Jazz saxophonist Budd Johnson was born Albert J. Johnson in Dallas on December 14, 1910. His father was a choir director and cornetist who taught him piano at a young age. By Johnson's teenage years he had switched to drums and was playing with his brother, Keg Johnson, in bands around town. Eventually the two started their own group, the Moonlight Melody Six. They later joined Gene Coy's Amarillo-based band, the Happy Black Aces.
Switching instruments again, this time to the saxophone, Johnson headed to Kansas City and then to Chicago, where he met and joined Louis Armstrong in 1933. During his stint in the Windy City he also met Earl Hines; their musical relationship lasted nine years. By 1944 Johnson had moved to New York City, where he became involved in organizing and playing in smaller jazz combos. Along with Coleman Hawkins, Dizzy Gillespie, Woody Herman, and Billy Eckstine, Johnson became a pioneer of the emerging bop jazz style, and he is credited with organizing the first bop recording session. He remained an integral part of American jazz throughout the 1950s. In 1956–57 he played with Benny Goodman, with whom he toured Asia, and in 1958 he formed his own septet and recorded the album Blues a la Mode.
During the 1960s Johnson played with Count Basie and Quincy Jones and rejoined Earl Hines. He also served as music director for Atlantic Records and started his own publishing company. In the 1970s and 1980s he taught music at Queens College and the State University of New York at Stony Brook. He was a resident of Hempstead, Long Island, New York, at the time of his death. Johnson died in Kansas City, Missouri, while in that city for a performance on October 20, 1984. He was survived by his wife Bernice and a son (Albert, Jr.). In 1993 he was inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame.