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Aubrey Johnson is a New York-based vocalist, composer, and educator who specializes in jazz, Brazilian, and creative contemporary music with and without words. She holds a Master of Music degree in jazz performance from the New England Conservatory and is set to release her debut album under saxophonist Greg Osby’s new record label Inner Circle Music within the next year. In 2011 she joined the voice department at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, becoming their youngest current voice teacher. In 2012, she joined the faculty of the New England Conservatory as the director of the school’s vocal jazz ensemble. In demand as both a side-person and a leader, Aubrey has performed and/or recorded with jazz greats Bobby McFerrin, Lyle Mays, Steve Rodby, Mark Walker, Paul McCandless, Fred Hersch, and Jimmy Cobb.
Born to a musical family in Green Bay, Wisconsin, Aubrey fell in love with music at a very young age and soon after began singing in church and taking classical piano lessons. In middle school, Aubrey began studying jazz piano and voice with Lawrence University professor, Christine Salerno. These lessons, and a newfound love for improvised music, led her to pursue a degree in Vocal Jazz Performance at Western Michigan University. Her studies with Salerno also piqued her initial interest in Brazilian music, a style that has become a major influence on her work.
At WMU, Aubrey was a member of Gold Company, the university’s world-renowned vocal jazz ensemble, and studied classical and jazz voice with Dr. Monica Griffin Hunter and Diana Spradling, respectively. With Gold Company, directed by Dr. Steve Zegree, she performed at Carnegie Hall, Jazz at Lincoln Center, Alice Tully Hall, Miller Auditorium, the 2006 IAJE conference in New York, and with Bobby McFerrin, Janis Siegel, Darmon Meader, Roger Treece, and Fred Hersch.
During her time in Michigan, Aubrey won two DownBeat Collegiate Student Music Awards for “Best Jazz Vocalist” and “Jazz Vocalist, Outstanding Performance.” She recorded and performed the original compositions of pianist Ron DiSalvio, featuring legendary drummer Jimmy Cobb. Her work with Cobb/DiSalvio can be heard on their 2007 Origin Records release “Essence of Green.” She also performed with world- renowned pianist Fred Hersch at WMU’s “Annual Fred Hersch Honors Duo Concert.”
Upon completion of her degree at Western Michigan, Aubrey yearned for further study and time to nurture her passion for improvisation and composition. At the suggestion of her teacher Fred Hersch, she relocated to Boston to pursue a Masters Degree in Jazz Performance at the New England Conservatory, on scholarship. Here she studied with some of the world’s top jazz performers and educators, including Danilo Perez, Jerry Bergonzi, Dominique Eade, Allan Chase, John Lockwood, George Garzone, Frank Carlberg, Jerry Leake, and Ken Schaphorst. At NEC, her penchant for singing without words soared, as she began performing her original compositions and those of her peers in this style. The concept of using the voice as an instrument has been something that has long intrigued Aubrey, who began doing so as a child, singing along with the classical piano music she studied.
While at NEC, Aubrey initiated the formation and was the assistant director of an official NEC ensemble: a 9-person vocal group directed by Dominique Eade. She was also the leader and soprano member of the Performance Outreach NEC Vocal Jazz Quartet (Tammy Scheffer, Tomas Cruz, and Charles Morgan), which performed regularly throughout the Boston area and held a week-long artist residency in Virginia Beach in 2009. In May of 2009, Aubrey graduated with honors, was awarded the “Gunther Schuller Medal” for “making an extraordinary contribution to the life of the school,” and won her third DownBeat Magazine Collegiate Student Music Award for outstanding performance in jazz voice.
Since graduation, Aubrey has performed (singing wordlessly and playing auxiliary keyboards) with Lyle Mays (keyboardist of the Pat Metheny Group), including shows at the 2009 Zeltsman Marimba Festival and the 2010 Gilmore Keyboard Festival, which also featured Steve Rodby (bass), Paul McCandless (woodwinds), and Mark Walker (drums). She recorded as part of a large vocal ensemble on Bobby McFerrin/Roger Treece’s Grammy-nominated 2010 EmArcy release “VOCAbuLaries.” She also founded, directed, arranged for, and sang in a vocal septet, “Prism,” which was active throughout 2009-2010, and was a member of the renowned Boston-based vocal group Syncopation (Christine Fawson, David Scott, and Lee Abe) from 2011-2012. Aubrey received an Honorable Mention award at the 2009 Voicingers International Vocal Jazz Competition in Zory, Poland and was a featured performer at the 2011 Jazz Education Network Conference, held in New Orleans, LA. During the spring semester of 2011 she began teaching at Berklee College of Music. At Berklee, she teaches private voices lessons and classes on improvisation, jazz styles, and rhythm section skills for vocalists.
Aubrey performs/has performed regularly throughout the New England and New York areas with her own group (often featuring her own compositions and arrangements), and with Grammy-Award winning drummer Mark Walker, the Allective Collective, Phil Sargent, John Funkhouser, Greg Loughman, Mike Connors, the Nick Grondin Group, the Guy Mendilow Band (voted Boston’s Best World Music Act), Jason Yeager, Omar Thomas Sound and Silence Orchestra, Rhombus, Brian Friendland, Mark Zaleski, Lee Fish, Malcolm Campbell, Tomoko Omura, Mark Shilansky, Gilson Schachnick, Fernando Huergo, Logan Thomas and others. She is currently composing music for a new album to be released in 2014 under Greg Osby’s independent record label, Inner Circle Music. She resides in Harlem, NY and commutes to Boston each week to teach at Berklee and the New England Conservatory.