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King of Stride Piano

James P. Johnson

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Album Review

James P. Johnson (1894-1955) was one of the very first people to play jazz on the piano, hastening the evolution of Eastern ragtime into something vibrant and organic that music critics would later christen "Harlem stride piano." James P. Johnson's "Charleston" set the pace for the 1920s, his many compositions formed part of the bedrock of the traditional jazz repertoire, and his most brilliant exponent was Thomas "Fats" Waller, famous as a piano-thumping singer and purveyor of swing music. This Giants of Jazz compilation combines vintage player piano rolls with a series of excellent solos recorded in 1930 and 1944, a welcome development as most other collections handle either piano rolls or phonograph recordings but do not mingle the two formats. Although an enclosed list provides recording dates and arranges the titles chronologically, the later recordings are shuffled together on the disc with the piano rolls placed last. These rolls include "Eccentricity," a marvelous ragtime waltz from 1921 that feels more like 1905; Tom Delaney's "Down Home Blues"; and a medley of tunes that Johnson wrote for the stage show Runnin' Wild. The kicking strains of "Charleston" are executed at times with such intensity as to suggest the blows of a fist. Note that the years mentioned in the album title should be 1921-1944. Whoever assembled the enclosed discographical information not only referenced a nonexistent piano roll — Johnson did not record "Down Home Blues" in 1918 on any format — but also mistook a 1921 phonograph recording of this song by Alice Leslie Carter with Jimmy Johnson's Jazz Boys for a piano roll. James P. Johnson's sole piano roll of "Down Home Blues" was cut in February of 1922. The material selected for this compilation is uniformly excellent. James P. Johnson's 1930 rendering of Cole Porter's "What Is This Thing Called Love?" was the first recording of that melody ever made by anyone. In June of 1944, six months after the sudden death of Fats Waller at the age of 39, James P. Johnson coped with the loss of his friend by recording a series of songs composed or made famous by Waller. In August and September of 1944, Johnson recorded a series of his own melodies, including the famous "Snowy Morning Blues," the old "Carolina Shout," and the romantically infused "If I Could Be with You (One Hour Tonight)."

Customer Reviews

Carolina Shout

This is a review of "Carolina Shout", not the whole album. This piece is like a phrase book of stride piano playing. It is a studio recording. (Earlier ones were made on piano rolls.) James P Johnson was an inspiration to Fats Waller and Duke Ellington, and you can see why. It is exciting and he takes it at virtuoso speed. The drums (Eddie Dougherty) are only an accompaniment. If you want one piece that epitomises piano-playing in its transition from ragtime to jazz, this is it.


Born: 02 February 1894 in New Brunswick, NJ

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '10s, '20s, '30s, '40s

One of the great jazz pianists of all time, James P. Johnson was the king of stride pianists in the 1920s. He began working in New York clubs as early as 1913 and was quickly recognized as the pacesetter. In 1917, Johnson began making piano rolls. Duke Ellington learned from these (by slowing them down to half-speed), and a few years later, Johnson became Fats Waller's teacher and inspiration. During the '20s (starting in 1921), Johnson began to record, he was the nightly star at Harlem rent parties...
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