Jef Lee Johnson

Mayimba Jazz

An American Musician. An Unrecognized Genius.

Thoughtful, curious and sensitive, these qualities would prove to be the foundation of a musical career that would encompass the best of many worlds of Jef Lee Johnson. Although many saw Jef as a career “session man,” those who knew him understood that Jef, like many of his peers, was a “working musician” – an amazing craftsman who “paid the mortgage” by enhancing other people’s projects. Because of his musical intelligence and talent, Jef created a career that resulted in his performing and/or recording with a wide-ranging and prominent group of musicians:

  • George Duke
  • Al Jarreau
  • Patti LaBelle 
  • James Carter
  • Rachelle Ferrell
  • Erykah Badu
  • Jeff Beck 
  • D’Angelo
  • Mariah Carey 
  • Stanley Clarke
  • Aretha Franklin 
  • Ronald Shannon Jackson
  • McCoy Tyner 
  • Roberta Flack 
  • Billy Joel
  • Esperanza Spalding
  • Common
  • The Roots
  • Chaka Khan 
  • Lili Anel
  • Venissa Santi
  • Dionne Warwick 
  • Reggie Washington 
  • Phyllis Hyman
  • Vanessa Williams
  • Jill Scott 
  • David Sanborn 
  • Jon Lucien
  • Cindy Blackman-Santana 

In the mid-’80s Jef did a stint as the lead guitarist in Paul Shaffer’s “World’s Most Dangerous Band,” the house band for “Late Night With David Letterman”.  Jef also had the distinction of being the only man on the planet to have played with McCoy Tyner and Sister Sledge on the same day in different locations.

Born in Philadelphia on June 26, 1958, Jef was raised in a musical family, the youngest of five children and the recipient of early influences as diverse as Herb Alpert, Eric Dolphy, Motown, Sergio Mendes, Leonard Bernstein and Vanilla Fudge. Jef’s musical beginnings took root in this musical hodge-podge.

“When I was around 12, I think, I begged my older sister to teach me some chords on guitar. And then, when I was 13, my mother made me start playing with her in church, whether I liked it or not. Playing bass in church – I didn’t know how to play; she said, ‘You’re just gonna follow me.’ I didn’t know what I was doing; I was just making weird noises.”

— Jef

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