Johnny Bothwell

Photo of Johnny Bothwell
  • Birth Name

    John Alvin Bothwell Junior
  • Born

    May 23, 1917
    Gary, Indiana
  • Died

    September 12, 1995 (age 78)
  • Featured Vocalists

    Don Darcy
    Claire Hogan

Alto saxophonist Johnny Bothwell became a major figure in the mid-1940s progressive jazz scene, first working with Boyd Raeburn’s band and later forming his own. Like many who tried to sell progressive jazz to the public, though, Bothwell failed to find commercial acceptance, and he ended up quitting the music business at the end of the decade.

Bothwell got his start in the Chicago jazz scene during the late 1930s. In 1940, he played with Max Miller’s sextet and Bill Fryar’s orchestra. Over the next few years he worked variously for Paul Jordan, Bob Chester, Gene Krupa, Woody Herman, Sonny Dunham, and Tommy Dorsey, earning a reputation as a top musician. Bothwell finished third in Down Beat magazine’s 1943 poll in the category of best alto saxophone player.

Raeburn Years

In early 1944, Raeburn brought in Bothwell as a key part of his newly reorganized progressive jazz orchestra, with Bothwell becoming Raeburn’s featured soloist and assistant. Bothwell’s smooth sax playing proved the highlight of Raeburn’s sound, and during his stay with Raeburn he received several offers to front his own band but turned them down. Raeburn reciprocated by allowing Bothwell to record under his own name in early 1945 with members of the orchestra on the Signature label using several of the band’s arrangements. Those recordings were not released until 1946 however.

In early July 1945, Bothwell and Raeburn had a major falling out, and Bothwell left the band. According to Raeburn, Bothwell had a near fistfight with one of the other musicians. Raeburn complained to Down Beat that Bothwell had a superior attitude and liked to insult band members. Raeburn also criticized Bothwell’s playing and accused him of stealing arrangements when he departed.[1] Bothwell responded:

Well, how dramatic can a bandleader be about a sax player leaving his band? Can sidemen be that hard to get? In addition to the numerous aspersions, allegations and accusations, I must say [Raeburn] forgot to mention that I frequently have been known to remove baby three-toed sloths from their mothers at a startling indecent age and, upon occasion, I have been seen leading submarine wolf packs up and down the Mississippi River in search of hapless Eskimo kayaks!

In 1948, Bothwell clarified that he did take arrangements with him when he left, saying “I took tunes written around me, with the understanding they were mine.” Raeburn vocalist Claire Hogan followed Bothwell out of the band. The two had become romantically involved and married soon after, with Hogan becoming his fourth wife.

As Bandleader

Bothwell briefly worked with Krupa again before forming a short-lived sextet in late 1945. The combo opened November 1 at Three Deuces on 52nd Street in New York and recorded on Signature. While working with the combo, Bothwell also recorded on Signature with a band of all-stars, which included Harry Carney, Ray Nance, and Shelly Manne, with Hogan and a singing group led by Dave Lambert providing vocals. Bothwell broke up the combo in December and took a vacation in Florida. In early 1946, the recordings Bothwell made under his own name with Raeburn’s band were released to good reviews, followed by the all-star band recordings.

When Bothwell returned from vacation, he proceeded to organize a full orchestra, going into rehearsals in February. In March, he recorded two sides with the new group for Signature, and in May he took the band on the road, touring New England that month. Hogan supplied female vocals, with close friend and former Raeburn band mate Don Darcy joining as male vocalist. Trumpet players Marty Bell and Pete Carlisle also sang, and Bothwell occasionally took a number himself.

Though the new band featured adventurous jazz along the lines of Charlie Ventura and Stan Kenton, Bothwell also deliberately focused on modern dance rhythms in order to be more commercially acceptable. The orchestra, however, lacked talented musicians and failed to live up to the excitement it initially caused. Mostly ignored by the press after its debut, the band struggled. Darcy left in early January 1947, and Signature dropped the group in March, buying out the remaining eight months of Bothwell’s contract.[2] Going nowhere, Bothwell disbanded in November. That same month, the musician’s union put him on their unfair list and revoked his card until he settled debts. He and Hogan also divorced.

In December, Bothwell headed to Chicago to record on the Vitacoustic label with a new small band. He remained active for the next two years, putting together small groups and orchestras for various occasions, including a sweet bop combo and a full progressive jazz orchestra featuring young musicians. By 1950, though, he had left the music business altogether. He moved to Connecticut where he became a radio salesman for General Electric. He made a brief return to music in 1955, joining a new dance band put together by Raeburn. Bothwell later operated his own photography business in Florida. Bothwell suffered a stroke in the mid-1980s and passed away in 1995.


  1. Raeburn had a habit of throwing departing band members under the bus. He did the same to the band’s long-time arranger George Handy when Handy quit in late 1946. ↩︎

  2. In 1948, Bothwell publicly claimed that Signature owed him $4,000. Signature wrote to Down Beat informing them that, according to their books, it was Bothwell who owed them, to the tune of $1,651.91. They sent a bill to him and invited him to come take a look at their books, reminding him of all the publicity they paid for and the loans they supplied at the various times the band was stranded somewhere in the country. ↩︎


  1. Simon, George T. The Big Bands. 4th ed. New York: Schirmer, 1981.
  2. “Orchestra Personnels.” Down Beat 15 Apr. 1940: 17.
  3. “1943 Band Poll Winners: Alto Sax.” Down Beat 1 Jan. 1944: 13.
  4. “Vaudeville Reviews: Downtown, Chicago.” Billboard 21 Oct. 1944: 25.
  5. “Strictly Ad Lib.” Down Beat 15 Jan. 1945: 5.
  6. “New Disc Firms In Recording Splurge.” Down Beat 1 Feb. 1945: 9.
  7. “On the Stand: Boyd Raeburn.” Billboard 12 May 1945: 20.
  8. “Send Birthday Greetings to.” Down Beat 15 May 1945: 15.
  9. “Raeburn's Jazz Too Hip For Success?” Down Beat 1 Jul. 1945: 2.
  10. “Bothwell Quits Raeburn Band After Near Fight.” Down Beat 1 Aug. 1945: 1.
  11. “Bothwell Likes Rabbits, He Says.” Down Beat 15 Aug. 1945: 4.
  12. “Tied Notes.” Down Beat 15 Aug. 1945: 10.
  13. “Sidemen Leave Gene Krupa Ork.” Down Beat 15 Oct. 1945: 1.
  14. “Bothwell May Succeed Where Another Failed.” Down Beat 1 Nov. 1945: 4.
  15. “Bothwell Platter Deal Plus Nitery Date Heavy Coin.” Billboard 3 Nov. 1945: 24.
  16. “Bothwell Records For Signature With Stars.” Down Beat 15 Nov. 1945: 14.
  17. “Johnny Bothwell's Combo Jams.” Down Beat 1 Dec. 1945: 2.
  18. “Bothwell Leaves.” Down Beat 1 Jan. 1946: 3.
  19. “Bothwell Rehearses New Big Band In NYC.” Down Beat 25 Feb. 1946: 1.
  20. “Diggin' the Discs: Johnny Bothwell.” Down Beat 25 Feb. 1946: 8.
  21. “Johnny Bothwell Signs With GAC.” Down Beat 8 Apr. 1946: 1.
  22. “Music As Written.” Billboard 20 Apr. 1946: 26.
  23. “Bothwell Readies Band for the Road.” Down Beat 6 May 1946: 1.
  24. “On the Stand: Johnny Bothwell.” Billboard 22 Jun. 1946: 22.
  25. Levin, Michael. “Bothwell Leads Boff Well Combo.” Down Beat 15 Jul. 1946: 2.
  26. “Music As Written.” Billboard 11 Jan. 1947: 16.
  27. “Diggin the Discs: Johnny Bothwell.” Down Beat 26 Mar. 1947: 20.
  28. “Signature Cuts Artist Roster.” Billboard 29 Mar. 1947: 15.
  29. “Trade Tattle.” Down Beat 23 Apr. 1947: 17.
  30. “Music As Written.” Billboard 15 Nov. 1947: 18.
  31. “Music As Written.” Billboard 22 Nov. 1947: 22.
  32. “Bothwell in Clear.” Billboard 20 Dec. 1947: 20.
  33. “Bothwell Gets His Card Back.” Down Beat 31 Dec. 1947: 1.
  34. “Bothwell Hits Road Again.” Down Beat 14 Jan. 1948: 1.
  35. Hallock, Ted. “No Sinner He, Bothwell Falls Back to Re-Group.” Down Beat 21 Apr. 1948: 4.
  36. “Chords and Discords: Signature Sinless.” Down Beat 19 May 1948: 10.
  37. “Music As Written.” Billboard 29 May 1948: 39.
  38. “Bothwell Fronts Top Teen-Agers.” Down Beat 11 Aug. 1948: 3.
  39. “Sweet Bop Bothwell Records For National.” Down Beat 22 Apr. 1949: 10.
  40. “Raeburn, Bothwell Return In Boyd's New Dance Band.” Down Beat 2 Nov. 1955: 8.