Since settling in San Francisco in 1997, Canada-born trumpeter/composer/songwriter Darren Johnston has collaborated and recorded with an extremely diverse cross-section of artists. His interests rotate around composing instrumental music, writing songs, and performing all styles of jazz, experimental and purely improvised music, as well as traditional music of the Balkans, Greece, Macedonia, Turkey, and the Arab world. These interests have coalesced into his primary ensemble of late, Darren Johnston’s Broken Shadows. He has performed and/or recorded with luminaries such as Fred Frith, ROVA Sax Quartet, Myra Melford, Ben Goldberg, Matt Wilson, Mark Dresser, Marshall Allen, Marcus Shelby, and others.
As a composer, he has written for small jazz groups, big bands, string quartet, chamber ensembles and more. He has written for dance companies such as Axis Dance, Amy Seiwert’s Imagery, Robert Moses’ Kin, Liss Fain, and others, as well as for short films.
In 2012 he composed a suite extracting text from a series of interviews he conducted with a diverse collection of immigrants living in the Bay Area called “Songs of Seven Miles.” The following year he continued this technique of using existing text to create lyrics by commissioning letters from immigrants who wrote either to their own selves at the time they first arrived in the US, as if they were able to send a message with insights and advice back through time, or to a beloved of their choosing back in their country of origin. He then set the resulting songs on an elementary-school class, three middle-school classes, a high-school choir, a collection of professional singers, a Bulgarian tupan drummer, and six horns, all using body-percussion and choreography, in order to form the Trans-Global People’s Chorus. Other projects as a band-leader include the award-winning Nice Guy Trio, The Darren Johnston Quintet, and the category defying Broken Shadows, which mixes song-writing with musicians from jazz, classical, Balkan, and other musical communities.
Johnston was featured as one of Downbeat Magazine’s “25 Trumpeters for the Future,” and has been listed multiple times in the critic’s polls. His debut quintet recording, “The Edge of the Forest” received four stars by four very different critics in the Downbeat “Hot Box,” and was given an honorable mention by the Village Voice for the top 10 CDs of the year. Other recordings to receive similar accolades were “Reasons For Moving,” the Nice Guy Trio’s “Here Comes the Nice Guy Trio,” and “Sidewalks and Alleyways/Waking Music,” his Chicago-based ensemble’s “The Big Lift,” and the collective ensemble Cylinder’s self-titled release on the Clean Feed label.
Johnston has a BA from the Cincinnati Conservatory of music, and an MFA in composition from Mills College. As an educator, Johnston currently teaches privately and as adjunct faculty at the University of California, Berkeley for private instruction in trumpet, and approaches to practicing jazz and improvisation. He also teaches at the California Jazz Conservatory, through the Stanford Jazz Program, at Jazz Camp West, and has given workshops in approaches to practicing improvisation, trumpet technique, an intro to music from the Balkans, and more at UC Berkeley, Stanford University, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Mills College, Sonoma State, and others.
As adjunct faculty at the University of California, Berkeley, Johnston teaches private instruction in trumpet technique as well as approaches to practicing jazz and improvisation.