Gail Jhonson Band

Smooth Jazz


Gail Jhonson is a Philadelphia-bred jazz pianist who has performed with artists like Bobby Womack, Pink, Norman Brown, Vanessa Williams, Bobby Lyle/featuring Mindi Abair, Dave Koz, Jermaine Jackson and Sheila E.

She got her first break performing with Morris Day of The Time and currently stays quite busy as the music director, keyboardist and vocalist for smooth jazz super star guitarist and vocalist, Norman Brown.

Born and raised in the city of Philadelphia, Gail Denise Jhonson began piano lessons in elementary school. Proving to be a gifted student, at age 14, she played her first gigs on the organ with numerous local Funk and R&B bands.

In 2004, “Keep The Music Playing”, her highly acclaimed debut contemporary jazz album, brought her into the international recording spotlight.

Led by the hit singles “Heaven” and “Just For Kicks” the CD received strong support from the music industry.

In 2005, the highly successful and much anticipated Norman Brown’s Summer Storm Tour was launched with special guest Peabo Bryson, Everett Harp & Brenda Russell.

Major success followed with the 2006 Summer Storm 2 Tour with special guest Patti Austin, Alex Bugnon and Paul Taylor.

Her early influences include Duke Ellington, Herbie Hancock, Stevie Wonder and Joe Sample, and she has shared the stage with Ray Parker Jr. Vesta, Howard Hewitt, Brian Culbertson, OC Smith, Paul Jackson Jr., Pamela Williams, Phil Perry and Milli Vanilli.

Sound Observations with Gail Jhonson

By David Moye

There’s an old saying that good leaders make good followers.

Never believed it myself. Seems good leaders make lousy followers because they are always gunning to be leaders.

But since jazz pianist Gail Jhonson has had experience both as a leader and backing up artists like Morris Day, Bobby Womack, Pink, Norman Brown, Vanessa Williams, Dave Koz, Jermaine Jackson and Sheila E., it seems like she may have the answer.

She does.

“Honestly, if you do have a vision, go with it,” said Jhonson, who will be at Anthology April 28. “But if you’re not sure, it’s best to be a follower.

“For me, in hindsight, I should have just got in there. I should have more confidence in my abilities, but I thought I could never be another Oscar Peterson or Herbie Hancock.

“Still, it was good to be under the tutelage.”

Jhonson, who got her start in 1985 backing up funk artist Morris Day, waited until 2004 to make her debut as a solo artist.

It was worth the wait, as “Keep The Music Playing” had two big contemporary jazz hits: “Heaven” and “Just For Kicks.”

Playing contemporary jazz is a good medium for Jhonson because it allows her to straddle the line between rhythm and melody.

“I enjoy both the jazz world and R&B world,” she said. “I approach contemporary jazz — or smooth jazz — like Grover Washington, Jr.: I keep the jazz melodies and the funk rhythms. I want everyone to have a good time.”

But while some recordings in that genre have tried to have instrumentalists simply play the melody to songs that have vocals, Jhonson says that doesn’t bring out the full flavor of the music.

“You can’t just copy a vocal,” she said. “We prove that we can have a groove and a melody. I know it’s called ‘smooth jazz,’ but maybe ‘soul jazz’ is a better term.”


THU 4/28, 7:30pm click to purchase tickets

click to purchase tickets

click to purchase tickets

“Jhonson brings all of her many talents…as soul-lifting spiritualist, next-gen feminist inspiration, big-picture band leader and Philly street-corner rhythmist. There is, in this wordless interplay, an empowering moment as Jhonson more than holds her own, despite working in a genre with precious few women bandleaders.” – Nick Deriso

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