I was born into a musical family on August 24, 1947 in Fort Worth, Texas. During the 1950’s I was a child performer with my older brother, guitarist Jerry Case. We played country music shows in northeast Texas, primarily the Red River Jamboree beginning in 1955. Jerry and I were fully aware of our parents’ musical activities from the mid-1930’s until the late 1940’s. Ernest Tubb, Carrie Rodgers and other famous personalities were among their friends.
By 1960, after the childhood music phase, exposure to rhythm & blues and popular music via radio, had a great impact on my music tastes and subsequently led me to explore modern jazz. For the first time in my young life, I began teaching myself to play my mother’s piano. At age 15 I knew that jazz was my true calling.
Jerry Case was already playing professionally. He wisely advised me to enter the music profession by way of country dance bands, as this was the only real option available in our locale. My initial gigs were in Oklahoma, near Paris, Texas where our family lived. After moving to the Dallas area in mid-1964, I played with Jimmy Sarver at Brand’s Log Tavern. The sudden death of my father in November 1964 prompted our family’s relocation to Fort Worth in mid-1965. I found work with Ray Chaney’s band at the Stagecoach Inn (formerly the historic Crystal Springs Dance Pavilion – see link) where I accompanied guest stars Loretta Lynn, Jimmy C. Newman and Connie Smith. Never for a moment did I lose sight of my desire to someday play jazz. I listened to it and practiced every day. At the time, I couldn’t fully appreciate those special moments I was experiencing in the music that was my family’s musical heritage. Such is the nature of one who is determined to take another path.
Near the close of 1965, vocalist Joe Andrews (of Bob Wills fame) hired me to play piano in a newly-formed band to begin January 1966 at the Aragon Ballroom in Dallas, Texas. This 10-piece ensemble was the finest western swing band I had played with, and I only left the Aragon in late summer to realize the beginning of my dream.
My first jazz gig was with the Adrian Watts Trio at Fort Worth’s historic Hotel Texas . This led to a few other jazz gigs, but their scarcity eventually forced me to take jobs playing in pop combos. In 1969, I returned to the Aragon (Art Guinn’s band) until I left to join Maurice Anderson’s combo playing various pop music venues. I recorded and issued my first LP in 1969 while gigging with Anderson. It is truly an anomaly: unaccompanied vibraharp free improvisations recorded at home, under a spell of mystical creativity. I loved the avant garde and the ideal of a totally improvised music that could sustain interest and prove to be of lasting value.
My debut recording as a sideman also occurred in 1969 on volume two of Maurice Anderson’s five-volume set of LPs. Jerry Case plays bass on that record, and he’d already recorded on guitar in 1966 with Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys (Kapp LP: From the Heart of Texas KL-1506).
Throughout the 1970’s I found little work in jazz but stayed afloat by playing commercial music, mostly in society bands. All the while I issued LPs of free-wheeling jazz, usually featuring guitarist Jerry Case along with myself and other gifted improvisers in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. I also kept in contact with several superlative western swing musicians whose abilities I greatly admired. My recordings as a sideman have been with these artists.
In mid-1980 I landed a six-night-a-week jazz gig at a newly opened club, J.R.’s Place. My skills as an improviser benefited greatly from nightly public performance. It was while working at this jazz club that I met Kitty Keever, whom I would marry in April of 1981. She’s truly my soul mate and my greatest inspiration in life. During this time I also realized my dream of recording avant garde “free jazz” with other adventurous musicians. The 1981 LP Creative Explosions was followed in 1982 with the realization of my first musique concrete piece, entitled Remnants. Other high points include working various gigs with tenor saxophonist James Clay, and sporadic jazz concerts with other name artists such as Billy Hart, Dewey Redman, David Newman, and more recently with Randy Brecker.
My 28-year stint at Sardines Ristorante Italiano began in September 1983. I took off one night to play a reception for Ornette Coleman at the opening of Fort Worth’s premier jazz club, the Caravan of Dreams. The longevity of my restaurant gig has drawn many remarks. The last time I saw James Clay in the early 1990’s, he told me: “That has to be some kind of record”. It’s true, I probably hold the record for longest running nightly jazz gig, playing solo piano weeknights and trio on weekends. When the restaurant closed in November 2011, a beautiful tribute by writer/musician Ken Shimamoto was posted on his Stash Dauber blog site. Thereafter I free-lanced in various jazz groups until I began a happy affiliation with Lili’s Bistro in Fort Worth. My trio plays at Lili’s every Saturday night (www.lilisbistro.com).
Other artistic interests in which I have indulged include painting in oils and writing poetry. In summary, to live a life filled with love and music has such joyous rewards that I can’t imagine any greater human experience than the one I am so grateful to have known.
- BIBLIOGRAPHY -
DRENDA, JOHNNY & THE FOLKS AT J.R.'s by Dr. Duane Martin. Texas Jazz - Feb. 1981
A LEGEND IN OTHER CITIES by Mike H. Price. Fort Worth Star Telegram - July 22, 1981
JAZZ DISCOGRAPHY, Vol. 1 (A - D) by Walter Bruyninckx. Printed in Belgium - 1985
JAZZING UP COWTOWN by Phil Vinson. Fort Worth Magazine - February 1988
THE MUSIC MENU by Michael Pellecchia. Fort Worth Star Telegram - August 17, 1990
A CLEAR CASE OF SWINGING JAZZ by Kevin Coffey. Fort Worth Star Telegram - Oct. 23, '94
THE KEY PLAYERS (1995 Texas Tornado awards for keyboard players) Buddy Magazine - June 1995
THE JAZZ OF THE SOUTHWEST (An Oral History of Western Swing) by Jean A. Boyd. University of Texas Press - 1998
SMART AND SMARTER by Michael Pellecchia. Buddy Magazine - October 1998
ORAL HISTORY: Johnny Case Interview by Dr. Peggy Brown - March 5, 2003. UNT Oral History Collection, Number 1496
158 pp + Appendix. Hardcover - accessible to students and public at UNT Library - Denton, Texas
KING OF SWING by Ken Shimamoto. Fort Worth Weekly - May 12 thru 18, 2004
JOHNNY CASE, HALL OF FAME: JAZZ by Michael Pellecchia. Fort Worth Weekly - June 2 thru 8, 2004
MOMENT ARRIVES FOR MAINSTAYS OF THE FORT WORTH JAZZ SCENE by Mike Price. Fort Worth Business Press - November 24, 2004
ART - UNSUNG HEROES (article on sound-art / experimental music) by Anthony Mariani. Fort Worth Weekly - August 10 -thru 16, 2005
THE JAZZ DISCOGRAPHY by Tom Lord. Lord Music Reference, Inc., Chilliwack B.C., Canada. TLJD is published in print, CD-Rom & online.
PROTEST JAZZ by Pablo Lastra. Fort Worth Weekly - August 24 thru 30, 2005
LOVE'S BITTER RAGE by Ken Shimamoto. The Stash Dauber (online blog) - October 1, 2005
OUT AT SARDINES by Ken Shimamoto. The Stash Dauber - August 19, 2006
PIANIST JOHNNY CASE SHOWCASES FREE-FORM JAZZ AT SARDINES by M. H. Price. Fort Worth Business Press - November 2, 2006
JAZZ PIANIST STILL PACKS 'EM IN AT SARDINES by Malcolm Mayhew. Fort Worth Star Telegram - August 26, 2006
JAZZ BY THE BOULEVARD 2007 by Preston Jones. Fort Worth Star Telegram - September 21, 2007
JAZZ JUMPS BACK ONTO THE COWTOWN SCENE by Caroline Collier. Fort Worth Weekly - February 27, 2008
WILLIE NELSON - AN EPIC LIFE by Joe Nick Patoski. Little, Brown and Company - Hardcover First Edition - April, 2008
A JOURNEY THROUGH THE PAST WITH A FORT WORTH JAZZ INSTITUTION by Ken Shimamoto. The Stash Dauber and ilovefortworth - August 2008
JOHNNY CASE'S 25th ANNIVERSARY AT SARDINES by Ken Shimamoto. The Stash Dauber - September 2, 2008
WESTERN SWING STATES CASE FOR JOHNNY CASE by Michael H. Price. Fort Worth Business Press - May 11, 2009
THE GIG by Marilyn Bailey. 360 West Magazine - March 2011
JOHNNY CASE ENDS 28-YEAR RUN AT SARDINES by Ken Shimamoto, with reminiscences by Jon Castleberry, Sam Walker, Joey Carter,
Caroline Collier, Drew Phelps, Leonard Belota, Amy Matarese. The Stash Dauber - November 2, 2011
JOHNNY CASE PACKS UP HIS PIANO FOR MOVE TO RAY'S by Bud Kennedy. Fort Worth Star Telegram - November 2011
SAY GOODBYE TO SARDINES, HELLO 80's BAR (author uncredited) Fort Worth Star Telegram and dfw.com - November 5, 2011
DANCE ALL NIGHT by Jean A. Boyd. Texas Tech University Press - 2012
JOHN CASE, EASTSIDE MUSICIAN by Wanda Conlin. Greater Meadowbrook News - January 24, 2013
CASE BROTHERS CELEBRATE 50 YEARS OF MUSIC by Edward Brown. Fort Worth Weekly - May 20, 2013
STILL SWINGING by Edward Brown. Fort Worth Weekly - June 15, 2016
THE WILDCATTER EXCHANGE PRESENTS FORT WORTH'S GIANTS OF JAZZ by Michael H. Price with Tom Reynolds. Chapbook published by The Wildcatter Exchange - 2016
LIVE JAZZ IN FORT WORTH by Edward Brown. www.facebook.com/VisitFortWorth - May 12, 2018
METRO MUSIC by Gene Fowler and William Williams. TCU Press: Softcover First Edition - March, 2021
1995 - Texas Tornado designation, Buddy Magazine
2000 - Hero of Western Music, Cowtown Society of Western Music Hall of Fame
2003 - Best Jazz award, Fort Worth Weekly annual Music Awards
2004 - Fort Worth Weekly Music Hall of Fame (inaugural class)
2009 - Texas Western Swing Hall of Fame in San Marcos, Texas
2010 - Best in Jazz / World category, Fort Worth Weekly annual Music Awards
2016 - Western Swing Music Society of the Southwest Hall of Fame in Lawton, Oklahoma
2017 - Finalist at the annual Academy of Western Artists (AWA) awards with nominations in four categories
2020 - D'JAM 2020 Jazz Legend Award, presented by the Dallas Jazz Appreciation Month Committee