Aaron J. Johnson

Aaron J. Johnson

Assistant Professor of Music, University of Pittsburgh
2019-2020: Sheila Biddle Ford Foundation Fellow

Aaron J. Johnson is an Assistant Professor of Music at the University of Pittsburgh where he studies and teaches jazz, African American popular music, film music, and music and technology. His research and teaching interests are closely aligned and concern the interaction between music makers and decision – makers as mediated through structural elements such as social and organizational practices, markets, and technology. He is currently writing a book on jazz radio in the United States. He earned his Ph.D. in Music from Columbia University.

AJ has been a Visiting Assistant Professor at Bates College and he has published articles and reviews in Musical Quarterly, Current Musicology, and the journal American Studies. He received a BSEE from Carnegie Mellon University in Electrical Engineering and Economics, and a MS from Georgia Tech specializing in in optical communications and electromagnetics. He spent many years contributing to research and development of optical communications networks, digital video, and xDSL technology. He has a PhD in Music from Columbia University and performs regularly with Charles Tolliver, Oliver Lake, Steve Turre, and many others. He has performed or recorded as well with Anthony Braxton, Wynton Marsalis, Wallace Roney, Abdullah Ibrahim, Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight, and Jay-Z on trombone, bass trombone, tuba, bass clarinet, and conch shells. His 2009 CD Songs of Our Fathers features a number of his original compositions.


Aaron J. Johnson Fellowship Project


Jazz Radio America: From Commercial to Noncommercial is a study of the current media environment for jazz and a history of jazz radio since the decline of network radio beginning around 1950. It the story of music, musicians, fans, the music industry, and the institutions that come together —somewhat incompatibly and imperfectly to create jazz radio. It also deals with deeper questions about decision-making in radio programming, about the ideological uses and control of radio, about the shifting meaning of jazz, and about the role radio plays in the discourse that allows jazz to simultaneously serve as the quintessential American art, as Black Classical Music, and as the soundtrack of rebellion and resistance to the marginalization of African Americans for much of the twentieth century. Jazz Radio America also examines the structure and challenges of the public radio sector to engage younger listeners as they find alternatives to radio itself. Jazz Radio America reveals the centrality of race in all aspects of jazz radio; restrictions on black participation in radio at all levels, the construction of the meaning of jazz, and the ideologies of radio station owners. In addition, radio’s interaction with jazz in terms of mediation—the mutual impacts of jazz and radio on each other, genre—the definition, maintenance, and cultural work of jazz’s boundaries, and patronage—the elevation of fortunate artists by jazz radio participants, are constantly examined in Jazz Radio America.

The world of jazz radio manages to bridge a major institutional divide or disconnect—the mission-centered world of noncommercial radio has to interact with the market-oriented music industry. In this clash of cultural, education, and political institutions with an artistically focused corner of the larger mass culture industries, all sides are dependent upon each other. The issues and controversies that are negotiated among the actors in the organization and operation of the jazz radio enterprise reveal the exercise of power associated with the cultural capital, economic resources, and artistic vision of institutions, corporations, and musicians respectively and are the focus of this work.