- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 30, 2004

There was a time when it seemed that saxophonist Ski Johnson couldn’t win for losing. As a child, he was teased unmercifully after a severe case of alopecia left him bald by the time he was 12. Between the barbs of the neighborhood kids and the gibes from the bullies at MacFarland Junior High School in Washington’s Petworth neighborhood, there were plenty of times when Mr. Johnson didn’t even want to leave his house.

That’s when he found music.

“All the kids in the neighborhood thought I was crazy,” says Mr. Johnson, who will be appearing at the Convention Center on Saturday at 8 p.m. “But I just wanted to find something that was mine.”

With a newly released CD, his seventh; a new marriage; and a new baby on the way, things are looking up for Mr. Johnson after another rocky period, in 2002, when his manager was killed, his marriage broke up and his life was going through a “dark space.”

His album, “Welcome to My World,” is both an acknowledgement of and a response to those challenges.

“It’s about coming to face with life,” says Mr. Johnson, who has toured with Brian McKnight, Freddie Jackson and Phyllis Hyman, among others. “It’s about the decisions you make and about accountability. It’s reality.”

Like his other albums, “Welcome” blends speech, instrumentals and vocals, jazz, R&B; and hip-hop, to produce a unique mix of sounds that, taken together, constitutes what Mr. Johnson calls “urban jazz.”

“I hear something, and I want to take it and build on it like a painter does,” Mr. Johnson says. “You add things — talk, vocals, music — layer by layer.”

Listen to “In Tanqueray” or “Judgment Day,” and you’ll hear more than a nod or two to Miles Davis and John Coltrane, two musicians who influenced Mr. Johnson as much for their willingness to stand up for their beliefs as for their musical sensibilities.

“Jazz purists don’t like musicians who cross genres,” he says. “They didn’t like it when Miles did it, and they didn’t like it when Coltrane did it. But the great thing about both of them was that they didn’t really care about what anybody else thought.”

With the new album, the upswing in his personal life and plans for a new club on U Street under way, as well as a couple of successful business ventures in Baltimore, Mr. Johnson has a lot to feel good about. But he doesn’t forget the old days.

“I still can’t stand a bully,” he says.

• • •

Meanwhile, folk musicians Kim and Reggie Harris will appear Saturday at a Rockville house concert sponsored by Dawson Concerts. The husband-and-wife team sings original songs about love, relationships and the environment, along with traditional music and songs about black history.

The two met as camp counselors outside Philadelphia way back in 1974 and quickly discovered a mutual love of music. Both had sung with school and church choirs, and each had dabbled a bit in songwriting. Mrs. Harris even wrote a song to propose to her husband.

“He didn’t get it,” she says, laughing. “But, eventually, we did get married anyway.”

Over the years, the duo have spent a lot of time in schools around the country talking about and singing music from the Underground Railroad. They’ve also recorded the music of Phil Ochs — his sister Sonny is a good friend — and composed a number of their own pieces.

Featured on Saturday’s program is the song “The Stars That Didn’t Shine,” by Chris Farrell, about the old Negro Leagues.

That’s not surprising, since both Harrises are sports nuts in general and baseball fans in particular. Mr. Harris even has his mother-in-law mail him the sports section of the Philadelphia Inquirer every week, now that he and his wife are living in upstate New York, an area with its own thriving folk scene.

But as nationally recognized artists, the two are on the road much of the time.

“It makes it a lot easier since we travel together,” Mrs. Harris says. “We just make our home wherever we are.”

For information on the Harrises, see their Web site, www.kimandreggie.com. To find out about Dawson house concerts, see www.angelfire .com/folk/dawsonconcerts.

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