Keys to the highway

Local jazz pianist Graham Johnson jets to Norway

HAVE KEYBOARD WILL TRAVEL <br>Chico jazz musician Graham Johnson (seen here with his Roland AX-1 “Keytar

Chico jazz musician Graham Johnson (seen here with his Roland AX-1 “Keytar"), who recently graduated from Chico High and often plays with his bassist father as the duo Graham & Scott Johnson, is on his way to Norway as part of a youth exchange program.

Photo By Graham Johnson

On July 31, the day this story comes out, Graham Johnson will be high in the sky in a plane bound for Oslo, Norway. The 18-year-old pianist, a recent graduate of Chico High School, will spend the next year as an American Field Service (AFS) exchange student with the Narjord family—Jon and Brita and their daughter Magni— in the town of Melhus, near Trondheim.

Why Norway?

Johnson responds that his father, Scott Johnson, known around Chico as the other half of the Graham & Scott Johnson jazz duo, was also an exchange student to Norway in his day. And the Johnson family still has friends there, whom they visited just last summer. So it’s a little bit familiar. But it’s also a long way from the younger Johnson’s “suburban America,” as he puts it. And he likes that.

One might think that Johnson would want to go straight on to some prestigious college or conservatory to study music, given the success he has experienced at the high-school level. He played piano in the Chico High School Jazz Band and accompanied the Jazz Choir and a number of solo instrumentalists and vocalists. He played in a rock band, the Desert Canoe Riders, in his sophomore and junior years.

Chosen as “Best Male Instrumentalist” senior year for his percussion work with the Chico High Concert Band, Johnson’s first year playing in the Concert Band was productive. As a pianist, he took easily to mallet instruments, such as vibes, but focused on timpani and bells, playing “all the drums a little bit.”

In Marching Band, he played the quad toms and actually wrote the main drum cadence the band used. Even more fun than writing the drum cadence, Johnson points out, was writing a piece, “Rolling Tide,” for the Concert Band to perform at its annual spring concert this past May. And he makes sure to mention, as one of the highlights of his high-school music experience, the delight he had in playing a piano duet of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” with his friend Candice Hsu as part of the Chico High Jazz Band’s Pops concert earlier this year.

Johnson knows he needs the experience he’ll gain in Norway (which includes attending the local pre-university gymnast at the Grade 13 level) to help him develop a broader perspective about life, which will help him in college when he returns from overseas. He does have plans to attend college after his Norwegian year: He’s due to start at Oberlin College in Ohio in the fall of 2004 as an economics major.


Johnson thinks it’s a smart idea to study something besides music. He doesn’t feel that it’s necessary to study music formally at the college level. He can take music classes at Oberlin if he wants, though. And he has plenty of time to decide if he wants to be a professional musician. Johnson makes it clear, though: ‘I’ll always be playing music!”

Johnson’s looking forward to playing piano in Norway. There is a piano in the Narjord home, but he doesn’t yet know what condition it’s in. So, he’s taking his Alesis QS7 keyboard with him (‘I’ll buy an amp there"), so he won’t be empty-handed. Looking forward to checking out Norway’s jazz scene, he also knows there are some cafés where he might be able to perform. He’s also open to the possibility that he may be trying his hand at the pipe organ, Norwegians being ‘into church music.”

And he also likes the idea of learning to snow ski. And there’s the abundance of good Norwegian cheese and ‘fish, fish and more fish. … I really like fish!”

There are a number of people around this town who are going to miss Graham Johnson, including his dad Scott, his mom Marie and his younger sister Joanna. But we wish him all the very best on his Norwegian adventure.

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