Saxophonist, producer, and bandleader John Firmin (aka Johnny Nocturne) formed the Johnny Nocturne Band -- so named for his famous take on "Harlem Nocturne" -- in 1989 to perform at and help out the owner of a blues club in Berkeley, California, with the idea of playing some soul-jazz, or heavily blues-based instrumental jazz. The band has gone on to be a club and festival favorite with a discography extending through the 1990s and into the new millennium.
Raised in Anchorage, Alaska, Firmin grew up in a household full of jazz and blues music, as his father also played saxophones. His earliest musical experiences included playing tenor saxophone in small groups, backing up exotic dancers. In his teens, he learned tunes by Stanley Turrentine, King Curtis, Hank Crawford, and David "Fathead" Newman; Curtis, Crawford, and Newman -- as well as Leroy "Hog" Cooper -- would be among his wide-ranging influences, and he seems to incorporate these artists' styles into his playing effortlessly, while still having his own distinctive sound. Firmin later formed his own eight-piece band that included four horns and four rhythm players. His first big break was the chance to join David Bromberg's then phenomenally popular touring band in 1975. Like any good saxophonist working the club and festival circuit for years, Firmin's sessionography is extensive and includes dozens of recordings. He has recorded and/or toured with the likes of Bromberg, Paula Lockheart, Joe Louis Walker, Rusty Zinn, Bob Dylan, Little Charlie & the Nightcats, Dave Myers, Mark Hummel, and Mitch Woods.
After the formation of the Johnny Nocturne Band in 1989, the group garnered a positive review in the local press and was asked to play at the legendary (now sadly defunct) San Francisco Blues Festival that same year. Hot on the heels of their appearance at the prestigious festival, Firmin and his band began an ongoing series of shows at Slim's in San Francisco, a blues and jazz club partly owned by Dallas-raised vocalist and songwriter Boz Scaggs. At Slim's, the Johnny Nocturne Band had their chance to expand their already vast repertoire, backing up the likes of Johnny Adams, Laverne Baker, Earl King, Johnny "Clyde" Copeland, and Otis Clay. The band performed several years in a row at the Umbria Jazz Festival in Italy and also toured other parts of Europe as well as Japan.
The band landed a deal with Rounder Records in the 1990s and has issued a bevy of fine recordings for that label. Most recently, they released Million Dollar Secret with vocalist Kim Nalley for the label, but other good 1990s releases for Rounder include Wild and Cool, Shake ‘Em Up, and Wailin' Daddy. More recently, Firmin and his band have issued recordings on Blue Bucket Records. They include Good to the Damn Bone and Blues Volume. The former includes vocal contributions from three distinguished female vocalists, Brenda Boykin, Kim Nalley, and Miss Dee. Miss Dee was formerly the featured vocalist with the Johnny Otis Band. Blues Volume showcases the wide-ranging talents of Miss Dee exclusively. ~ Richard Skelly