Jazz pianist and movie score composer Earl Johnson Jr. grew up in York and started playing piano at the age of 9.
Jazz pianist and movie score composer Earl Johnson Jr. grew up in York and started playing piano at the age of 9. (Submitted)
Artist: Earl R. Johnson Jr.

Where in York did you grow up? I was raised on King Street and went to Alexander (D.) Goode Elementary (School) . . . and then Hannah Penn Middle School and then I went to high school at William Penn (Senior High School.)

Where along the way did you get into music? I started piano when I was 9. My parents bought a piano, and six lessons came free with the purchase. My older brother was playing trumpet already, so they gave them to me.

Who were your influences? I was really deep into classical when I started.

When did you decide that music was something you wanted to pursue? I actually buckled to peer pressures. You know, when you're young, playing piano was not cool. (Laughs) So, I slowly started making that transition, and actually I didn't go into music right away in college. I went to Penn State first on a partial academic scholarship. Every time I was goofing off . . . I was at a piano someplace. So I went through the audition process . . . to Berklee College of Music and once I got accepted, then I told everybody. I majored in film scoring.

What does scoring a film involve? You deal with arranging, orchestration, conducting and then how to really interpret music to a visual scene. A lot of people don't really know the difference between scoring and soundtracks. Underscore is all the stuff like scary scenes, for example, where the door's about to open and a cat jumps out. The art . . . is for the music to support the visual scene without drawing undue attention to itself. You have to be like a chameleon. In one picture, (the music) might have to be funny in one scene, scary in another scene, suspenseful in another scene (and) triumphant in another scene.

Did you have to choose between film scoring and being a musician? When I graduated, I was really focused on trying to do both and so I wanted to go to New York (City). The good thing about the teachers at Berklee . . . is that they have a duality. They're working professionals and college professors. (My professor Walter Beasly) asked me, "How'd you like to be in my band?" Then he said, "Good, go to Tower Records, buy my records and learn everything you hear." From there . . . I was sitting in the offices of Mercury Records. Out of the blue (company president Ed Eckstine) said, "I have this new artist coming out that's being signed . . . some guy named Brian McKnight." I almost turned it down. I worked with (McKnight) for three-and-a-half years.

Where do you call home now? I'm in (Los Angeles). I moved in '98. That's where all the major films are, and I can still tour from there if I wanted to. Boston was my home base for 10 years. The A-list film has eluded me thus far. I've been (working on) various other smaller projects. I've released my solo career, and I have my CD now. I was always in the supportive role, making other people sound great.

Does the title of the CD "Juicy" have any special meaning? That . . . is my nickname. It started off as a joke in college where my name was actually Big Juicy and I hated it. (Laughs) It just grew and grew. I ended up making my publishing company Big Juicy Music. More people in the industry . . . know me as Big Juicy or Juicy or Juice. When I was trying to title the CD . . . I wanted to really go through a reinvention process, getting back to my real name but still having the recognition of juicy.

What is coming up for you after the CD release? I'm actually doing a lecture/concert series at various colleges and universities around the country. I go in and talk about music and performance techniques or the psychological impact of the music in the listener and then, we do the concerts at night.

- ERIN McCRACKEN, FLIPSIDE STAFF