Conrad Johnson

Duration: 55mins:40secs
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Uncorrected Transcript

Interview with:  Conrad Johnson   
Interviewed by:  David Goldstein                
Date:  December 19, 2007


DG:     Today is December 19.  We are on the front porch at the home of Conrad Johnson, the prof, for the Houston Oral History Project.  My name is David Goldstein.  How are you today, Mr. Johnson?

CJ:       I am doing very nicely.

DG:     Great.  Thank you for agreeing to do this interview.  Would you tell us please where were you born and a little bit about your family and your earliest memories?

CJ:       I was born in Victoria, Texas.  I came back to San Antonio that same night.  Lived in San Antonio until I was 8.  I left San Antonio and came to Houston at 8.

DG:     What made you come to Houston?

CJ:       My father was a dentist here, a practicing dentist.  I just liked to hang around him.  He was a tremendous musician, one of the best I have ever seen.  He instilled in me the things that I know and understand about this music business.

DG:     What instrument did he play?

CJ:       He played clarinet and the flute.  Oh man, he could play the flute.  He would play the flute and just throw it all over the Jack H campus every night that he played.  And we had our practice right out here on that piece of land right there.  We were practicing about 30 to 40 pieces all during the summer.

DG:     I have read in other interviews that you said your father took you to many concerts.

CJ:       He took me to everything that was a concert when I was 7, 8, 9, 10.

DG:     Do you remember some of those early acts, who you went to see, who you went to hear?

CJ:       Oh, it hit me but went away.  Marion Anderson.  Have you ever heard that name?

DG:     Yes.

CJ:       Marion Anderson.  This next one was really important for me because he was a trumpet player like my father.

DG:     It will come back to you.  We will talk about it.  What was Houston like when you were 7 or 8 years old?  What was the city like?

CJ:       Well, I know this - that I enjoyed it.  I don't know.  I did enjoy it more than any other state that I lived or city that I lived in.

DG:     What did you do for fun when you were a kid?

CJ:       Well, the band was organized at _____ High School and I lived right here.  This is where I lived.  And I was over there half the day on the campus working and making things work, that I knew how to make work.  See, at that time, there were only a few traveling musicians that were black, and my father, I can say, he was one of them.  He had a club called the ________ Club and they were a singing organization and he is the one that wrote "Houston Is A Grand Old Town."  "So count the H O U S T O N, Houston is a grand old town."  And, oh man . . . I marched down Main Street playing that.  I wrote the arrangement for it and all.  Gee, those were wonderful, wonderful days.

DG:     Where did you go to college?

CJ:       _______, TSU, Houston College.  Then, I went to a contest all around Houston, in New York.  See, I was the one that started . . . the action while we were playing, I was the one that started that because I had been to see Otis Redding the night before I came to the band with a proposition.  "I want you to hear this.  Can you do this?"  And I explained what Otis Redding had done to me.  He would have 8 or 10 people on that stage before him.  When he walked up to that stage and took over, you forgot about the 8 or 10 people.  He was personified imagination.  What he did, he put his band on, the musicians on first, and then he came on.  And when he got through, you had forgotten your ______.  They were tremendous.  The band was just gorgeous.  So, I came back to school the next day and I said, "Look here, I saw Otis Redding last night in Houston and he was a tremendous show.  I want to talk to you a minute and see if you think you can do some of these things that he did."  And I told them how he would sing, he would dance a little bit, and he would come back and sing.  As an entertainer, I do not think you would see any more.  He died in an airplane accident, I believe.  I am saying ______ but he died, I guess about 4 years after that, and I never got a chance to see him again because he was my inspiration.

cue point

DG:     Were you already teaching when you saw Otis Redding?

CJ:       I was teaching at Jack Yates High School.  When I saw Otis Redding, that night when I saw him . . . where did I see him?

SL:      The Palladium.

CJ:       Yes, you remembered.  Gosh, at the Palladium.  That's right.  I forgot you were here. 
??:        I got your back.

SL:      This is Sylvester Leblanc.  He worked with me for 8 to 10 years when I first came to Houston.  He is a tremendous flutist.  He sings.  He plays.  He dances.

DG:     That is enough.

SL:      That is more than enough!

CJ:       He carried my situation throughout Texas, all the way to New York, California.

DG:     Mr. Johnson, when did you know you wanted to be a teacher?

CJ:       Well, I guess I knew it when I was about 8 years old.  I was about 8 years old.  I just had a yearning to teach.  It was not like somebody just going in, in there because of a job and you are making money.  It wasn't anything like that.  And, I mean, night after night, I would be over there leaving that school.  The school closed at 3 o'clock in the daytime.  I would be there many nights because I loved what I was doing and I had gotten my inspiration from Otis Redding.

DG:     When were you attracted to the saxophone?

CJ:       My father took over the band at Jack Yates High School my second year there and from that moment on, that was it.  I loved it and what you saw when you saw the band is just a little dabble of what we were doing.  We learned how to sing, dance and play at the same time.  Wherever we went, no matter whether it was a school or auditorium, a contest - New York, California, it did not matter where - we were there.

DG:     Let's fill in a little bit more history.  Tell me about how you met your wife and about your family.

CJ:       My wife was named Bree (sp?) and she came and was a part of what I was doing.  I remember one example that I could never forget and that was we were getting ready to go to San Antonio to a festival.  By the way, we won first place in that festival but on the way there, I discovered that I did not have a tie for my uniform which was a red jacket and white shirt.  I did not have a tie.  So, I called her on the way to San Antonio, and told her what I needed and some kind of way . . . she could always work it out, she could always find out . . . what I needed and how to get it there because I had no idea.  She bought me 75 red ties for the white pants that I was wearing.  And the color of the shoes, I cannot remember.

cue point

DG:     Where were you living when you first got married?

CJ:       ______ question.

SL:      I think he was sitting ________.  The same place as this interview is being held.

DG:     Have you always lived in this house?

SL:      You have always lived in this house since I have known you.

CJ:       I think . . . I really do.
??:        ______, you were living around the corner, remember?  You said you were living, I think it was off Eagle or 12th or something, do you remember that?

CJ:       Yes.
??         And then you moved here.

CJ:       Yes, that is right.  I moved here.
??:        Did you tell him that your father had written a song that would capture what Houston was like during that time, they had written that song?

CJ:       Yes, Houston Is A Grand Old Town.
??:        And it got _______ by the mayor.

CJ:       Yes, he did.  Houston Is A Grand Old Town.  This song was played wherever we went.  And I made an arrangement for it.  I wrote an arrangement for it here at the house and we marched down Main Street playing it.

DG:     You taught at Yates and at Booker T. Washington and then at Kashmere.

CJ:       That is the order.

DG:     And how did you end up at Kashmere?  What caused you to go from Booker T. Washington to Kashmere?

CJ:       Well, I guess I was at Washington and so I took part in everything . . . and we even made an out of town trip my first year, the first time I had ever been out of town with the band.

SL:      With your high school band.

CJ:       With my high school band, yes.

SL:      Just to give you a little assistance, Pop, I think the question is, was kind of geared towards when you left Washington, you went to Kashmere.

CJ:       When I left Washington, yes, I went to Kashmere.
??:        Why did you go to Kashmere?

CJ:       Well, in the first place, the principal wanted me.

SL:      Why?

CJ:       That was 90% of the reason.  Now, what he could do, I did not know because he was not a musician.

SL:      This was the opening of Kashmere?  Kashmere was like . . . there were only 3 predominantly black high schools in Houston at the time.  Then, they extended it from, on the south side, it was Ebony Worthing High School and Kashmere High School.

DG:     They added Worthing and Kashmere.

SL:      Right.  I guess it was about 1957, something like that.  I remember that vividly.

CJ:       Can you remember the year?

SL:      1957.
??:        1975.  Some of your band members that are playing with you now were in that first band at Kashmere.

CJ:       30 something years ago.
??:        Well, it is a little more than that.

SL:      ______.

CJ:       Don't make it any worse than it is!

SL:      You are cheating on him now.  During that particular time, I was a sophomore in high school in Beaumont, Texas.  ________ School, and we used to compete against you guys here in Houston.  So, I remember it vividly.  It was 1957.

DG:     Yes, sir.  Now, Mr. Johnson, before we go on with your teaching career, you were quite a player.

CJ:       Oh, yes.  I could hold my own.  I could hold my own.

DG:     Well, you could do better than that.  There were a lot of famous bands that tried to recruit you including the Hawkins Orchestra, the Erskin Hawkins Orchestra tried to recruit you and several others.

CJ:       Yes.

DG:     Can you talk about your playing days and who you played with?

CJ:       Well, one of the crowning features out of my experience in playing was to play with the Jimmy Lunsford Band.  Now, that band had moved in and moved out during my stay at Kashmere but it was such a memorable thing to play with a band of that nature.  They came right out of college into performing as a band.  And they were one of the finest I had ever heard.  So, that was part of my inducement because I built it from the ground up.  I built it from the ground up.

??:        Didn't you say you played with . . . Ray Charles was here.  You said you played behind him, did you say?

CJ:       Well, Ray Charles . . . one of my students was in the Ray Charles Band when he formed it and he bought Ray Charles to my house, this house right here.  When he saw my piano, he made sort of a jump from the door to the piano.  He got on that piano and he played and played.  He loved to play.  He loved to play.

cue point

??:        Conrad, what did you and Quincy Jones start?

CJ:       Quincy Jones was about 4 years after I started teaching. I met Quincy Jones.  He came to Houston to do a show.  He did some things that just thrilled me and I remembered them.  I could write down a manuscript of what he taught me.  It was such a thrill to be with a man of that caliber.
??:        What was the name of the organization that you and Quincy formed?  Do you remember the name of it?  Black Symphonic Orchestra Conductors, or something like that?

CJ:       Yes.  The Black Symphonic Orchestra.  What it was, we were playing the works, major works of black composers at that time, major works.  And Quincy was one of them.
??:        And Dizzie Gillespie.  You had some pictures of you and Dizzy in there.  Jackie Wilson.

CJ:       Yes, Jackie Wilson.  See, those were the stars of that day.

SL:      Grover Washington, too.

CJ:       Don't leave him out.
??:        And that Arthur Prysock man.

CJ:       Oh, Arthur Prysock.  Yes, we played a show in, I think it was Dallas with Arthur Prysock.  It was a smash.
DJ:       Professor, I need to ask you:  It is unusual for somebody to be as good a player as you were/are and still want to teach.  What was your dedication to teaching the students?

CJ:       My dedication came from first, my father, who gave me the understanding of what it was to be a musician in that era because we did not only play jazz, we played marches, we played concerts, and along with this, from the Jimmy Lunsford Orchestra and from my experience with the other orchestras and bands that I played, we would make shows up and dance while we were playing, never to interfere with the music.  Never.  And that is what a lot of them did not understand.  They could do the same thing but they would have 2 or 3 shows going on at one time and thinking that was it.  But you keep your audience glued when you have got one at a time and they are glued to you.

DG:     I want to ask you a question that may be difficult to answer.  It is one thing to want to teach and it is another thing to do it as well as you did.  You turned out so many outstanding musicians, so many outstanding bands, orchestras, stage bands.  What was it like to be in a Conrad Johnson orchestra, in a Conrad Johnson jazz band?  What did you do differently that made everybody achieve their potential the way they did?

CJ:       Well, in the first place, I included all the major acts that were going along musically at that time and to do that in a high school setting was a tremendous opportunity.  Oh yes, we formed an alliance with Mr. Jones and for 5 years, I can remember being active in this alliance.  He would come back to Houston and we would write, we would compose and play his music with the Houston Symphony that he had written.

DG:     Yes, sir.  With your Kashmere High School bands?

CJ:       With my high school band.

DG:     What did you do though . . . what was your philosophy about teaching these kids to help them achieve their potential?  Did you work a little harder?  Did you work a little longer?  Was it more disciplined?

CJ:       You named all 3 of them.

SL:      All of the above.

CJ:       I think you named all 3 of them at one time.  Yes, yes, I did.  I worked harder.  In fact, I would take it home with me, put it on the piano writing whichever song I was arranging, leave it there for the next morning until I was ready to go to school.  I would pick it up off the piano, take it with me to work, practice it at work, come back and put it back on the piano.  I did that for over 5, 6, 7 years.
??:        Didn't you say, Conrad, that in teaching, you never did teach kids ________ musicians and not children?

CJ:       I never taught kids.  No.  They were either musicians or they could not play in that band.

cue point

DG:     I want to say for the record, for the historical record of the tape, that the bands that you produced were unlike anything else that anybody could hear anywhere.  They were truly . . . your musicians were men among boys.  They were not just outstanding high school bands, they were outstanding bands that could hold their own in whatever style of music they were playing.

CJ:       That is true.

DG:     And not only did you produce great bands but you allowed the individual musicians to flourish.  You would feature individual musicians.  Do you remember some of the people that came through your bands?  Do you remember any of them?

CJ:       Yes.

DG:     Can you name some of your favorites or the ones that come to mind?

CJ:       Yes, well . . .

SL:      I can help you there.  Wayne Henderson.

CJ:       Are you talking about that were musicians or became musicians?

DG:     That were students of yours that became musicians.

SL:      Professional musicians.

CJ:       We were practicing every night.  We would play a show every year and we are going to do one this coming . . . I cannot say the date right now but it is about 2 weeks off.  We just did a show last week out of half students that were in my band at that time or during that time and half musicians that were playing.  So, we did not think in terms of just children playing music because I did not accept that.  That was not what I wanted to hear.  I wanted to hear a musical sound that was competitive, that was healthy and good music.  Mostly jazz but marches were also a part of our performance.
??:        Do you remember some of your students currently like Wayne Henderson or Albert Nelson?  ________.

DG:     Bubba Thomas, Albert Nelson.

CJ:       Yes.
??:        And even though he is not a musician now, one of your more favorite students - Kirby Jon Caldwell.

CJ:       Oh, yes.
??:        He was his drum major.

CJ:       My drum major.  Yes, Lord!  I am telling you.  That is right.  And it wasn't so much just to teach him band but how to live.

SL:      Life skills.

CJ:       Yes, it was teaching him how to live.  How to live with people.  How to live around people.  How to inspire people.  Then, I wrote the ______, 80% of your ______, I wrote them.

DG:     Yes, sir.  Now, your bands not only outplayed but sometimes you outdanced everybody else.  Did you do the choreography?

CJ:       I did all the choreography.  That is what I got from Otis Redding.  That is what I got from Otis Redding.  Boy, he was a choreographer.  Little as you think, we did not see him too long.  Boy, he was some choreographer.

DG:     Between 1969 and 1977, your Kashmere stage bands, your jazz bands, won 42 out of the 46 contests that you entered.

CJ:       Yes, first place.

DG:     Right.  Do you remember that time, those contests?  Can you remember any trips or any contests in particular that stand out in your mind as being particularly meaningful?  It was a long time ago.

CJ:       Oh, man, yes, I remember them.  About 3 of them flashed in my mind while you were talking.  But Wichita, Kansas . . .

DG:     Wichita, Kansas?

CJ:       Yes.  We played a show there and they told me before we started playing that show that we do not have time to let you play but we are going to slip you in and let you do a number.  We would get a chance.  I ended up doing a 4 hour concert!

DG:     Now, what I remember is towards the end of that time, they kind of would not let Kashmere compete.  They would have you guys play and perform but not compete because it was kind of unfair to everybody else to have to play against you.  What I want to know is do you remember the 4 that you did not win?  The 4 that you did not win.  I cannot imagine who beat Kashmere during that time.

CJ:       Let me see, who did?  I am trying to think.  There were very, very few but yes . . . Well, I always knew what they were going to play and I would do my show just a little bit ahead of them, so I would leave something for the next show.  I did not want to shoot it all at one time.  This way, I was able to keep my position and to keep the interest that we developed for the Kashmere stage band.

cue point

DG:     You started teaching at Kashmere in 1957?

CJ:       1957.

DG:     Now, Houston was a segregated city in 1957.

CJ:       It sure was.

DG:     What was it like for a musician to work and live in a segregated Houston?

CJ:       Well, I am trying to see if I went to any . . . there were some contests that were far.  Experienced bands that we went to and I think I attended every one of them.

DG:     Were there places that black musicians could not play, where black musicians could not work? 

CJ:       Yes.
??:        Or, you could go into and you had to go through the back door?

CJ:       Surely.  I got a call from California to play behind . . . it was a band that was . . . to play behind this band but the man who was over the presenting of this wanted my band, so I talked to him, _______, got ready to go.  But then, I told him I was a high school band and I did not belong to the union.  He said, "I don't care.  I want you to play this concert."  Well, there is where my altruism had to come into play.  What do I choose?  Do I choose to go out here and go professional or do I choose to stay in the high school?  I stayed with the high school because it meant more to me than to go professional.
??:        I was telling David ________ to that other question.

DG:     Yes, that is all right.  When did you create the Conrad Johnson Orchestra?  I do not need a year.  It was a long time ago.

CJ:       Yes, a long time ago.  I imagine about 10 years after I started teaching.
??:        Do you remember that semester when he actually started . . .

DG:     When he started the Conrad Johnson Orchestra?
??:        The heritage orchestra?

SL:      _______.

DG:     Yes.

SL:      It was probably mid 1970s.
??:        Because you had done that before you even left Kashmere.

SL:      Right.  You left Kashmere in 1977.

DG:     __________?
??:        No, the Kashmere band.

SL:      When you put together your professional big band. 

CJ:       I put it together while I was teaching.  I put it together while I was teaching.  See, the thing about it was I took private lessons at KTSU from Abner Jones, and I always like to repeat that name because he was the only one that gave me sustenance from what I was doing.  He taught me how to distribute my cards.  He taught me just how to make the band sound like a real jazz band as well as a marching band.  Not just a marching band.  You see, bands at that time were doing extremely hard march material.  And so, I had to do those things in order to keep up with the other programs.

DG:     Yes, sir.  I know you were offered playing jobs with prominent orchestras around the country.  Were you ever offered another teaching job to try to get you away from Kashmere, maybe for ______?

CJ:       Oh, yes.  I was offered several of those.  I was.  But I had no idea of leaving Kashmere.

DG:     Why is that?

CJ:       Well, because it was something that I had built.  I don't mean to be using "I" so much but it was something that I relished, I loved, and the students would rally in behind what we did musically and with such an interest that I never even suffered for not going professional.  It never bothered me.

cue point

DG:     So, again for the purpose of the record, you are an accomplished musician, capable of playing at the national level, you are an accomplished teacher whose bands have won countless awards and have been recognized around the country, you are an arranger.

CJ:       That is what made the difference.

DG:     And a composer.  Tell us about the writing and arranging that you did.

CJ:       Well, I never did go without leaving composition on my piano at night when I would go to bed.  I would write so far.  When I would get up . . . I would write so far then stop.  Then, I would take that to school with me and hear what I had written to see how it was marked.  Then, I would take what I had read and seen . . . "Now, tell me this.  Does this seem like you could take a break here?  Does it seem like I could take a break there?  Or does it seem like I have got to just keep on plotting through?"

DG:     So, your bands were not only taught by you but they were playing music written and arranged by you?

CJ:       All of it, yes.  Yes, that is right.  Written and arranged by me.

DG:     There have been some notable recordings of the Kashmere High School bands.  There was one in 1974 called "Out of Gas But Still Burning."

CJ:       Yes, Lord!

DG:     That a lot of people say is a masterpiece, a real classic, and it has been rereleased, I believe, or the music has been rereleased.  Do you remember that recording and what made it so special?

CJ:       Do I remember it?  Yes, I do.  You know, my last record, my last record that I made when I was teaching, I have it.  If you will remind me, I will try to give you one before you leave if I can find it because I have been giving them away at a pretty nice pace.  Not only that, I sold them at a pretty nice pace.

DG:     Where was that record recorded?  Do you remember what studio you recorded at?

CJ:       Yes, it was my last year at Kashmere.

SL:      I do not remember the studio's name but it was on Jensen Drive.

DG:     The studio on Jensen Drive?

SL:      Right.

CJ:       Yes.

SL:      That was the Japan '75 Expo.

CJ:       Right.

DG:     So, you left Kashmere in 1977?  Is that correct?

SL:      The school year, 1977-1978.

DG:     1977-1978?  What led your decision to leave Kashmere?

CJ:       What caused me to leave?

DG:     Yes, sir.

CJ:       Well, I figured it out.  In that position, that was about all I could do, you know, and still maintain what I was doing.  I tried to do things in a time zone where, this is what I did for now, and what I feel I should have done because I was at that point.

DG:     So, how did you occupy your time after leaving Kashmere?

CJ:       Playing.  How many nights did we play?

SL:      With the big band.

CJ:       Yes, playing with the big band, playing with the small group.  I had a 7 piece group.  It was first called Conrad's Combo and later on, I forget what the name was.
??:        The Big Blue Sound?

CJ:       No, I did the Big Blue Sound while I was teaching.

DG:     Do you remember when things started changing in terms of segregation, when it became possible for blacks to play anywhere?  Was there a single event, was there a single year or did this kind of evolve over time?

CJ:       That last part of it, what did you say now?

DG:     I said did this change kind of slowly over time or was there a single year or a single event when things changed in that regard?

CJ:       Well, I think I knew when I had gotten to my Waterloo.  I was doing so much that I just had to relinquish some of it and, at the same time, I was composing at night.  It would keep me up at night as well as playing would keep me up at night.

cue point

DG:     Yes, sir.  Well, Houston . . . this is 2007, so it is 50 years from 1957 when  you started teaching at Kashmere.

CJ:       Right.

DG:     Houston is not really the segregated city it was in 1957.  It is the kind of place now where black musicians can  play anywhere in town.

CJ:       Right.

DG:     When did it change?

CJ:       Well . . .

SL:      ________.

DG:     There may not be an event but did you notice it changing?  Do you remember a time, do you remember a single event, do you remember a club or a hotel that changed their policy?

CJ:       Well, see, I played several senior proms every year.  I would play at the contests every year.  I felt I had gotten the exposure that I needed to leave footprints in the sand. [end of side 1]
??:        So, Conrad, there was not any performance that you did, you did not do, because you were black or did you not have one because you were black?  Do you remember that?  Because I know you were playing some white proms, too, at the same time, and you were playing some white venues.

CJ:       Right, I did.
??:        So, did you even notice.

SL:      He was involved with the music . . .

DG:     Yes, he was playing too much to notice.

SL:      He is not a politician, he is a musician.

DG:     All right.
??:        _______ even notice because I do not remember ever hearing you saying that you did not get a chance to play here or you had to go through a back door and all that.  That did not happen to you, did it?

CJ:       No . . . in a way.  Maybe 1 or 2 incidents but I was always accepted.

DG:     Let's talk about Houston as a music city.

CJ:       All right.

DG:     Houston, especially as a jazz town.  Arnett Cobb, of course, made his home . . .

CJ:       You know, Arnett Cobb and I grew up together?  We grew up . . . he used to steal my bicycle.  _______ I had it in the garage.  He would ride it up and down Lance Street until he got tired, before I got out of bed.  And when I woke up, I went out there one morning, my bicycle was gone.  It had been gone a lot of mornings.  I did not know a thing about it.  And so, I said, "You stole my bicycle."  He said, "No, I didn't.  I just rode it."

SL:      He borrowed it.

DG:     He borrowed it.

CJ:       So, that was our conversation piece every time we met, about him stealing my bicycle.

DG:     Arnett Cobb is of a generation of musicians that is not around that much anymore.  Who else do you want people to remember?  Who were Arnett's . . .

CJ:       Eddie Vincent.

DG:     Eddie Vincent.  Cleanhead Vincent.

SL:      Don Wilkerson.

DG:     Don Wilkerson?

SL:      Texas Twister.

CJ:       Yes, Don Wilkerson.  I taught him probably 2 years, probably 2 years.  When my students would come, I would have 4 or 5 at the same time.  Don would take a position in that room and out of everyone that I taught that day, he had that lesson when he left.  He was so accurate and so clean that I began to notice it and I could hear strands of what I was teaching and what he was playing coming back from Don when he would play and take his lesson.  So, that is the type of student he was.

cue point

DG:     Who else was important on the Houston music scene?  Who else was important in Houston's music history, in Houston's music scene in the time you have been living here?  Jimmy Ford came to town. 

CJ:       Oh, yes, I know Jimmy.  Yes.  Jim was very important.  I am trying to think of some of . . .

SL:      Richard Goldberg?

CJ:       Richard Goldberg.  Good.  Yes.

SL:      He was the drummer with Duke Ellington's ________.

DG:     He played drums for Duke Ellington?

SL:      Right.

DG:     Now, a little later on, Kirk Whalum.

CJ:       Oh boy, yes, Kirk.  I taught him at Kashmere.

SL:      No, at TSU.

CJ:       TSU.

SL:      He was one of your private students while he was attending . . .

DG:     He was a private student while he was at TSU?
??:        And what about those Crusaders, Conrad, and Joe Sample?

DG:     The Jazz Crusaders?  Joe Sample?  Wilton Felder?

CJ:       Oh, yes.  Joe Sample.  He was one of my pride and joys because he not only wrote, he played.

DG:     He still does.  Did you have a favorite student?  It is probably unfair to ask but do you have favorite students?  Do you have several . . . who were some of your favorite students?

CJ:       Here is one of them.  Here is one of them right here.

DG:     Yes, sir.

CJ:       It has been 8 and 10 years since you taught.

SL:      I left Kashmere in 1986.
??:        That is longer than 2 years.

SL:      Yes.  I took over his . . . he passed the baton, we will say.

DG:     Yes, Sylvester Leblanc, he took over for Mr. Johnson when he left Kashmere and you taught at Kashmere until 1986.

SL:      Right.

DG:     And kept the legacy of that strong program going.

CJ:       Yes, he did.  I have got a little tale I like to tell on him.  I do not know whether he likes this tale or not but when I left, I said, "Well, I am turning it over to you."  I do not know whether it was 8 or 10 times that I had to come back.  "No, you did not quite get that."  But when I left him alone, he had it all.  I am not lying.  He had every bit of it.  I could hear the sound that I wanted to hear come out of that band with nobody but he had been teaching it.

DG:     You taught so many outstanding musicians when they were kids.

CJ:       That is true.

DG:     How does it make you feel when you see them years later with active careers, successful careers?  Or maybe they are not professional musicians but they have music in their lives because of you.

CJ:       Oh, yes, it is a wonderful feeling.  I can think of some.

DG:     Tell me about your decision -- you mentioned it a little bit -- to incorporate popular music into the jazz program that you were playing, especially in the 1970s, the funk era, where you incorporated funk into jazz.

CJ:       Yes, well, I did that because that was the funk era that came and I incorporated it into my playing and my teaching.

DG:     Was that a conscious effort to keep the kids engaged or was that because you liked it?

CJ:       Because I liked it.

SL:      He liked funk.

CJ:       Yes, I liked it.

DG:     What kind of music do you listen to today?

CJ:       Well, I would say . . . I am trying to think of a name but well-arranged, good originals.

DG:     _____, you spent your entire life here in Houston and you taught Houston kids in Houston schools and although you traveled all over, you were always representing Kashmere and Houston.  How would you describe the city of Houston to other people?  If somebody said, "What is it like down there in Houston, Conrad, what would you say?"

CJ:       Well, I would say like this:  Those who had not heard the band and the high school bands that I taught . . . it was good.

DG:     What kind of a place was Houston though to make a career?  You had plenty of chances to leave and you always stayed and you always stayed here in Houston and you always sort of _______.

CJ:       Well, I like Houston and I wanted to give Houston all I had to give.  And so, that is why I stayed here.  I could have easily been working . . . in fact, I did work some nights as well as days.

DG:     Yes, sir.  Well, we are about wrapped up.  Let me just ask you one more question for the purpose of this tape.  For this interview, 10 years from now, if somebody watches this interview with Conrad Johnson, what do you want them to remember about you and your time as a musician, as an arranger, and as a teacher?

CJ:       Well, I would never accept any composition unless it was well done.  And, I mean, with all the ethics of the music contention.

DG:     You said that in your music programs, you also tried to teach life lessons.

CJ:       Well, I did.

DG:     What was the number one life lesson you wanted your students to know?

CJ:       Do not get a big head.  Do not think you are the only pebble on the beach because a whole lot more pebbles out there can do the same thing you are doing.  All they need is instruction.

DG:     Yes, sir.  Conrad, thank you for your time and I thank you for what you have given to the city of Houston.

CJ:       Thank you.