James P. Johnson
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James P. Johnson is often referred to as the “Father of Stride Piano,” a style of playing that served as the transition from ragtime to jazz. It was comprised of a strong bass line in the left hand, a melodic right hand, and polyrhythmic development. Johnson’s virtuosity and creativity were emulated by his prize pupil, Fats Waller, and influenced composer George Gershwin and many great jazz players--Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Art Tatum and Thelonious Monk.
As a composer, Johnson worked in several idioms. Among his most famous popular tunes are “If I Could Be with You (One Hour Tonight)” and “The Charleston.” He also wrote revues (Keep Shufflin’ was a collaboration with Waller), symphonies, a piano concerto (which he performed with the Brooklyn Symphony) and a choral work, “Yamekraw: A Negro Rhapsody,” which was made into a movie short in 1930. In 1940 his opera, “De Organizer,” with a libretto by poet and novelist Langston Hughes, was performed in New York. The piece was thought to be lost but was restored and performed again in 2002.
In 1906 Johnson’s family moved from New Jersey to New York City where he grew up in the rich atmosphere of the Harlem Renaissance. He studied ragtime piano and classical composition and by his teens was playing professionally. He played and recorded as a solo performer, an accompanist to singers such as Bessie Smith and Ethel Waters, with his own band and groups led by music publisher/promoter Clarence Williams. He made several piano roles for Aeolian beginning 1915 and in 1921 became the first black executive of the QRS piano roll company. His 1922 recording of “Bleeding Heart Blues” is said to be the first jazz piano solo recording.
He was honored with a U.S. postal stamp in 1995. A non-profit organization, the James P. Johnson Foundation for Music and the Arts, offers programs for schools at the elementary through high school level.
- Sandra Burlingame
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Scott E. Brown
James P. Johnson: A Case of Mistaken Identity
The Scarecrow Press, Inc.
Don Aspiazu, Duke Ellington, Barney Bigard, Wellman Braud, Duke Ellington Orchestra
Hollywood Rhythm Vol. 01 - The Best of Jazz & Blues
DVD - Johnson is included in St. Louis Blues, an 18 minute short featuring Bessie Smith
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