popular American singers of the 20th century. A cultural icon, he is widely known by the single name Elvis. He is often referred to as the "King of Rock and Roll" or simply "the King"....

 and Frank Sinatra
Frank Sinatra
Francis Albert "Frank" Sinatra was an American singer and actor.Beginning his musical career in the swing era with Harry James and Tommy Dorsey, Sinatra became an unprecedentedly successful solo artist in the early to mid-1940s, after being signed to Columbia Records in 1943. Being the idol of the...

. "Weird Al" Yankovic
"Weird Al" Yankovic
Alfred Matthew "Weird Al" Yankovic is an American singer-songwriter, music producer, accordionist, actor, comedian, writer, satirist, and parodist. Yankovic is known for his humorous songs that make light of popular culture and that often parody specific songs by contemporary musical acts...

 said Johnson was his "go-to guy" whenever he needed a tubist for his polka
The polka is a Central European dance and also a genre of dance music familiar throughout Europe and the Americas. It originated in the middle of the 19th century in Bohemia...

 medleys. Johnson performed the tuba solo on Yankovic's Nirvana
Nirvana (band)
Nirvana was an American rock band that was formed by singer/guitarist Kurt Cobain and bassist Krist Novoselic in Aberdeen, Washington in 1987...

 parody, "Smells Like Nirvana
Smells Like Nirvana
"Smells Like Nirvana" is a parody of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" written and performed by "Weird Al" Yankovic. It helped to reenergize Yankovic's career, and Nirvana singer Kurt Cobain considered the parody a sign that they had "made it" as a band...

". His other recordings include The Manhattan Transfer Meets Tubby the Tuba, Partita for Brass Quintet and Tape and Jean-Pierre Rampal
Jean-Pierre Rampal
Jean-Pierre Louis Rampal was a French flautist. He has been personally "credited with returning to the flute the popularity as a solo classical instrument it had not held since the 18th century."-Early years:...

 Plays Scott Joplin
Scott Joplin
Scott Joplin was an American composer and pianist. Joplin achieved fame for his ragtime compositions, and was later dubbed "The King of Ragtime". During his brief career, Joplin wrote 44 original ragtime pieces, one ragtime ballet, and two operas...


Johnson performed as tuba soloist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, the Pasadena
Pasadena, California
Pasadena is a city in Los Angeles County, California, United States. Although famous for hosting the annual Rose Bowl football game and Tournament of Roses Parade, Pasadena is the home to many scientific and cultural institutions, including the California Institute of Technology , the Jet...

 Symphony, the San Fernando Valley
San Fernando Valley
The San Fernando Valley is an urbanized valley located in the Los Angeles metropolitan area of southern California, United States, defined by the dramatic mountains of the Transverse Ranges circling it...

 Symphony, the L.A. Pops Orchestra, the Henry Mancini
Henry Mancini
Henry Mancini was an American composer, conductor and arranger, best remembered for his film and television scores. He won a record number of Grammy Awards , plus a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award posthumously in 1995...

 Orchestra, the Hollywood Bowl
Hollywood Bowl
The Hollywood Bowl is a modern amphitheater in the Hollywood area of Los Angeles, California, United States that is used primarily for music performances...

 Orchestra, the Academy Awards Orchestra, the USC Wind Ensemble and the Los Angeles Tuba Quartet.

He taught junior high school music in the Los Angeles Unified School District
Los Angeles Unified School District
Los Angeles Unified School District is the largest public school system in California. It is the 2nd largest public school district in the United States. Only the New York City Department of Education has a larger student population...

 for nearly 20 years, but for most of his career, he taught advanced tuba players in private lessons and at USC and UCLA. Among his students were Norm Pearson, principal tubist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Alan Baer
Alan Baer
Alan Baer is an American tubist who is currently Principal Tuba for the New York Philharmonic. He was formerly principal tuba with several other orchestras including the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, and Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra...

, principal tubist of the New York Philharmonic
New York Philharmonic
The New York Philharmonic is a symphony orchestra based in New York City in the United States. It is one of the American orchestras commonly referred to as the "Big Five"...

, Gene Pokorny
Gene Pokorny
Gene Pokorny is an American tubist. He has played with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra since his appointment by Georg Solti in 1988. He has also played with the Israel Philharmonic, the Utah Symphony, the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra, The President's Own Marine Band, and the Los Angeles...

, principal tubist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra is an American orchestra based in Chicago, Illinois. It is one of the five American orchestras commonly referred to as the "Big Five". Founded in 1891, the Symphony makes its home at Orchestra Hall in Chicago and plays a summer season at the Ravinia Festival...

, John Van Houten
John Van Houten
John Van Houten is an American orchestral tuba player. He is most notable for playing in various film soundtracks. John holds a Bachelors degree and a Masters degree in tuba performance from the University of Southern California, where he studied with Tommy Johnson. John is a freelance tubist in...

 and Jim Self, a jazz tubist and studio musician who worked on many sessions with Johnson. Noted tubist Roger Bobo
Roger Bobo
Roger Bobo b. 1938 is a renowned and critically acclaimed American tuba virtuoso and internationally respected brass pedagogue. He retired from active tuba performance in 2001 in order to devote his time to conducting and teaching. He gave what is reputed to be the first solo tuba recital in the...

 also studied under Marsteller in the 1950s, and he and Johnson became close friends and friendly competitors, playing many concerts and recording sessions together.

Personal life, memorial tribute

He was married to Patricia Johnson, a fellow music student from USC. She plays violin
The violin is a string instrument, usually with four strings tuned in perfect fifths. It is the smallest, highest-pitched member of the violin family of string instruments, which includes the viola and cello....

 in the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra
Hollywood Bowl Orchestra
The Hollywood Bowl Orchestra is a symphony orchestra which is managed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association and plays the vast majority of its performances at the Hollywood Bowl....

. The couple had four children.

Johnson died from complications of cancer
Cancer , known medically as a malignant neoplasm, is a large group of different diseases, all involving unregulated cell growth. In cancer, cells divide and grow uncontrollably, forming malignant tumors, and invade nearby parts of the body. The cancer may also spread to more distant parts of the...

 and kidney failure at UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles. He had been working until a few weeks before his death.

On December 3, 2006, a memorial
A memorial is an object which serves as a focus for memory of something, usually a person or an event. Popular forms of memorials include landmark objects or art objects such as sculptures, statues or fountains, and even entire parks....

A concert is a live performance before an audience. The performance may be by a single musician, sometimes then called a recital, or by a musical ensemble, such as an orchestra, a choir, or a musical band...

 was held at Bovard Auditorium at USC. The concert featured musical tributes by a variety of performers and culminated with the finale of Tchaikovsky
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Russian: Пётр Ильи́ч Чайко́вский ; often "Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky" in English. His names are also transliterated "Piotr" or "Petr"; "Ilitsch", "Il'ich" or "Illyich"; and "Tschaikowski", "Tschaikowsky", "Chajkovskij"...

's Symphony No. 4 in F Minor
Symphony No. 4 (Tchaikovsky)
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4 in F minor, Op. 36, was written between 1877 and 1878. The symphony's first performance was at a Russian Musical Society concert in Saint Petersburg on February 10 /February 22 1878, with Nikolai Rubinstein as conductor.- Form :The symphony is in four...

by a massed tuba choir of 99 tubists.

External links

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