photo by Diallo Javonne French

The KC Drummer, a Musical Visionary and an In-Demand Producer, Arranger and Audio Engineer is the Recipient of an ArtsKC Inspiration Grant

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing Kansas City native Tyree Johnson play the drums, then you know the 2021 ArtsKC Inspiration Grant winner always delivers the goods with exuberance, joy and energy, and the technical expertise of an Old Master.

When he is not performing straight-ahead jazz at Lonnie’s Reno Club as drummer-in-residence for the Lonnie McFadden Quartet, Tyree can be found fusing French, African and American sounds with his band Everyday Strangers or chopping it up with veterans three times his age at The Mutual Musicians Foundation. A cross-skilled musician, the 15-year veteran performer is also an in-demand producer, arranger and audio engineer. 

Graduating from Paseo Academy’s renowned jazz program, Johnson trained under now-retired instructor Russell Davis. “Mr. Davis showed us how to put our all into each performance while also being open to grow as musicians. We had fun and had fun learning how to be good at music.”

Along the way, Johnson honed his craft playing with legends such as the late Jay McShann, Bobby Watson, and the recently passed Everette DeVann. He has expanded his musical practice by collaborating with Glenn A. North, Poet Laureate of the 18th & Vine Historic Jazz District, poet and performing artist Sheri Hall, tribute shows and dramatic performances. His work has crossed from jazz to R&B to hip hop and back. As a result, Johnson is a fixture in both Kansas City’s jazz scene and Kansas City’s Black arts scene.

Drawn to the drums at age 2 and learning from an older cousin, Johnson built his skills playing in church, drumlines and in school. With these skills, he has steadily built a reputation for musical dependability through his consistent appearances at the Blue Room, Green Lady Lounge, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and other venues.  

“(Tyree) has an uncanny ability to add musical nuances that both derive their energy from the moment and return that energy electrified musically. He is going to be synonymous with Kansas City jazz for a long, long time.”

Glenn North, Poet Laureate of the 18th & Vine Historic Jazz District

Now in his early 30s, Johnson has been executing his musical visionary ideas since adolescence. He formed his first trio, Groove 101, while a sophomore at the Paseo Academy. Under the blessing of Russell Davis, Groove 101 cut their musical teeth by performing at venues such as coffeehouses, open houses and parent-teacher conferences before embarking on a tour of Kansas City jazz’s “chitlin circuit.”

In addition to covering the Kansas City area, Johnson has performed at the Reggae Festival in Austin, the San Padre Island Festival, and in a Lounge Tour in Las Vegas.

He plans to use the Inspiration Grant to produce an album of original compositions in collaboration with other musical guests.

“I’m grateful, and the money is right on time,” he said. “An album release can put our work into the ears of people who otherwise may never hear it. The pandemic really hit musicians, and without programs like this, a lot of our ideas simply cannot come to realization.”

Glenn North, a decorated performance artist himself, is excited for Johnson. “In my opinion, this is long deserved. I have listened to Tyree and even worked with him on performances. He has an uncanny ability to add musical nuances that both derive their energy from the moment and return that energy electrified musically. He is going to be synonymous with Kansas City jazz for a long, long time.”

When I taught computer science at the Paseo Academy of Fine and Performing Arts, Tyree was one of my students. Always an upbeat and motivated student, he showed a dedication to his craft and a focus that has served him well. Tyree has endured. He has proven his talent and worth in Kansas City’s challenging jazz scene and beyond. 

A most worthy Inspiration Grant winner, Tyree Johnson has worked with the best, and now he is one of the best.

The project funded by the grant will be produced at the Everyday Strangers studio and released Sept. 1, 2021, to all streaming platforms.

You can find out more about Johnson at 

Harold Smith

Harold Smith is an educator and multimedia artist who lives and works in the Kansas City area. Most of his work is focused on his experience within the American black experience.

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