John on piano directly behind Dizzy Gillespie, Channel 5 Good Morning Show April 18, 1979. Also shown: Fernando Mattina, guitar and Tim (Misicka) Messina, tenor sax.
Nate Birkey & JED at SoHo, Santa Barbara, Nate's CD release party, 12/21/04
John did three tours with the New York-based Roy Radin Vaudeville Tour, featuring Donald O'Connor and Eddie Fisher, among others in the late 1970s and early 80s, and three tours with the Pointer Sisters in 1983. He played in the orchestra backing up Aretha Franklin in concert at the Santa Barbara Bowl in 2005. In 2018, John accompanied jazz singer Gregory Porter and Scottish actor/singer/comedian Alan Cumming in a private event. In the same concert he accompanied Nona Hendryx in an impromptu backup band featuring Jon Bon Jovi, Lenny Kravitz and David Matthews. In 2019 he did a St. Patrick’s Day variety show with Kenny Loggins and others at Ensemble Theater, Santa Barbara.
John began his professional career in music playing piano with rock & roll and funk bands during his junior and senior years of high school in San Bernardino, California. Performing experience includes shows with jazz and Latin music artists such as Dizzy Gillespie (Boston, 1979), Efrain Toro, Oscar Stagnaro, Mitch Mitchell, Justo Almario, Luis Conte, Miguel Cruz, Bobby Rodriguez, Alex Acuna, Michito Sanchez, Nate Birkey and Cougar Estrada. John played as regular sub pianist with most of the well-known salsa and Latin-jazz bands in Los Angeles in the 1980s and 90s, including gigs with Ray Armando, Miguel Cruz & Skins, Bobby Matos, Bongo Logic, Johnny Polanco, Charanga Cubana and Mazacote & M-1. He held down the piano chair for five years with The L.A. Salsa Society and seven years with LA’s popular charanga band, Charangoa.
2005 Aretha Franklin at the Santa Barbara Bowl
John has recorded extensively in commercial and artistic settings, including five years as house pianist for jingle/film production house, Soundtrack Studios, original solo piano works and live recordings on WBUR-FM and WERS-FM with jazz band Urge and blues singer Alida Rohr in Boston in the 1970s and early 80s. In Los Angeles in the 1980s through early 2000s, John played on albums with charanga, salsa and Latin jazz bands. In Santa Barbara in 2005, John arranged and played piano on Sultry Standards, with soprano Stephanie Sivers. John co-wrote songs with his wife Nansie and played keyboards on her solo debut album, Fading Memories (2014). A recent project was arranging, orchestrating and leading recording sessions for the album Broadway Songs of the Spirit with Santa Barbara-based musical theatre veteran Clark Sayre in 2018. Featured on the album is guitarist/Josh Groban musical director, Tariqh Akoni. (See discography.) John’s latest release is the debut album by his Latin-jazz band, Songon (August, 2021).
Recording Clark Sayre's Broadway Songs of the Spirit, 2018.
L to R: Kevin Winard, Santino Tafarella, John, Tariqh Akoni,
Dom Camardella, and Clark Sayre
John has composed hundreds of instrumentals and songs with words in a variety of genres since the 1970s. In the context of music for the stage, he composed music and songs for plays with music at the University of California, Santa Barbara Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, directed by Irwin Appel, 2016 www.theaterdance.ucsb.edu/news/event/529 and at Westmont College, Santa Barbara Arturo Ui, directed by Mitchell Thomas, 2017 www.independent.com/2017/10/16/resistible-rise-arturo-ui-2/. John composed music and songs for two musicals at Santa Barbara High School, including director Otto Layman’s adaptation of Pinocchio www.sbhstheatre.com/pinocchio and six original musicals at City for Peace Santa Barbara (2007–12) www.noozhawk.com/article/051712_city_at_peace_santa_barbara_theater. In 2009, he composed songs for Circle Bar B Dinner Theater’s production of Musical Comedy Murders of 1940.
Santa Barbara High School production of Otto Layman's
adaptation of Pinocchio, 2009
John has extensive experience in musical theatre, including stints as musical director/pianist in hundreds of Broadway musicals and revues in schools, summer youth theatre, colleges, community and professional theatre, mostly in the Santa Barbara area. He was music director for virtually all the musicals at Dos Pueblos High School and Goleta Valley Junior High School from 2005 to 2017. John was musical director for Santa Barbara High School’s production of Hair, which played to sold out houses in the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland in the summer of 2008. Subsequently he served as musical director for musicals and revues at SBHS, Circle Bar B Dinner Theater, Out of the Box Theater Company, Stage Left, PVAC, Santa Barbara School of Performing Arts, and other companies.
Santa Barbara High School – Hair 2008
John was musical director for director Mitchell Thomas’ production of Animal Farm the Musical at Westmont College in 2012. In collaboration with Clark Sayre at DPHS in 2016, John arranged and orchestrated for a large pit orchestra the new musical, Grand Duchy, by concert pianist John Bayless & lyricist Robert L. Freeman (A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder), and served as pianist/conductor for the run of the show. www.dptheatrecompany.org/grand-duchy.html He has MD’d three different productions of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights. John accompanied singers in Ensemble Theatre’s online revue of songs from the Great American Songbook in 2020.
Stand out musical theatre moments for John were when he played piano in the pit orchestra and sub-conducted for Annie, with his daughter Fernanda in the lead role in her freshman year at DPHS, and when he music-directed Tarzan the Musical with Fernanda in the role of Jane in her senior year at DPHS. He was proud to MD her directorial debut of the musical Urinetown, also at DPHS.
Ray Cothern as Tarzan and Nanda Douglas as Jane in Dos Pueblos High 2012 production of Tarzan the Musical
From 2003 to 2017 John worked as a substitute teacher and music teacher in Santa Barbara and Goleta elementary and secondary schools. During that time, he directed the Goleta Valley Junior High School jazz bands, accompanied the GVJHS performing arts class, DPHS concert choir and DPHS theatre classes. John accompanied the DPHS jazz choir in the fall of 2019 and spring of 2020 until the covid pandemic shut down all live performances. In previous years, he served stints as music director at Light of Christ Baptist Church, Goleta, and Second Baptist Church, Santa Barbara, and accompanied Mama Pat’s Inner Light Community Gospel Choir for four years. Currently, John is in his seventh year as music/choir director at Live Oak Unitarian Universalist Congregation, Goleta, and was on staff in rotation with other pianists in the six years prior. He stays busy writing choir arrangements and directing the music program for Sunday services. John’s original song, “We Hold These Truths,” co-written in 2017 with Live Oak lyricist Carrie Topliffe, has been performed by choirs in UU congregations around the country. Since the covid pandemic, John and his wife Nansie have performed all hymns and incidental service music, with assistance from current and former congregation members, for Live Oak UU’s Sunday services on Zoom.
Radio/Record Industry Work
John served as staff songwriter/musical director for independent record label, The Fiction Label, in Los Angeles in the early 1980s. He played keyboards with label headline band, Midnight Fiction, and arranged and played keyboards on the band’s EP, Lady From Mars. Thereafter John volunteered on and off air at Los Angeles Pacifica Network powerhouse radio station KPFK-FM, volunteered as overnight sub DJ at KLON-FM (now KKJZ-FM) at Cal State University, Long Beach, and as volunteer DJ for classical and alternative rock shows on KCSN-FM at Cal State University, Northridge. He penned a local radio column for The Valley Entertainer Magazine in the mid-1980s.
In 1984 John started his own record promotion company, Extra-Sensory Promotion, and helped secure airplay on jazz radio stations around the USA for artists including jazz singer Roseanna Vitro (Listen Here, featuring Kenny Barron and Buster Williams, 1984)) and jazz drummer Paul Yonemura (First Flight Home, 1985). His promotional efforts on behalf o f renowned new age/jazz saxophonist Paul Winter’s album, Canyon (Living Music, 1985) resulted in Winter’s first appearance in the Radio & Records Jazz Top 30 chart. Canyon
In 1985 John went on to do new-release and catalog marketing with Burbank-based The P.A.R.A.S. Group, including albums by guitarist John McLaughlin, pianist Rob Mullins He then served as national sales manager for Indie distributor Jem’s jazz crossover label, Passport Jazz. In that capacity, he did marketing on new and catalogue releases on rock label Passport, new age label Audion, punk label PVC and eclectic British label, Editions E.G.
From 2003 to 2017 John worked as a substitute teacher and music teacher in Santa Barbara and Goleta elementary and secondary schools. During that time, he directed the Goleta Valley Junior High School jazz band and accompanied DPHS and GVJHS theatre classes and choirs. He accompanied the DPHS jazz choir in the fall of 2019 and spring of 2020 until the covid pandemic shut down all live performances.
John was recognized by the Santa Barbara Independent Magazine in 2017 as a “local hero” in large part for his work with junior high and high school students in musical theatre, choirs and jazz bands.
John was on adjunct faculty as jazz ensemble director in the Westmont College music department from 2006 to 2020. He has been on staff at Santa Barbara City College as piano accompanist for vocal techniques, choir and theatre classes, and on adjunct faculty as substitute music instructor since 2008. At SBCC he accompanied the late Ike Jenkins’ jazz choir and has accompanied Nathan Kreitzer’s concert choir some semesters. John arranged and orchestrated musical selections for soloists, choir and orchestra for the grand opening celebration of the renovated SBCC music/theater departments and Garvin Theater in 2012. The SBCC concert choir has performed three of John’s choir arrangements in recent seasons. John has taught beginning piano classes at SBCC since January 2020.
After moving from Los Angeles to Goleta, California, John served as music director playing gospel music in Baptist churches in Santa Barbara, and accompanied Mama Pat’s Inner Light Community Gospel Choir for four years. Currently, John is in his seventh year as music/choir director at Live Oak Unitarian Universalist Congregation, Goleta. He stays busy writing choir arrangements and directing the music program for Sunday services. John’s original song, “We Hold These Truths,” co-written in 2017 with Live Oak lyricist Carrie Topliffe, has been performed by choirs in UU churches around the country. Since the covid pandemic, John and his wife Nansie have performed hymns and incidental service music, with assistance from current and former congregation members, for Live Oak UU’s Sunday services on Zoom.
As a freelance pianist in the Santa Barbara area John plays solo and with singers and bands in venues as diverse as neighborhood bars to 5-star hotels. He regularly accompanies singers in styles ranging from classical art song to jazz, Great American Song Book standards, Broadway, R&B, gospel, Latin-jazz and salsa. Lately John has been working with bands such as Donna Greene & the Roadhouse Daddies and the Radio Prophets, and accompanying singers such as celebrated opera tenor Eduardo Villa, crooner Luca Ellis, comedienne Tiffany Story and jazz vocalist Nicole Lvoff.
L-R: John Douglas - piano, Melvin Brannon - bass,
Gerry Smith – saxophones, Kevin Winard – drums.
Donna Greene and the Roadhouse Daddies
Greg Loeb - guitar, John Butler -drums, Stan Taylor-bass, John Douglas-piano,
Recognition and Award
John was recognized by the Santa Barbara Independent Magazine with “Indy” awards for best musical direction in 2012 for Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, featuring Daniel David Stewart and directed by Brian McDonald at the Rubicon Theater, Ventura, and in 2014 for Next to Normal with director Samantha Eve’s Out of the Box Theatre Company at Center Stage, Santa Barbara. In 2017 John was recognized by the Santa Barbara Independent Magazine as a "Local Hero" for the many years he has contributed to local youth and adults in music and theater. www.independent.com/2017/11/22/santa-barbaras-local-heroes-2017
John wins Santa Barbara Independent "Indy" awards for "Best Musical Director"