THUNDER SOUL tells the true story of Conrad O Johnson and the legendary Kashmere Stage Band from Houston, Texas.
It was the late 60’s. It was the Age of Aquarius, peace and love, and Woodstock. R&B singers James Brown and Bootsy Collins were all the rage, and one inner-city Houston high school was about to make history.
A charismatic band leader, Conrad “Prof” Johnson would turn the school’s mediocre jazz band into a legendary funk powerhouse.
Flash forward 35 years later. His former students prepare to pay tribute to the man who changed their lives, . Some haven’t played their horns in decades, still they dust off their instruments determined to retake the stage to show Prof and the world that they’ve still got it.”
That's the story behind this wonderful documentary. It will premier during this years SXSW conference.
Now what does that have to do with Austin Jazz. Well, for starters, anytime you have a world premier in Austin and it features Jazz, that’s news worth writing about. But in this case, there is so much more. There is Greg Garlow. Greg is an Adjunct Government Instructor at Austin Community College, but back in 1968 Greg Garlow was playing trumpet for Conrad “Prof” Johnson.
“Prof” had discovered this young 7th grader in his school that could really play that trumpet. He was so impressed with Greg that he recruited him to play in the High School Band. Greg was not a stranger to jazz music. His father was Clarance “Bon Ton” Garlow. Clarence . Greg recalls how in 1949, his father Clarence had the opportunity to record for a Macy's Records, a small label in Houston, Texas.
His backup combo for the session included Hilmer Shakesliner on tenor sax, Mildred Smith on piano, and Johnny Marshall on drums. The songs, "She's So Fine" and "Blues As You Like It" were released on Macy's label in January of 1950, and a follow up in March of that year featured "In A Boogie Mood" and the tune that would become his signature piece - "Bon Ton Roula" ( sometimes spelled "Roulay" the Creole French for "let the good times roll"). The Garlow house was a fertile breeding ground for jazz, r&b and blues and when the family moved to Beaumont, Greg took up the trumpet. He was in 5th grade.
Once the family moved back to Houston and Greg enrolled at Kashmere, It did not take him long to became noticed for his trumpet playing and hew was soon a drum major and band captain . He was also recruited into the jazz band, stage band and was the drum major for the ROTC band.
Greg was such a talent that he auditioned for and made the Houston all city band in 1968. He was the first black student in Houston, Texas to make it to the prestigious band.
The reunion happened the first week in February, 2008. Mark Landsman got several players to put together a reunion stage band. Friday February 1st, there was a School event, Saturday, February 2nd, there was a downtown event for the "Prof's" foundation. “Prof”, who was very ill by then, was able to get out of his hospital bed to attend the events. Sunday February 3rd, after seeing all the students that he had touched over the years come together to perform for him one last time, Conrad "Prof" Johnson died.
You have three chances to catch this inspiring documentary:
Saturday, March 13, 11am, Paramount Theater
Monday, March 15, 6:45pm, Alamo Draft House - Lamar
Friday, March 19, 2:30pm, Paramount Theater
After watching the documentary, you wll want to go out and purchase the CD.
The CD is available at Amazon.com
Clarence "Bon Ton"Garlow