Disruptive Jazz

Arnetta Johnson pushes the limits of music through constant innovation. Photo by Madison Shelton


Brayden Hilderbrand

At 13 years old, Arnetta Johnson watched her brother walk in and out of the band classroom doors several times before. She had no idea what laid beyond them at the time until curiosity got the better of her one day.  Upon entering she was met with a cacophony of noise from a variety of horns and percussive instruments. That was the same day that Johnson first began her relationship with the trumpet and by correlation the world of music. 

Despite her mother being a music teacher, she had never pressured her kids into taking an interest in music themselves. It wasn’t until Johnson met a student teacher named Nasir Dickerson that she truly began to take off. Although briefly dabbling in percussive instruments, it was the trumpet that she was eventually drawn to. From there, Dickerson began teaching her all the basics and introduced her to his musically inclined brother and a good friend, Jamal Dickerson and Hassan Sabree respectively. Dickerson and Sabree both earned degrees in music education from Morgan State University and likewise had been playing the trumpet from young ages. They all helped cultivate Johnson’s love for the trumpet by introducing her to the art of improvisation along with instilling into her that music is a gift that she should respect and have passion for. It was during this time that Johnson gained a nickname that would become a staple throughout her career, That Trumpet Chic. 

“Nobody could ever remember my name, so more often than not I would just get referred to as ‘That Trumpet Chic’,” Johnson disclosed. “After a while, I ended up taking that name up as a handle of sorts.”

It was until a few years later in high school that Johnson decided to continue her pursuit in music. With several years of playing experience behind her, Johnson started to think about a possible career in music. “I didn’t have much else and, quite honestly, I wanted to see where it would take me,” says Johnson. 


At the time, Johnson’s unique style blended the blues, hip-hop, and jazz, however, she recognized that whenever people heard her play they would assume that she was just a jazz musician. This left Johnson a bit disgruntled, recalling Nicholas Payton’s idea that “jazz is almost a derogatory term” due to its roots in blues and Black American Music.

 “I wanted to destroy every notion of what jazz was,” says Johnson. “I wanted to reclaim my music for myself.” 

This proclamation led to the creation of her iconic “disrupted jazz” style. Taking ideas from a plethora of music genres such as jazz, R&B, and hip-hop, Johnson put her own unique spin on things in order to create something entirely her own. 

Johnson credits a lot of her growth beyond high school to her mentors Jill Scott and Tia Fuller. Scott is a singer, songwriter, model, poet, and actress who founded the Blues Babe Foundation as a way to cultivate the academic and artistic success of kids from underserved communities in north Philadelphia and Camden. The Blues Babe Foundation allowed Johnson to continue her musical pursuit through Berklee College of Music, where she met Tia Fuller, a saxophonist and professor at Berklee. Scott and Fuller recognized Johnson’s drive and provided her with nothing but support throughout her years at Berklee. 

“Whenever I needed help or assistance they were always willing to take time out of their schedules to respond to me,” says Johnson. “They could see how serious I was about what I wanted to do with music.”

Johnson’s mentors also were a source of influence and inspiration for her music as well. Having gotten the chance to travel and perform with several artists including Fuller and Beyoncé, Johnson has had an abundance of musical experiences that have influenced her music to some degree. Johnson claims that black music as a whole has always been a major inspiration. 

In the last year, Johnson has used her music as a way to express her feelings on serious issues of racism. Her latest single, “Move Around,” is an ode to being unapologetically black and confronts issues involving people such as George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, including a heavy portion of rapping and vocals from Johnson. “I am just trying to live the normal human experience,” says Johnson. “If they don’t like it they can move around.” 

Over her years, Johnson’s goals had always been growing larger as she progressed as a musician. “When I was in college my goal was to become an artist, after that it was to travel the world with an artist. Now, I have my sights set on traveling the world as an artist,” Johnson explained. 

That desire is quite evident in Johnson’s behavior, treating any and all performances as if they were her last. She spoke of one of her recents shows on July 4, her first gig as an artist since the pandemic. “I wanted to deliver my max for the audience,” says Johnson. “To give them something they weren’t expecting.” 

When Johnson first walked into that band room all those years ago she would have never thought that it would lead her to where she is today. The trumpet opened up a slew of possibilities. Johnson’s been introduced to a number of people due to her musical pursuit, many of whom have become mentors and influential people in her career. She wants to continue taking strides within the music industry, forever taking her artistry to the next level, forever outdoing her previous performances, striving for something bigger than herself. “Music is for all the moments words can’t explain,” she says, and it has acted as a gateway for Johnson, allowing her to both express herself along with using her voice as an artist to touch on real world issues.