Artist Blog

Kris Johnson: 6 Notes From Thad Jones That Changed My Life

Kris Johnson presents his April 2021 article for the ISJAC Artist Blog in Video Format!

About the Author:

Kris Johnson is an award-winning trumpeter, composer, and educator. He has appeared on five Grammy-nominated albums and composed the original score for the four-time Emmy-nominated webseries “King Ester”. Kris toured the world as a trumpeter and arranger with the Count Basie Orchestra from 2008-2019 and served as the Director of Jazz Studies at the University of Utah from 2015-2019. Currently, Kris is a freelance composer, arranger, and educator in Metro Detroit, and the creator and curator of the online educational series “Office Hours with Kris Johnson”.

Kris was recently commissioned by Plowshares Theater (Detroit, MI) in partnership with the Kresge Foundation to compose a musical influenced by Detroit’s historic Black Bottom and Paradise Valley neighborhoods. “Hastings Street: the musical” is currently in development with music/lyrics co-composed by Kris and playwright/actor John Sloan III who also wrote the book. In 2012, Kris received an ASCAP Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composers award and was selected as one of 25 Detroit performing and literary artists to receive a $25,000 Kresge Artist Fellowship. Kris was awarded a grant in 2014 from New Music USA to fund a studio recording of his original musical “Jim Crow’s Tears” with a book by Gary Anderson of Plowshares Theater (Detroit). Kris has been commissioned to write compositions and arrangements for the Count Basie Orchestra, Ken Thompkins (principal trombonist, Detroit Symphony Orchestra), Arts League of Michigan, Karen Clark Sheard, Yolanda Adams, the Clark Sisters, Farmington Community Band, Detroit Symphony’s Civic Ensembles, Ferndale Community Concert Band, Motor City Brass Band, Troy High School, New Trier High School, and many others.

Mr. Johnson has performed at some of the world’s most prestigious jazz venues including the Apollo Theater, the Blue Note Jazz Club (US and Japan), Sydney Opera House, Blues Alley, and the Hollywood Bowl. He has also had the opportunity to perform with many jazz greats including the Jazz at Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, Tony Bennett, Patti Austin, Wess Anderson, Wycliffe Gordon, Jon Hendricks, Monty Alexander, Christian McBride, Jamie Cullum, and many others. As the leader of The Kris Johnson Group, he has recorded several studio albums including “Odd Expressions”, “Journey Through a Dream” and “The Unpaved Road” with Lulu Fall. He has also produced a series of video projects including live performances, virtual big band videos, and his audiovisual album “SAFE” featuring his abstract illustrations and animation. Kris was featured soloist in the 2013 standup-comedy film “Make Me Wanna Holla” starring Sinbad.

Johnson has a keen sensitivity to the nuances of film as is evident in his award-winning film scores for various webseries, documentaries, short films, and feature films. Kris scored the Dui Jarrod webseries “King Ester” which was picked up by Issa Rae’s YouTube Channel “Issa Rae Presents”. The series was nominated for four Emmy Nominations in 2020. Kris received an Outstanding Score award for his work on the comedic web series The PuNanny Diaries at the 2011 LA Webfest and wrote the score for “Searching For Shaniqua” which won HBO’s Best Doc Award at the 2016 Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival.

Kris received his master’s (2007) and bachelor’s (2005) degrees in Jazz Studies from Michigan State University. He was a full time faculty member at The Ohio State University from 2012 – 2015 as a Jazz Lecturer. He is also the former director of Detroit Symphony’s Civic Jazz Orchestra where he led the most talented students in Metro Detroit. Johnson has also served as a Jazz Artist in Residence at Troy High School, Southfield-Lathrup High School, Eaton Rapids High School, and is the composer and co-creator of The Learning Express, a series of workshops that use hip-hop and jazz to teach elementary students about science, reading, and math.

For more from Kris, visit: and