Earl Johnson Jr.’s debut album, “Juicy,” has netted the pianist/composer nominations in two separate competitions. Johnson counts three nods—including jazz group/artist of the year—in the fifth annual Los Angeles South Bay Music Awards (April 27).

He’s also one of six finalists competing in the sixth annual Capital Jazz
Challenge (June 5 in Columbia, Maryland). The competition is tied to the 17th annual Capital Jazz Festival (June 5-7), whose headliners include Natalie Cole, Will Downing and Al Jarreau. The winner receives $5000 and a 30-minute main stage slot on the last day of the festival.

A noted sideman and musical director, Johnson has worked and/or toured with Chaka Khan, Beyoncé, Stevie Wonder and Gerald Albright, among others. The Los Angeles-based artist wrote, arranged and produced the 11-track “Juicy,” released last October on Johnson’s First Domain Records and is currently available on iTunes and cdbaby. A contemporary jazz album at its core, “Juicy” offers a tempting mix of instrumental and vocal tracks as it skillfully shifts from smooth to funky with its shadings of R&B and hip-hop.

“I didn’t try to stay within any particular confines in terms of style,”
says Johnson, a graduate of Boston’s Berklee College of Music. “And I didn’t want it to be cookie-cutter. It’s an accurate reflection of the music I love to play and sing: my fusion of contemporary jazz with an R&B twist.”

Johnson has two new projects in the works. The first is a twist on song
covers, while the second taps back into the “Juicy” vein. Johnson plans to
release the latter project by late summer/early fall.

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