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One of the most active saxophonists and composers (theatre, dance, film scores, and jazz) in New
Yorks Downtown scene, Phillip Johnston has been active as a performer and bandleader since the 1980s, working with John Zorn, Joel Forrester, Elliott Sharp, Eugene Chadbourne, Mikel Rouse, Wayne Horvitz, Shelley Hirsch, Walter Thompson, Lenny Picketts Borneo Horns, Earl King, and Guy Klucevsek. He founded, led, and co -led several highly acclaimed jazz groups, including The
Microscopic Septet, Big Trouble, the Transparent Quartet, and Fast N Bulbous (his arrangements of
the music of Captain Beefheart co-led with Gary Lucas.
Johnston has released more than a dozen
albums under his own name and in various groups/ens
embles on a variety of prominent labels,
including Avant, Winter & Winter, Tzadik, Black Saint, and Koch Jazz.
In the early 1990s, Johnston focused his attention
on composing film, theater, and dance scores, in
addition to doing work for radio and TV. A prolific
composer, he has scored more than a dozen
motion pictures, working with such directors as Dor
is Dörrie, Paul Mazursky (Faithful), and Philip Haas (The Music of Chance). In addition, hes done scores for silent movies, including F.W. Murnaus
Faust (1927), which premiered at the 2002 New York Film Festival and has subsequently toured Europe and
the US. Two CDs of Johnstons film scores have been
released by Zorn: a compilation of film scores,Music for Films (1998, Tzadik), and The Unknown
(1994, Avant), a score for Tod Brownings 1927
silent film His most recent collaborative work is
Wordless! with graphic artist Art Spiegelman, which
premiered at the Sydney Opera House in 2014, and had its US premiere at the Brooklyn Academy of
Music in 2014.
Johnstons distinctive compositions are most notable for their defiance of genre and consistently
pervasive humor. As Seth Rogovy wrote in the
What distinguishes or characterizes Johnstons work, and what makes it impossible to tame or define
in conventional terms, is its willful perversityits utter unwillingness to stay in one place, its defiance
of genre, its universal embrace of the offbeat, its
celebration of the quirky, dramatic and surprising
gesture. His scores can flow seamlessly from cocktail jazz to horn-laced funk grooves to acoustic
chamber music to synthesized electronics to frenzied post-bop to banjo bluegrass to rock n roll to
ersatz klezmer to cartoon music to skronking metal
to Asian harp to blues guitar riffs to blowzy polka
and back to classically-styled, string quartet music.
In 2005 Johnston moved with his family to Sydney, A
ustralia, where he leads The Phillip Johnston
Quartet, and performs his collaborative works. He returns to the US to perform and record on a