Cam Johnson ’11 has always been a “natural-born timekeeper.” Early on, he gravitated toward the drummer’s responsibility to dictate the passage of time. “I think a drummer really gets serious when they understand their job and how important it is,” he says.
Cam’s gift for timing and improvisation has enabled him to craft a growing “hyphenate” career as a drummer-composer-A&R manager-record producer.
He vividly recalls his seventh-grade audition for Crossroads’ Middle School jazz band. As he played, he gauged the reactions of band director Tony Hundtoft and others. “Their faces told me I had a future in music at this School,” he says.
Crossroads proved to be an important step in his musical evolution. But his story started at age 4, when his parents bought him his first set of toddler-sized drums. A few years later, they signed Cam up for lessons in classical acoustic guitar, an instrument he still uses for composing.
In Middle School, he sat in on rehearsals for the Jazz “A” Band, directed by Evan Avery, and he jumped straight into its ranks as a freshman. That enabled him to drum alongside pianist Austin Peralta ’09, already a musical force. “Playing with Austin lit a fire under me,” says Cam. “I’m still holding onto those moments.”
Cam attended pre-college music programs at the Colburn School and performed with his rock band at house parties and venues around Los Angeles. He also made time for track and field and for social activism with Crossroads’ chapter of Friends of Lesbians and Gays (FLAG), now known as the PRIDE Club.
At Columbia University, he explored his interests in politics, music and social sciences. He majored in sociocultural anthropology and took part in the Louis Armstrong Jazz Performance Program while writing and performing with local and student artists.
Now, in addition to performing, writing and producing, Cam is developing his own musical project and beginning his journey into film and TV composition. He draws inspiration from jazz and American roots music while using experimental compositional practices to create soundscapes and lyrics that explore spirituality, relationships and society. “Given the tools and the time,” he says, “I’m probably going to create something you haven’t heard before.”