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Musician profile | Allyn Johnson: Dean of D.C. jazz

Although he has never chased national fame, Allyn Johnson is one of D.C.'s most revered and influential musicians. Courtesy Allyn Johnson

by Luke Stewart
Editorial Board

Most Washingtonians are well aware of the rich legacy that lies in D.C.’s musical and cultural heritage. It is widely known throughout the region that there exists a singular funk sub-genre called “go-go.” Bestselling books have been written about the city’s influential punk and hardcore scenes. The D.C. roots of two of jazz’s greatest musicians, Duke Ellington and Jelly Roll Morton, have been celebrated. Yet recent times have turned a blind eye on some of the present day’s brightest stars. Pianist Allyn Johnson, among the most innovative musical technicians of the present day, is one whom the world has failed to recognize.

D.C. native Ben Williams has recently risen to the national spotlight, but like so many, he had to move to New York City before that could happen. While Johnson received breathless recognition early on, he never moved away in pursuit of the world stage. Instead, Johnson now stands as one of the most influential figures in the ongoing revival of his hometown’s jazz scene. Within the nation’s capital, he is known as both a performer who can draw capacity crowds to venues around the city and an educator whose position as the director of Jazz Studies at the University of the District of Columbia makes him a key player in the cultivation of D.C.’s next generation of torch carriers.

Johnson explains his commitment to his hometown: “I’ve never really wanted to be a part of the jazz industry, in a sense, because I never wanted to be the next young piano star. I’ve always just loved to learn to play this music. I play music that I like and that expresses what I feel.”  Continue reading