Recorded at Clinton Recording Studios, New York. Mixed at Manhattan Center Studios, New York. Mastered at Sound Byte Studios, New York & nhb Studios, Hamburg.
Imagine a group that consists of piano, bass, drums, and five to seven tubas. Howard Johnson, one of the mightiest tuba players of the past 30 years, has been leading Gravity since 1968 but this is their first recording. Despite the instrumentation, the group plays the music (which ranges from Don Pullen's colorful "Big Alice" and two of Johnson's originals to such standards as "Stolen Moments," "Yesterdays," and "'Round Midnight") with swing, creativity, and more variety than one might expect.
All Music Guide
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What Went Down ...
As brass instruments go, the tuba is about the youngest of all. It was the last one to get valves, evolving from the ophicleide, and to become fully chromatic. Its impact was immediate. Not only did it anchor the symphonic brass section beyond expectations, it became the whole orchestra's bass voice, supporting and expanding the basses and celli.
Beethoven, who died in 1827, one year after tubas came into service, never heard one. But oh, what might he have done with it. The power and majesty of this new brass bass, in its prescribed role, was found to be thoroughly satisfying to 19th century composers and orchestrators. For this reason, perhaps, they were not inclined to explore the instmment's melodic possibilities more than rarely. Indeed, it took the vision of the 20th century tuba players to show the writers these melodic possibilities.
In the United States, the great William Bell, of the NBC Symphony under Toscanini, inspired many new works for tuba, even George Kleinsinger's "Tubby The Tuba". And the African-American tubist Henry "Bass" Edwards graced the Duke Ellington Orchestra and others, sometimes playing jazz solos using a garbage can lid to get the "plunger" effect. Edwards also, for a brief period, played in orchestras and bands in England, including a short stint with the London Symphony Orchestra. He was surely heard by all the English composers of the 1920's and most propably inspired the conception of Ralph Vaughn Williams' Tuba Concerto.
Then, in the 1950's, a kind of tuba muse, or maybe Zeitgeist, touched a number of classical and jazz tuba players and the melody was in to stay. The instrument's previous roles, while still cool, were no longer enough. On the west coast, veteran swing and modern jazz bassist Red Callender recorded a fine jazz album on his first axe, the tuba. It featured good solid tuba solos and it showed Callender's affinity for strong and sensitive ballads.
Also, two Los Angeles teenagers, Tommy Johnson and Roger Bobo, began their careers as classical and studio tuba players in the late 50's.
At that same time, John Fletcher in England, Ray Draper in New York and I in Massillon, Ohio heard this same low register clarion call in our teens as well. I don't know why this happened in all these different places at the same time, but an actual conspiracy couldn't have been better planned.
The tuba talent (and not just us "whippersnappers") continued to develop into the 1960's so that by about 1965, one could count on any reasonably serious tubist to have a four octave range (try that on your trumpet) and technical flexibility equal to other instrumentalists. And in New York, the major jazz composers and arrangers enjoyed using a goodly pool of tuba players. Indeed, Don Butterfield had been a stalwart since the 50's. But I felt an even fuller range of tuba expression was still necessary.
The tuba choir concept was a natural since the range was there and the players were there with more on the way. So Gravity was born in March of 1968, specifically to explore and exhibit our capabilities. We were just as surprised as everyone else hearing our ensemble sound for the first time - stunned really, but oh so satisfied. The possibilities seemed endless. The exitement was total. We had Morris Edwards, Dave Bargeron, Jack Jeffers, Bob Stewart and myself on tubas. We had a great rhythm section (Herb Bushier, bass; Warren Smith, drums and George Cables, piano).
We had our own sound and we developed a solid audience from note one of our Sunday afternoon gigs through that summer at Slug's, one of NYC's hippest jazz clubs ever!
We then expanded to six tubas and, with a soulful electric rhythm section, played the Fillmore East in 1969 before anyone ever heard of fusion.
But, even with our audience hangin' in with us since those days, it has not been as easy to convince club owners, concert promoters and record companies of what listeners have always known. That Gravity can deliver. It's been sometimes a strange dance, the audience, the band and the business. But we're still here, still developing and still looking to offer up our very best. So, welcome to Gravity. Come, join the dance.
- Howard Johnson