Sy (Sivert) Johnson

About: Sy (Sivert) Johnson

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  • Role : Voice
  • Website :
  • Experience :
  • Specialist in : Director of Turtle bay Music School “The American Song Book” Class

Instrument you teach: I teach voice in The Great American Songbook class at Turtle Bay!

Do you play any other instrument in your spare time? I play piano and accordion, but I write music for lots of different instruments, including jazz ensembles, string quartets, and symphony orchestras.

Education: I went to UCLA for pre-law, and have also studied at Juilliard and Eastman. I’ve studied privately with Rayburn Wright, Hall Overton, and Lucy Greene.

Where are you from? Hamden, CT Favorite age group to teach: 15-100

Favorite style of music to teach: I love to teach jazz, especially The Great American Songbook, jazz arranging, and composition.

Favorite song: “Skylark”

Favorite piece of music: Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring

Favorite food: Breakfast!

Favorite color: Navy, black, and khaki

Do you have a pet? We have a black and white designer doggie called a papi-poo. Her name is Dindi (after a Jobim song), and she’s ten years old.

What’s your favorite musical memory? I remember a Monday night at Birdland in 1949 with Miles Davis’ “Birth of the Cool” band and the Lennie Tristano sextet. It felt like we were in the center of the universe that night! Many forgot this evening until I revised the history books last year!

What do you like best about teaching music? I most enjoy interacting with students, watching and feeling that personal growth and seeing the awakening of something new in people. It’s also very rewarding to reach across generations with timeless, beautiful music.

What is your favorite composer or musician? Well, J.S. Bach is certainly one – he is the father of us all! I also deeply admire Charles Mingus, my dear friend and collaborator. Keith Jarrett is surely my biggest influence today. And of course Miles, who is beyond any genre or categorization.

What is the first piece of music you ever learned? Bach’s first two-part invention; it was the perfect piece to start with!

How many hours a day do you practice? Well that all depends on what I’m preparing for! I’m always writing and playing, but I’ll often adjust my practice schedule if I’ve got a big gig coming up.

Accomplishments: Quite a few. Here are some favorites! I had the honor of arranging Charles Mingus’ album, “Let My Children Hear Music,” which Mingus later called his best. I arranged and orchestrated a marvelous Broadway show, “Black and Blue,” and composed a Jazz Opera that premiered in Rome called “Hobbit, Hobbit,” based on The Lord of the Rings. I played piano on Frank Sinatra’s recording of “Until the Real Thing Comes Along”. I conducted and arranged for Elvis Costello, and was arranger, orchestrator, and co-musical director on the Coppola film, “The Cotton Club”. I am the prime arranger for the Mingus Big Band and Mingus Orchestra. Our new album is “Mingus Sings” on Sunnyside Records.

Fun Facts: Singing is fun and you can do it!