Joel Forrester & Phillip Johnston Duo

Joel Forrester: piano
Phillip Johnston: soprano saxophone

Joel Forrester and Phillip Johnston met in 1974 on East Tenth Street in New York City’s East Village when Joel wandered into Phillip’s apartment, after hearing him practicing Monk’s “Well You Needn’t” from the street. Since that time they have played in trios, quartets, septets, and most notoriously in The Microscopic Septet, which they co-lead. But during the past 35 years they have always continued to play as a duo.

In November of 2010, Joel Forrester and Phillip Johnston embarked on a short tour of the West Coast to promote the Microscopic Septet’s CD Friday The 13th: The Micros Play Monk (Cuneiform Rune 310). They did radio interviews, and played gigs as a duo, as they had for years, and as part of the promotion of the record played Monk tunes, including ‘Well You Needn’t’. They really didn’t need an excuse, as they had been playing Monk tunes since they first began playing together in the early 70s.

Well You Needn’t (Monk)

Nov 26th 2010 was a special night at The Hillside Club, in Berkeley, California. Despite almost missing the gig after being trapped in San Francisco in a street rally by Critical Mass, they arrived just a little late, and, leapt on stage and began playing. Fortunately the evening was recorded by the artistic director, Bruce Koball (whose day job happens to be as a recording engineer), because it turned out to be a good one.

Bunny Boy (Forrester)

Jazz Times
called it, “a masterpiece of intimacy, empathy and synergy“.

“Leaving their buddies behind, the masterminds behind The Microscopic Septet pair up for what promises to be a telepathic duet.”–The New Yorker

After what seems like a gillion years together, pianist Forrester and saxophonist Johnston have fashioned a rare rapport, and their new duet disc, Live at the Hillside Club, teems with a well-rendered wit and flows with fraternal accord.” –Jim Macnie, The Village Voice

“Joel Forrester (piano) and Phillip Johnston (soprano) have a gift for composing quirky yet unforgettable songs. . . No matter what configuration a band may have, the presence of Forrester and Johnston guarantee memorable music.” –Ken Dryden, New York City Jazz Record

Mr. Johnston is a fine soloist who brings poignancy and poise to these songs. Mr. Forrester’s playing is refined yet economical, sounding as if he is drawing from a wealth of styles and traditions. Even the four Monk covers are done with both craft and reverence and filled with little surprising twists.

This disc is one of the most laid back and enchanting offerings we’ve listed in recent memory.” –Bruce Gallanter, Downtown Music Gallery

“Well You Needn’t is creepy fun expertly done, Pannonica direct yet relaxed and unselfconsciously beautiful, and with Epistrophy, they let its carnivalesque quality speak for itself rather than being caricaturish.”–Lucid Culture

“. . . an intense and enjoyable record. It treats the roots of the mainstream in an unexpected way and sincerely pays tribute to a composer like Monk for whom the two musicians have an unconditional love. The original compositions, instead, are all by Forrester, with the exception of “Splat”. . . there is also more than a moment of pure inspiration and successful strength.“–All About Jazz Italia (best of 2011)


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