Monday, February 01, 2010


Jazz pianist James P. Johnson was born on February 1st,1894 and was an important transitional figure between ragtime and jazz piano styles. His style became known as Stride. As a boy, Johnson studied Classical music and Ragtime. He started playing professionally in a sporting house, and then progressed to rent parties, bars and vaudeville.

He eventually became known as the best piano player on the East Coast and was widely utilized as an accompanist on over 400 recordings and from 1916 on, produced hundreds of piano rolls under his own name. He backed up many of the Classic Blues singers of the 1920s, such as Ida Cox,Ethel Waters and Bessie Smith.

Johnson's 1921 recording of Carolina Shout is considered to be the first recorded Jazz piano solo by some critics, although it sounds a lot like Ragtime to this listener's ears. He wrote several musical revues, including "Running Wild" and "Plantation Days" and his 1928 collaboration with his former piano student Fats Waller, "Keep Shufflin'". His song Charleston from "Running Wild" was one of the best known and most widely recorded songs of 1920s. Other hits included "Old Fashioned Love" and "If I Could Be With You (One Hour Tonight)".

Johnson composed several symphonic works, which include "Yamecraw: A Negro Rhapsody" (1928), "Tone Poem" (1930), "Symphony Harlem " (1932), a symphonic version of W.C. Handy's "St. Louis Blues" (1937), and the one-act opera "De Organizer" (1940), with lyrics by Langston Hughes.

None of his symphonic works were very popular and have seldom been performed. Johnson is generally considered the "Father of the Stride" piano, and was a major influence on some of Jazz's great pianists such as Duke Ellington,Fats Waller and Thelonious Monk.
Johnson plays "Bleeding Hearted Blues"

Suggested Reading

James P. Johnson : a case of mistaken identity / Scott E. Brown ; A James P. Johnson discography, 1917-1950 by Robert Hilbert Scarecrow Press and the Institute of Jazz Studies, Rutgers University, 1986
Reference - Ragtime Music.

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