Wednesday, January 28, 2009

JazzLives on Composer James P. Johnson: “'CALL 1-800-STRIDE' RIGHT AWAY!”

[Victory Stride: The Symphonic Music of James P. Johnson; The Concordia Orchestra; Marin Alsop, Conductor; Music Masters 67140 (1994)]

January 28, 2009
“What’s all this? Scott E. Brown wrote a wonderful book about our man James P. Johnson, A Case of Mistaken Identity: The Life and Music of James P. Johnson (Scarecrow Press, 1986). Johnson, as many of you will know, taught Fats Waller, composed 'Charleston,' 'Runnin’ Wild,' 'If I Could Be With You One Hour Tonight,' 'Mule Walk,' and many others. To my ears, he is the most satisfying of the great Stride players. But he also wrote longer works, including an opera, DE ORGANIZER, with libretto by Langston Hughes — 'Third Stream' works bridging jazz and classical music. His more ambitious compositions received insufficient notice, and he may well have died a disappointed man. Scott is up here in New York for a few days to do research at the New York Public Library, and he is looking for people who saw James P. play. That’s not an impossibility: James P. was at the keyboard in 1950 and perhaps beyond. If you have any information for Scott (a pile of acetates in the kitchen cabinet, perhaps) email him at, or call him at 443-528-1444 (cell).” [Full Post]

Prof. Dominique-René de Lerma of Lawrence University in Wisconsin explains the origin of Johnson's best-known and underappreciated classical work Yamekraw: A Negro Rhapsody, “Written in celebration of a black community on the outskirts of Savannah, Yamekraw: A Negro Rhapsody (1927) was first performed by Fats Waller in a Carnegie Hall concert organized by William C. Handy. It seems most likely that Johnson's relative inexperience in orchestral writing prompted him to ask William Grant Still to rework the score in 1928.” Dr. De Lerma adds: “His first stroke in 1940 did not prevent him from presenting a concert of his own works at Carnegie Hall in 1944, but a much more serious stroke occurred in 1951, confining him to bed until his death.” James Price Johnson (1894-1955) was born on Feb. 1 and is profiled at

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