Jazz à La Mood – As Told By Maurice Johnson

Maurice Johnson 8x10 PR image2 Photo credits Jerry Lambert

With a hit called “Black Coffee Please” – and a video showing a full morning of diner stops for the best java jolt – smooth jazz guitarist Maurice Johnson has been groovin’ on since he first heard George Benson.

You are clearly obsessed with coffee. Does it help your creativity?

From a social media perspective, coffee is a safe topic to talk about to a general audience as opposed to politics, religion and the like. Over the years I’ve developed quite an affinity for coffee. I can’t say that it’s a contributor to my personal creativity, but it does keep me stimulated throughout the day as I engage in numerous creative activities. 

“Black Coffee Please”

How did you decide to mix business with pleasure: playing at your open houses?


Several years ago I had my real estate license, but hadn’t yet entertained the idea of intermingling live music with the open house experience. It happened in recent years after a nearly three-year stint when I was a resident guitarist at a luxury hotel restaurant. Shortly after that ended, I decided to make an effort to connect with a relatively untapped luxury home real estate market. From that, the idea for “Jazz at My House” was born.   


Does it help sell houses?


I believe music plays a positive role in a buyer’s mindset, and can impact outcome. Like staging, live music can bring an entirely new dimension to the luxury home buyer experience. Buying a home is not just a financial investment, it’s an emotional investment as well. Music, live music in particular, can stimulate a buyer’s emotions, and at the same time give them a sense of what it might be like to entertain guests in that home.


When did you start playing jazz?


I was sixteen when my uncle, who was a trash collector, handed me an old plastic toy guitar with only three strings. That brought the instrument to my attention, but it was when my brother returned from Vietnam with an electric guitar that really fueled my desire to learn the instrument. Shortly thereafter, he bought my first guitar and paid for beginning lessons.

Do you play other instruments?


Not really, but when I produce music in the studio I often use a midi guitar synth, which allows me to utilize other instrument voices like piano, strings, horn hits, bass, etc.


Which jazz artists have particularly inspired you and why?


Hands down, George Benson and later Wes Montgomery. Right off the bat, the instant I heard George Benson in 1976 it hit me like a lightning bolt. It was his scat vocals and guitar on “This Masquerade.” The moment I heard it, I said, “That’s how I want to play.” It immediately changed my focus and direction about guitar.


While intently studying Benson, I discovered Wes Montgomery. Although I’ve listened to and have met many well-known and exceptional guitarists throughout my years, these two have remained at the core of my personal evolution as a musician. 


Do you always work solo or do you have an ensemble?


I perform in a variety of configurations, contingent up a client’s budget and the nature of the event. I prefer a four- or five-piece band for larger venues. Lately, I’ve been formulating a three-piece arrangement of guitar, bass and drums. I don’t have a dedicated ensemble, but I do have a list of preferred first-call musicians, in the studio and live performance.


Do you tour?


No. Since stepping out as an indie artist in 2010, my thoughts have remained closer to home, however I am open to the idea.


In my earlier years, when my former band was under contract with Warlock Records, we were the opening act for a large number of major jazz and R&B artists who came through our city. At one point, shortly after opening for George Benson, we were in the middle of negotiations for a six-month Japan tour before suddenly disbanding after nearly ten years. I’ve always had mixed feelings about touring based on my convictions as a husband and father. For those reasons, it’s been worth staying close to home.

On a personal level, I prefer smaller, intimate settings, where I can speak to a listener’s heart, and not their ears. 


Talk about the jazz community in Oklahoma.


I’m based in Oklahoma City, where there’s a lot more going on than just country and western music. It’s an assumption that tends to dominate the opinions of national onlookers.


I’ve lived here about thirty years now. Like other growing cities, the local music scene is emerging with greater diversity and opportunity for enterprising local artists of many genres. I’m impressed by the number of new and developing entertainment districts that show promise and appeal to a broad demographic. Jazz has survived here for years, and continues to do so.


Why smooth jazz, as opposed to straight-ahead, bebop, etc.?


In earlier years, I’ve played on the fringes of bebop, and I commend those who do it so well, but bebop and straight-ahead never really touched my spirit. True, they’re fast, definitive and melodic phrases, and I’ve adopted many of those nuances in my own playing style, but the moment I heard Benson, I could tell he was speaking from his soul.


Whatever it was he brought to the surface throughout the 70’s had a profound impact on me. I remember times I’d work myself into a frenzy, playing this lick and that lick, trying to sound like an amazing guitarist. Today, I’ve slowed down quite a bit, playing guitar about 90% with my thumb. Now my fingers reach for warm and meaningful phrases. Give me a beautiful standard like “Skylark” or an old-school classic like “Always and Forever.” Those are songs you play with your heart.


When I’m writing music I don’t want to hold myself to a specific genre. My goal today is to play like a vocalist.    


Current projects?


I’ve always been one to jump on new and creative ideas with enthusiasm. I had written several books and was published by well-known publishers. In recent years I’ve felt determined to self-publish. Having said that, I’ve been writing a book series for developing musicians. At the very same time I produced a series of writing journals while also developing a set of word-fun activity books. It’s a creative burst that I couldn’t ignore before undertaking my next CD project. I’m a very driven person with many creative passions.


Future plans?


Being the chronic multi-tasker, my upcoming plans are to start a third CD project and hopefully an audio book project as well. 


Other comments?


I encourage music lovers to follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.

Find my music on Pandora, iTunes, CDBaby and other music download locations.

Find my full list of available books and writing journals on Amazon.

Catch me at my developing website at www.mauricejohnson.com.

Feel free to email me at info@mauricejohnson.com.

(c) Debbie Burke 2017

Photo credit: Jerry Lambert

Audio clip: “Black Coffee Please” with permission of the artist


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