While he may be best-known as the polyrhythmic heartbeat and producer of the Grammy-nominated band Brazilian Girls, Aaron Johnston is more than just a “remarkably fluid drummer,” as the New York Times has dubbed him. A Verve recording artist, writer, producer, arranger, programmer, vocalist, and engineer of the highest caliber, his diverse skills have made him one of Latin and American music’s most sought after collaborators.
A graduate of Wichita State University’s renowned music program, Johnston studied jazz and classical drumming in addition to devoting four intense years to the study of world percussion. He served as a professor’s assistant and as the director of Wichita’s Escola De Samba while obtaining a Bachelor of Arts degree, developing an intuitive blend of technical training and natural feel that would guide the rest of his career.
In Los Angeles, he quickly became a first-call session and touring drummer for the likes of Desmond Child and the Pete Escovedo Orchestra. After relocating to San Francisco, he found himself performing and recording with a slew of legends: Darol Anger’s Heritage Project (featuring Willie Nelson and Mary Chapin Carpenter), Mike Marshall’s Choro Famoso, Andy Narell, Omar Sosa,t Aphelbaum and the Hieroglyphics Ensemble, and Katoja among others. All the while, he was producing and recording jazz albums with his own celebrated group, Blue People.
In January of 1998, Johnston moved to New York City, where he earned spots behind the kit with everyone from Harry Belafonte, Angelique Kidjo and Me’shell Ndegeocello to Wax Poetic and Latin pop star Thalia.
But it was his own full-time group, Brazilian Girls, that truly launched him into the spotlight. The band released three albums on Universal Verve Records, garnering a Grammy nomination for Best Electronic Dance Album, critical acclaim from Rolling Stone and SPIN, tour dates with Sting and festival slots from Bumbershoot to Bonarroo, Coachella and Lollapalooza.
In addition to his percussion work, Johnston has contributed to a number of film scores, including director Morgan Freeman’s Desert Blue, and, most recently, the Paramount Pictures release OKA Amerikee, a film based on the music of the Bayaka tribe in Africa.
Currently based in New York, New York, Johnston splits his time between being one of New York City’s top session drummers, doing drum tracks for people all over the world, and playing shows with stars like Ana Torroja from the band “Mecano” or people like Natalie Merchant, to performing with, recording and producing a variety of artists in New York, including his band Brazilian Girls (who are currently Mixing their fourth album). Johnston is also very active on the local new york city scene, playing alongside many of New York’s top musicians such as Clark Gayton (Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Duke Ellington, Skatalites, Steel Pule, Quincy Jones), Brian Mitchell (Levon Helm), Scott Sharrard (Greg Allman Band), Avi Bortnick (John Scofield Band), and the list goes on, as well as his side projects such as Shitty Shitty Jam Band(which is more of an afro-beat meets 70’s funk meets modern electro), California (acoustic), and his work as a DJ and producer.