For Rich Wetzel, it’s a coup. Since he was a kid in Los Angeles the Tacoma trumpeter and bandleader has been a fan of Walt Johnson, a jazz trumpeter that played lead for Frank Sinatra, Elvis, Louie Bellson, Lionel Hampton, and recorded with Lionel Richie, Barry Manilow and more. Now Johnson will be the guest artist with Wetzel’s own jazz band, the Groovin’ Higher Orchestra, at their gig Saturday night at the Stonegate.
“Growing up as a high school kid in LA a friend and I followed him around asking for lessons,” said Wetzel. “He was busy playing, not giving lessons. But we followed him so much he finally relented.”
Since those days, Wetzel’s played with Johnson from time to time, including a gig with the GHO in the Rialto a few years ago. But this weekend’s gig came from Wetzel’s day job as a rep for Bach trumpets. He recruited Johnson as a Bach artist, organized a clinic for him in Portland next Monday, and was able to piggyback a Tacoma gig beforehand.
As well as playing live with many of the pop stars of the ‘60s and ‘70s, Johnson’s also done a lot of recordings. If you’ve heard the score to the “Naked Gun” movies, “Ace Ventura,” “Star Trek,” the “Rocky” series, “Aladdin” or “Beverley Hill Cop III” you’ve heard Johnson.
“He has the best quality of Maynard Ferguson and Freddie Hubbard in one player,” says Wetzel. “Great high chops, and phenomenal jazz playing as well.”
Johnson will play with Weztel and the Groovin’ Higher Orchestra 8-11 p.m. Aug. 4. Free. 21 and over. Stonegate restaurant and bar, 5421 South Tacoma Way, Tacoma.