JAMES P. JOHNSON
Rare Solos – transcribed from piano rolls
Jazz Archives #100(12”)
1. “Runnin’ Wild” medley: (6:46) (James P. Johnson)
(Charleston; Old Fashioned Love; Open Your Heart; Love Bug)
2. Carolina Shout (3:17)(James P. Johnson)
3. Arkansas Blues (3:35) (Lada – Williams)
4. Ole Miss Blues (3:19) (W. C. Handy)
5. Harlem Choc’late Babies on Parade (2:50) (Creamer – Johnson)
1. Cry Baby Blues (3:19) (Lewis – Young – Meyer)
2. Eccentricity (3:15) (James P. Johnson)
3. Sugar (3:44) (Pinkard – Mitchell – Alexander)
4. The Down Home Blues (3:25) (Tom Delaney)
5. Look What a Fool I’ve Been (3:35) (James P. Johnson)
6. Muscle Shoals Blues (3:01) (George W. Thomas)
Notes by JOHN HAMMOND
James P. Johnson, one of the great figures in American music, died in New York City on November 17, 1955. Two days later, fewer than seventy five persons attended the funeral services at University chapel, in midtown Manhattan.
His enormous talents as composer, pianist, and arranger were as unappreciated in life as now. Although he wrote such tunes as Charleston, Old Fashioned Love, Porter's Love Song, and If I Could Be With You, the general public was ignorant of his name. A few musicians may remember such classics as Carolina Shout, Worried and Lonesome Blues, and Snowy Morning Blues, but the sad fact is that Jelly Roll Morton was far better known. Even as a pianist Jimmy's fame was soon eclipsed by his pupil, Fats Waller.
I write of Jimmy's passing with a great sense of personal loss, for it was through him that I first leaned of the wonders and intricacies of the blues. An old Columbia record of him playing Worried and Lonesome Blues, which I first heard in 1924, opened up a world of which I had known nothing, and probably altered the course of my life. Even now it is still my favorite piano disc ... even though (like) many of his Columbia and Okeh piano solos of the ‘20s (it is) acoustically recorded. Talent such as his transcends mechanical deficiencies . . .
As a writer of show tunes, Jimmy was the equal of Gershwin, Youmans and Kern, but the prejudices of Broadway producers and publishers confined him to the all-Negro musicals, which rarely found favor on Times Square. He was a thoroughly schooled musician with enormous ambition, but his color kept him confined to what the phonograph and player-piano industries termed the "race" market.
Working in those confines, he kept singers like Bessie Smith, Ethel Waters and Maggie Jones supplied with blues by the dozen, and his piano accompaniments will frustrated by segregation, and kept writing symphonies, operettas, piano sonatas, and chamber-music works, always hoping that the white world would recognize his talents. It never did.
The first time I met Jimmy was in 1925 at the Colonial Theater on upper Broadway, where his show "Runnin' Wild" was playing. The title tune, Old Fashioned Love and Charleston were three of the hits from that score, and his piano playing dominated the wonderful pit band. A couple of years later he and Fats Waller did the score of Keep Shufflin' at Daly's 63rd Street Theater, and three times I was lucky enough to get front row center seats. Both Fats and Jimmy were in the pit band at the two pianos, playing tunes like Sippi and Willow Tree for a public that never even noticed them.
He wrote other shows, too, like "Policy Kings" and "Sugar Hill," and all of them had librettos that perpetuated every miserable Negro stereotype, with blackface comics rolling eyes and dice, wild shake dancers, and tear-jerking scenes on the old plantation. But Jimmy was a man of integrity, and when he had the chance in later he wrote a brilliant one-act opera with the poet Langston Hughes, who called it "De Organizer." It was militantly pro-labor, and it had very few performances.
James P. Johnson was 64 when he died, and he should have been among the most famous and successful of men. Let us hope that future generations will make up for our lack of appreciation.
(The above tribute to the late James P. Johnson is the work of one of the most distinguished of jazz authorities. John Hammond varied activities in the jazz field include the sponsorship, organizing and supervision of numerous record sessions, and he played a large part in bringing about the early successes of Benny Goodman, Count Basie and many other notables. This article originally appeared in Down Beat, and is copyright, 1955, by Maher Publications, Inc. It is reprinted by permission, and through the courtesy of the author.)
A discographical note for collectors. These selections were all originally made as "QRS" player-piano rolls during the early 1920s, a time when Jimmy Johnson was recognized as the foremost of the many talented Harlem pianists and when his prolific output of piano rolls were consistent best-sellers. These selections were transfered to tape directly form the original rolls, in 1955 and '56. The "QRS" numbers and approximate performance dates of these rolls are as follows:
Carolina Shout (100999) and Eccentricity (101000) were both made in May, 1921. Arkansas (1670) and Cry-Baby (1673) were both made in September, 1921. The Down Home Blues (1797) is from January, 1922; Look What a Fool I've Been (1831) and Ole Miss (1834) - both February, 1922; Muscle Shoals (1888) - March, 1922; Harlem Choc'late Babies (3526) - July, 1926; Sugar (3705) - October, 1926. The "Runnin' Wild" medley roll (number unknown), was cut in 1925. Carolina Shout and Harlem Choc'late Babies are included on 10-inch Riverside LPs. but all other performances here have never previously been issued records.
Additional James P. Johnson solos are to be heard on the following 10-inch Riverside albums:
James P. Johnson: Early Harlem Piano (from piano rolls) (RLPs 1011, 1046)
Harlem Rent Party (four selections by Johnson; other four by Luckey Roberts) (RLP 1056)
The Riverside “Jazz Archives” series offers a rich cross-section of outstanding piano albums by other great figures of traditional jazz, including:
Jelly Roll Morton – Rediscovered Solos (RLP 1018); Classic Jazz Piano, Vol. 1 and 2 (RLPs 1038, 1041) (all 10-inch LPs)
Fats Waller – Rediscovered Early Solos (RLP 12-103); The Amazing Mr. Waller (RLP12-109); (both 12-inch LPs)
Jimmy Yancey (RLPs 1029, 1061) (both 10-inch LPs)
Giants of Boogie Woogie: Albert Ammons, Meade Lux Lewis, Pete Johnson (RLP12-106) (12-inch LP)
Ragtime Piano Roll, Vols. 1, 2 and 3 (RLPs 1006, 1025, 1049) (three 10-inch LPs); The Golden Age of Ragtime (RLP12-110) (12-inch LP)
Notable piano-solo albums in the classic-jazz traditional included in the Riverside “Contemporary Series”
Joe Sullivan; New Solos by an Old Master (Rlp12-292) (12-inch LP)
Ralph Sutton (RLP12-212) (12-inch LP)
The ‘Stride’ Piano of Dick Wellstood (RLP 2506) (10-inch LP)
LP produced by Bill Grauer
Cover designed by Gene Gogerty
This material is issued by special arrangement with Imperial Industrial Company, manufacturers of QRS piano rolls.
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS
418 West 49th Street New York 19, N.Y.