Shaun Johnson / BIO
When you're used to singing with an a cappella group, working with a big band is, well, different. And Shaun Johnson knows this better than most. After all, for the past two years, Johnson has been splitting his time between leading the wildly successful, multi-million selling a cappella group Tonic Sol-fa and fronting his newest collaborative effort, the Big Band Experience.
On July 12, the Emmy-winning Johnson will release his new Big Band Experience project, Capitol, a reimagined big band interpretation of contemporary music that bridges an ever widening gap between classical jazz and modern pop. Johnson updates the sound by fusing that big band spirit with an inventive edge — at once riskier than Bublé, more modern than Sinatra, yet capable of channeling Tony Bennett and Citizen Cope simultaneously.
“I’ve always loved the big band sound,” says Johnson. “But I’m not here to attempt to copy Ella or Sinatra. I do give a nod to that sound, but the songs I like to write and my arrangements and performances are completely unique. Every style has to grow to live, and I try to push the boundaries constantly.
It’s working for Johnson. The Minneapolis Star Tribune recently observed: “Shaun Johnson splits the difference between the dulcet urbanity of Michael Bublé and the campy yowl of the Stray Cats’ Brian Setzer. He fronts a brassy octet he dubs Shaun Johnson’s Big Band Experience (he’s also the lead singer in Tonic Sol-fa). A retro nerd of Rat Pack vintage, his performances go for the gut in rousing fashion.”
Capitol is anchored by Johnson’s deeply emotive vocals and surprising musical taste with clever interpretations of songs outside the Great American Songbook. “I grew up with rap and R&B, and I incorporate those influences,” he explains. “I included Michael Franti’s ‘Crazy For You’ because I love the way the horns punch that rhythm along.”
Johnson covers The Mavericks’ “What You Do To Me,” Ben Rector’s “The Men That Drive Me Places,” and Elvis Presley’s “Bossa Nova Baby.” “Elvis is a true favorite of mine,” Johnson continues. “My definition of a ‘crooner’ is a singer that can communicate multiple emotions with just a voice. There aren’t many that did that as well as Elvis.”
There are plenty of surprises, including his rousing version of the theme song for “Spiderman.” “That was one of the first songs I performed when I started playing with a big band,” Johnson said. “I figured if you can do ‘Spiderman’ and pull it off, the sky’s the limit. That tune gives you a pretty good idea of what I’m trying to do.”
Johnson contributes three originals, his beautiful, self-penned “Who Will Love Me” (which includes a special appearance from rap artist, MaLLY), “Sweet Time,” which was one of the first songs he ever wrote and sang with Tonic Sol-fa (Tonic Sol-fa appears on the album cut “All Your Favorite Bands.”), and "Marching Soldiers," a song written for a group of soldiers serving in Iraq who asked Johnson to write a song for THEM.
Attending Saint John's University before settling in Saint Cloud, Johnson began his career with the nationally recognized vocal group, Tonic Sol-fa. The group has since sold more than 2 million albums independently and has been featured in such publications as Newsweek and on NBC’s The Today Show.
The Big Band Experience began as a series of charitable events to raise money for local cities in the Midwest. It has grown in popularity, and Shaun now splits his touring schedule between Tonic Sol-fa (about 80 dates a year) and the big band (about 40 dates a year). The Shaun Johnson Big Band Experience can be see on their own national PBS television special, “The Spirit of the Season.” He has shared the stage with the likes of Jay Leno, Jeff Foxworthy, Garrison Keillor and Weird Al, among others.