Shaun Johnson, an Emmy-winning singer/songwriter, seemed destined for a life of music from the very beginning. "One of my earliest memories," he says, "is of performing at state fair talent shows with my little sister. We'd sing Sonny and Cher songs, a cappella, when neither of us was quite tall enough to reach the microphone."
Originally from the small town of Saint Joseph Iowa, Shaun attended Saint John's University before settling in Saint Cloud, Minnesota, where he began his career with the nationally known vocal group, Tonic Sol-fa. This quartet has sold nearly two million albums independently and has been featured in Newsweek and on the Today Show. Shaun is still an active member.
In 2011, Shaun put together a group featuring some of the best instrumentalists and arrangers in the Midwest-- guys who've toured with such luminaries as Aretha Franklin and Johnny Mathis, who are Music Educators of the Year and who are integral members of collegiate jazz faculties. His vision was to create a contemporary big band sound with a pop flair, honoring legends like Frank Sinatra, with a nod to Michael Bublé, while giving the music his own twist - performing songs ranging from the “Spiderman Theme” to originals from Nashville writers. The proceeds from that first, small tour of holiday shows was subsequently donated to local charities. The initial tour received such overwhelming feedback that another, expanded holiday tour was undertaken the following year. In 2013, with increased presenter and fan demand, the BBE added even more cities to the holiday tour and for the first time, began accepting regular season shows.
Look for the BBE’s very first PBS special, “Spirit of the Season,” to air across North America through 2016 as well as the Big Band Experience’s very first studio recording, “What’ll I Do” (The YouTube Sessions).
Q: Why Big Band?
I love Dean Martin. I study Frank Sinatra and just watched Tony Bennett sing his heart out in a Nashville performing arts theater. Currently, Michael Buble is carrying the torch of these masters of the American Songbook. Though I am certainly not comparing myself to any of these songbirds, I do want to dress up for an elegant evening and sing those songs again. I want to hear "That's Life" and "Ain't That a Kick in the Head" with an updated horn section and to feel some of those songs rebroadcast with a twist.
Q: What can people expect from the show?
This year's up-tempo set will include well known songs from a multitude of eras, originals from some of my favorite Nashville writers and requested selections from fans. The shows will include Broadway quality staging and lighting, plenty of audience interaction, and a cadre of fantastic players!
Q: How did you come up with the name, Big Band Experience?
I'm not trying to give people Frank or Dean, but I am trying to give people a feeling, an experience with my own stamp... and thus the name.
Q: A little history?
The "band" features some of the best musicians I could find... guys who've played with Jimmy Dorsey and the Temptations, who are Music Educators of the Year and are part of jazz faculties at universities, who have played with such luminaries as Aretha Franklin and Johnny Mathis.
Q: Why now?
I read that the Big Band style originally came to popularity and offered hope at a time when we were coming out of the Depression, at a time when we were at war... and it isn't that much different today. It's the magic that I still love.