Born in Pittsburgh – home to jazz greats Art Blakey, Ray Brown, Jeff “Tain” Watts, and Ahmad Jamal – Richard D. Johnson has strong territorial jazz roots. He was first introduced to the piano at the age of 5 by his father, a gospel pianist from Baltimore. Since then, he has cultivated a rich and pedigreed musical background, being schooled by some of the most legendary jazz musicians and studying at the most esteemed institutions of music.
After receiving a scholarship and graduating from the Berklee School of Music in just two years, Johnson earned a master’s degree in jazz pedagogy from the Boston Conservatory. He then went on to receive an Artist Performance Diploma at the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance at the New England Conservatory under the direction of the influential Ron Carter.
Johnson was invited to become a member of Wynton Marsalis’ Septet and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, which he did from 2000 to 2003. He also played as part of the Russell Malone Quartet, Delfeayo Marsalis Quintet, and the Bobby Watson Quartet. After completing his tenure with those groups, Johnson started the Reach Afar program for young people ages 7 to 17, educating them about elements of jazz in hip-hop.
Johnson has traveled extensively, sharing the gift of jazz with audiences around the world. As a representative of the United States through the U.S. State Department, he was named United States Musical Ambassador. He did six State Department tours, performing in more than 76 countries in Central and South America, Africa, and the Middle East. He has also accompanied such jazz icons as Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, and Arturo Sandoval.
In 2005, Johnson became the musical director for the Atlanta Spirit LLC. This joint project enabled him to create a live instrumental five-member band for the National Basketball Association and perform at all 46 home games and outside activities.
In 2007, he had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to run around the world for the Blue Planet Foundation. The focus of this project was to create safe, clean, drinking water for people in need all over the world. He was hand-picked from over 10,000 athletes. This venture, sponsored by the D.O.W. chemical company and Nike, enabled 21 runners as a team to circle the planet on foot over the course of four months.
One of Johnson’s other strengths is administration and music management. He is the founding member of Johnson Works LLC, a management placement service for musicians. In this role, he performs with world-class artists promoting jazz to a vast array of audiences. He also serves as the piano instructor for the Ravinia Jazz Program in Chicago. Another passion of Johnson’s is history, which has led him to become a certified tour agent/guide and educate thousands of high school students.
In 2013, he began visiting Doha, Qatar, as a performing artist at the Jazz at Lincoln Center venue. Having been well received there numerous times, he was presented with the opportunity in 2015 to be the acting on-site full-time Jazz Ambassador in partnership with the St. Regis Doha Hotel company.
Johnson is an accomplished composer and arranger with four musical releases as a leader. His latest colead project with Gregory Generet, entitled 2 of A Kind, features a stellar jazz ensemble consisting of Freddie Hendrix on trumpet, Jon Beshay on tenor saxophone, Barry Stephenson on bass, and Henry Conerway on drums.
Richard Johnson is a Yamaha endorsed piano artist.