SFJAZZ.org | A Portrait of Johnny Vidacovich

On The Corner Masthead

A Portrait of
Johnny Vidacovich

August 9, 2019 | by Rusty Aceves

Johnny Vidacovich (photo by Skip Bolen)

Performing with vibraphonist Mike Dillon as part of his Nolatet band in the Joe Henderson Lab on 8/11, Johnny Vidacovich is the most influential living drummer from the New Orleans scene — a quintessential Big Easy rhythm master whose grooves are inextricably connected to the raucous street beats of the second line.

Over his storied career, the Crescent City native has provided that unmistakable, irrepressible propulsion behind iconic musical figures Professor Longhair, Johnny “Tan Canary” Adams, John Scofield, Mose Allison, James Booker, and Harry Connick, Jr. among dozens of others.

He was a founding member of the exploratory jazz quintet Astral Project with saxophonist Tony Dagradi, pianist David Torkanowski, guitarist Steve Masakowski (father of singer Sasha Masakowski, who performs Saturday), and bassist James Singleton, who also performs with Dillon’s Nolatet on Sunday. Forming in 1978 as regular performers at the Absinthe House on Bourbon Street, Astral Project earned a well-deserved reputation as one of the finest small groups on the scene, with each member nurturing separate careers as leaders and in-demand session musicians while maintaining the band as a homebase for over three decades. Legendary vocalist Bobby McFerrin, who returns to SFJAZZ in the 2019-2020 Season, was a regular collaborator with the band in the early 1980s.

Vidacovich has recorded four solo albums and appeared on hundreds of recordings that showcase his breadth of his diversity, shifting effortlessly from bebop to street beats and blues shuffles with lightning speed and a singular depth of feel.

A dedicated educator, Vidacovich literally wrote the book on New Orleans rhythm, co-authoring the now-classic drum method New Orleans and Second Line Drumming with fellow master Herlin Riley. He has been on the faculty of Loyola University since 1982, and his masterful approach can be felt in the playing of former students Brian Blade and Stanton Moore, who all cite Vidacovich as a towering influence.