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Meet Anthony Ty Johnson

Today we’d like to introduce you to Anthony Ty Johnson.

Anthony, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I was raised in a very musical household. Not in the traditional sense of my parents being musicians, but more of my parents constantly playing and showing me music. They have great taste, and I got a solid mix of Pop, R&B, and Soul music as a kid. I think this was massively important in my development because I gained a solid sense of groove, melody, and soul in music, which I feel are in the roots of my musicianship.

I first got started playing the drums in middle school, where I dived into sheet music, percussion, and fell in love with Jazz. My teacher in middle school saw my potential and quickly began to hip me to Buddy Rich, Art Blakey, and David Garibaldi. From that point, I pushed through high school playing in every ensemble I could do. Jazz Band, Marching Band, Classical Ensemble, and forming a fusion trio with my buddies. My skill was really pushed during this time, and I improved massively in the four years span of high school. I loved music and had an obsession with learning more and getting better.

I then went to American River College in Sacramento to study music theory and continue to meet other musicians. This was probably the hardest step, considering I had to become somewhat of an expert in tonal harmony, which is a whole different world to a drummer. I studied long term with Rick Lotter, who is one of the best teachers a student can have. This was where I started to get more involved in my hometown’s active music scene but knew at one point that I had to leave to push myself in LA. I recorded my debut album “Personality” in December of 2017 in Sacramento as a last hurrah before I moved to LA.

I moved to LA to attend CalArts in 2018 to get my Bachelor’s degree in Jazz Studies, which was the best thing I could’ve done. I studied with Joe LaBarbera, and he really changed my playing. CalArts was incredible for me because I was able to study African and Indian music, which changed my view on rhythm as a whole, and the people I met there are some of the best people I know. I recently graduated, and now I’m mainly playing with Phat Cat Swinger, and some of my colleagues from CalArts.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
It’s been quite rough at times. It’ s hard to see it at the time, but all of the challenges I’ve encountered have made me a better person on the other side. Being an artist, especially a committed one, is not easy in the slightest. I’ve lost friends, opportunities, and sleep over this process. The biggest struggle I can think of was getting accepted into CalArts, but having to wait to go because I didn’t have enough money. This felt like a personal failure, and it’s so hard having to wait to move onto your next step in development. Looking back, that was the best thing that could’ve happened to me, considering I did a whole lot of teaching, playing, and practicing at the time, but it was a crushing moment. However, I got a debut album out of that time, so it’s nothing close to being bad in hindsight.

Challenges and obstacles are necessary for life. Everything that we experience is to help us get to our full potential, and I truly believe that.

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
As a drummer, I strive to perform at my highest ability whether it’s live, or in the studio. My goal has always been to be as versatile as possible, like a musical swiss army knife. I never want to turn down a gig, or not be able to serve the music in any way because of my inability to do something correctly. I play in jazz trios, big bands, progressive rock groups, singer-songwriter groups, and an entertainment centric band in the Disneyland Resort. Those are all things that take a different mindset, but ultimately, I want to serve the music in whatever situation I’m in, and hopefully cause a couple smiles along the way.

As an educator, I find that there is nothing more important that helping others on their musical journey. I’ve always loved talking to people about music, and I find that my skill of communicating can best be used to give students a realistic, yet enjoyable way of learning how to be a better drummer and musician. I find that the field of drum education is oversaturated and bloated because there are so many people who want the side hustle of teaching. There are a lot of misconceptions about technique, musicality, groove, music reading, and chops that I want to help clear up for younger students, just like my teachers did for me. My teaching philosophy is to focus on music driven drumming and making sure we don’t overcomplicate anything.

In both of these situations, I want to bring a sense of love and energy to music. Anyone who has played with me or studied with me knows that I love what I do. I’m very vocal at times while playing music because I honestly cannot contain myself when that magic happens. Any student of mine knows that I get childishly excited when they get something right, or something clicks for them. I regularly open the door while teaching and shout excitement because I want to bring an enthusiasm to teaching that I feel is missing at times.

What were you like growing up?
I was a ball of energy growing up (which is probably obvious at this point). I’ve always been happy and loud, but as a kid, I didn’t really know when the appropriate time was for that. I constantly got in trouble at school for being super social and talkative. My parents would often warn my teachers ahead of time to tell them that I’m charming, but I’ll quickly take the attention of the classroom if I wanted it! It’s not the worst problem to have as a kid, but I’m sure I caused a lot of headaches.

My interests consisted of Music, Star Wars, and Disney. They’re normal childhood obsessions, but I really chose what I was interested in and fully committed. I’ve always liked getting super deep into certain things and learning everything about them. I knew I was deep into it when my friends would randomly call me asking for terms of aliens in Star Wars when they were mid-conversation and forgot. I real instance of a lifeline!

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Image Credit:
Phat Cat Swinger photo by Richard Takenaga; Recital Photos by Kial Hocker

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