Ted Johnson
pianist, musician, teacher, friend


I was deeply sadden by the passing of a dear friend and teacher, Ted Johnson on January 19th, 2002.  I was incredibly fortunate to be able to study with Ted through my high school and college years.  He had a profound influence on my life, musically, emotionally and even spiritually.  Much of what I am musically today is a direct result of his patient tutoring. 

In his earlier years, Ted was averaging about eight hours a day at the piano.  Many times, he mentioned that his friends would come to the door, and knock and knock and knock, but Ted stayed focused and continued to practice.  He studied with a very successful concert pianist, I believe a couple of times a week, and felt he needed 15 to 30 hours between each lesson.  Even in his later life, he felt the need to improve, and continued to practice at least a couple of hours every day.  Constantly experimenting, and coming up with incredibly inventive ways to play.

Ted always had a fascination with chords and improvisation.  Often Ted wished he had a teacher like himself in his earlier years.  The way he learned his chords was grabbing a guitar player, and having him play a certain chord.  He would then find the notes on the piano, and practice them over and over.  As one of his students I witnessed unparalleled technique, he probably figured out every possible way of practicing chords and scales.  Including a myriad of single note, hands together in octaves, tenths, sixths, thirds, and full chords going in different directions in combination with arpeggios, voicings, fills, and just about every conceivable movement any two hands could muster up.... and yes, he had his students try them all.

Ted Johnson always had the best playing engagements in the city.  For years, he played at the Skyroom with his orchestra at the Hotel Utah, a very exclusive dinner restaurant.  I remember saving my money just so I could go on a date to the Skyroom.  What a treat, to actually hear my teacher in action.  I'm sure my date wondered who this guy was that probably paid more attention to the house orchestra than to her.

One of Ted's favorite analogies was not to build the roof before you build the foundation.  We spent many a class period going over countless scales and arpeggios, which I honestly didn't fully appreciate until later in life.  What a blessing that has been.  I still feel one of the best compliments I have ever received is when someone comes up to me, and mentions that I sound a lot like Ted Johnson.  Even after his retirement over a decade ago, I still have patrons mention Ted to me.

Ted's philosophy was to work hard when you are working, and play hard when you are playing.   From the obituary you will notice that he was also an avid golfer.  I remember going to his studio behind his home, and passing his golf cart, pool, and entering a great studio area, with two seven foot grand pianos.  One for his students, and of course his pride and joy, his seven foot Baldwin.  If I had a piece good enough, and had an important playing event coming up, he would occasionally let me play on his piano.   I remember working hours and hours learning Rhapsody in Blue that I was going to perform with our High School orchestra, he would play the orchestral part on one piano, and I would play the piano part on the other.  

It was always a treat hearing Ted play, even when he was just demonstrating some form of technique.  I think I thought of every conceivable way of asking “open ended” questions that required him to demonstrate on the piano.  In my younger years, that was probably because I hadn't practiced hard enough through the week, in my later years, it was just for the pure joy of hearing Ted play.

I recall one instance, when an “A & R” man from, I believe, Columbia Records came to town, and had dinner up in the Skyroom.  He couldn't believe that there was somebody in Salt Lake that was this good.  He offered Ted a recording contract if he would like to come to LA.  At the time, Columbia Records also represented George Shearing.  I always thought what a great honor and tribute to Ted.  At that point in his life, he just felt completely content with his situation, and decided not to move to LA.  

I also remember Ted mentioning another student who moved to Las Vegas, and studied with one of the best musicians there.  They couldn't believe what a great background this student had.  Everything Ted had taught was as good as any teacher in the country.  I personally had studied with a number of other teachers, but have found none that even came close to Ted.  While I was a music major, I tried hard to have Ted listed as an adjunct professor, just so I could get college credit.  Unfortunately, university politics being what they are, they wouldn't go for it.  I still continued with Ted, even while I was studying from the university professors.  It is hard giving up the best, even for college credit.

I hope those who have read this far understand my deep admiration and love for this man.  Being able to visit, and work with such a mentor, week after week for close to eight years has had a profound influence on my life.  We used to talk about life, music, spiritual things, and even an occasional girlfriend I might be dating.  He cared enough to attend many of the important events of my life, including my wedding.  He will be deeply missed, but his legacy hopefully will carry on through the students he has touched.

Ken Foster


Obituary: Ted Johnson

Gifted pianist and celebrated band leader, Ted Johnson, passed away January 19, 2002. He lost his wife, sweetheart, and lead vocalist, Merry Johnson, last October 26 and he just couldn't wait any longer to join her.

Born William Ted Johnson June 5, 1918, in Castle Dale, UT to Samuel Richard and Pearl Petersen Johnson, he was raised in Provo and Salt Lake City. He graduated from South High School and attended the U of U.

Ted fell in love with the piano when he was nine years old and began studying in earnest at the age of ten. His late teens found him playing summers at Bryce and Grand Canyon lodges. By his early 20’s he was accompanying vaudeville acts at the old Lyric Theatre and had organized his own band.

It was then he met Merry, his sparkling soul mate and best friend, and the fun began.

During the war, Ted toured for the armed forces performing classical concerts to raise war bonds for the county.

He returned to Salt Lake after the war and began teaching, sharing both his love and knowledge of music as well as his brilliant technique with countless aspiring pianists.

For 26 years, his band performed at the Hotel Utah’s Roof Gardens. When the Hotel was closed, they played at the Ambassador Club and the Salt Lake Country Club. During those years, he was selected to accompany Nat King Cole, Johnny Mathis and numerous other headliners. They also entertained a number of world leaders including John F. Kennedy.

For some years during the 60’s, his was the band that was spotlighted on national broadcasts from the Hotel Utah, as the New Year was rung in, in each time zone from the east coast to the west. He was the consummate entertainer...always "on"!

Ted was an avid golfer and very proud of his hole-in-one! He loved a good party and he loved nothing better than getting together with a bunch of his musician friends and "jamming" long into the night.

Ted is survived by his three children, Katie McDaniel, Lyle (Bill) Wilson, Ted (Jan) Johnson; six grandchildren, Toby (Adam) Nash, Darin (Jennifer) McDan-iel, Billy Wilson, Suzanne (Jeff) Wilson, Jennifer (Cody) Davis, Amber (Aaron) Schierbaum; 10 treasured great-grandchildren, Orion, Sonja,

Jeremiah, Sasha, Mallory, Elliot, Mor-gan, Sarah, Annalise, Madline; broth-er, S. Lyle Johnson; baby sister, Beth (Bill) Erickson; many nieces and nephews.

A special thank you to all the wonderful people at Willow Wood Care Center for the loving respectful care they gave him (and our Mom).

Friends and relatives are invited to join us for hugs and reminiscing between 1:30-2:30 p.m. Wed. Jan 23, Larkin Sunset Gardens Mortuary, 1950 E. 10600 S, Sandy. Services and a musical tribute will be 2:30 p.m. and graveside services will follow.

Goodbye, Dad. We were so proud of you and we loved you so much. You’re both together now.

Deseret News, Monday, January 21, 2002


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