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Parlor Piano Solos from Rare Piano Rolls

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Album Review

The great stride pianist James P. Johnson recorded quite a few piano rolls, starting in 1917. Biograph has reissued a few CDs of this material, which was mostly recorded off of player pianos back in 1970 and 1972. As is usual with most piano rolls, one cannot always trust that the music was solely performed by just one pianist; some of the passages clearly sound like three or four hands playing at once. In addition, the rhythms can be rather mechanical, particularly compared to Johnson's recorded piano solos. However what is most intriguing about these piano rolls are the large number of selections that Johnson never recorded: songs such as "When It's Cherry Time in Tokio," "It Takes Love to Cure the Heart's Disease" and "Doctor Jazzes Raz-Ma-Taz!" In addition, the alternate versions of "Eccentricity," "Fascination" and particularly Johnson's signature piece "Carolina Shout" (the latter was an inspiration for Duke Ellington) are well worth hearing despite the idiom's limitations.

Biography

Born: 01 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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