The Johnnny Nocturne Band
with John Firmin

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John Firmin, aka Johnny Nocturne Saxophonist John Firmin formed the Johnny Nocturne Band in 1989 to play a couple of sets of instrumental music at Larry Blake’s “Home of the Blues” in Berkeley. The concept was to play small-band arrangements found in the neglected “grey area” where jazz met rhythm and blues in post-war America. This musical landscape began with jump bands and continued through the 1950s to include later artists such as the JB’s, Mongo Santamaria, King Curtis, Freddy King, Cannonball Adderley, and Herbie Hancock. These instrumental recordings were danceable and occasionally made the Pop and R&B charts. After a great review in the East Bay Express, the band was asked to play the San Francisco Blues Festival, and they also began a long series of gigs at Slim’s in San Francisco, backing up, and occasionally touring with, well-known artists including Johnny Adams, Laverne Baker, Earl King, Johnny Copeland, and Otis Clay. The band performed at the prestigious Umbria Jazz Festival in Italy for several years; they also toured Europe and Japan. With the unexpected emergence of the retro-swing movement of the 1990s, the band found itself adding a vocalist and with Charles Brown’s influence, they landed a record deal with Rounder. Firmin’s 1999 take on the classic 1939 Hagen/Rogers-penned “Harlem Nocturne” became the most downloaded version from over 150 versions offered on iTunes and other digital services, and has consistently been at the top of the “Harlem” chart for close to a decade. Firmin shows his Archie Shepp and King Curtis influence in the soulful recording, which has also been used as background in films for television.

2010’s Monterey Jazz Festival finds a special edition of John Firmin and the Nocturne Band which goes back to its twenty-year-old roots at Larry Blake’s. Featuring their original instrumental concept, the band will present a “Tribute to the Soul Saxophone” -- in particular, paying homage to Ray Charles’ horn section -- Hank Crawford, David Fathead Newman and Leroy “Hog Cooper. All three passed away within days of each other in early 2009. Crawford’s own band recorded several albums for Atlantic which featured “Fathead” and “Hog.” Along with King Curtis’ Kingpins and the Johnny Hodges Band, these artists were the major influences on the early Nocturne tune library.
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