[ABOVE: Victory Stride: The Symphonic Music of James P. Johnson; The Concordia Orchestra; Marin Alsop, Conductor; Music Masters 67140 (1994) BELOW: Jazz Nocturne - American Concertos of the Jazz Age; Hot Springs Music Festival Symphony Orchestra; Richard Rosenberg, conductor; Naxos 8.559647 (2011) (Cover painting: Piano Etude by Hugh Dunnahoe)]
James Price Johnson was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey Feb. 1, 1894. One of the most significant developments in his legacy in the past year has been the erection of a grave marker in his honor at his previously unmarked burial plot. It was financed by a fundraising party at a prominent nightspot in New York City. A great tribute to the composer's compositions and piano performances since his prior birthday has been the 2011 release of the Naxos American Classics disc Jazz Nocturne - American Concertos of the Jazz Age.
Naxos says in the liner notes of this CD: “Arkansas' Hot Springs Music Festival pairs world-class mentors with talented pre-professional apprentices on full scholarship; the two groups play side by side in orchestral, chamber music, solo recital, vocal, choral and opera repertoire. For two weeks, these musicians form a unique community, presenting twenty concerts and over 250 open rehearsals for music lovers from across the globe. Over 20,000 people attend Festival events each year, and recordings from its concerts are broadcast nationwide via National Public Radio.”
The distinctive repertoire performed at the Hot Spring Music Festival and recorded in the Naxos American Classics series has been of great help to AfriClassical.com. The releases of the music of Edmond Dédé (1827-1903), Charles Lucien Lambert, Sr. (1828-1896) and Lucien-Leon Guillaume Lambert, Jr. (1858-1945) have made it possible to add each of the three composers to the website.
Richard Rosenberg conducts the Hot Springs Music Festival Symphony Orchestra in James P. Johnson's Yamekraw: A Negro Rhapsody, orchestrated by William Grant Still, the opening work on the CD Jazz Nocturne: American Concertos of the Jazz Age; Naxos 8.559647 (2011). He writes in the liner notes: “This disc marks the première recording of the complete, final orchestral version of the work. As one of the first successful large-scale musical works by an African-American composer, Yamekraw thus played an important rôle in the development of American music in the twentieth century.”
The full-throated rendition of Yamekraw, in the final version orchestrated by William Grant Still, conveys the throbbing vitality of the Jazz Age. Harry Reser's Suite for Banjo and Orchestra provides a noticeable change of instrumentation. George Gershwin's A Rhapsody in Blue is the next work. The disc ends with the two works of Dana Suesse, a rarely-heard composer of the era whose presence is a reminder that the Jazz Age belonged to women composers as well as men.