Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Party at Small's Jazz Club Puts Headstone on James P. Johnson's Grave in Queens

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

Yesterday was the birthday of James P. Johnson, the African American composer and stride pianist whose classical works include “Yamekraw: A Negro Rhapsody.” He was born on Feb. 1, 1894. In our birthday tribute, we quoted Ben Ratliff, who wrote in The New York Times on Oct. 5, 2009: "A definition of righteousness: about 75 people, crammed into the West Village club Smalls, watching a series of pianists play James P. Johnson on a grand piano in a benefit concert to buy a headstone for his grave. Like all the other stride-piano soloists of the teens and 1920s, Johnson has been lodged in a historical second tier, probably because he’s not known for band music and didn’t tour sufficiently. But he’s the truest passageway from pre-jazz to jazz-as-we-know-it. He was a pioneering and powerful solo pianist, a composer of short sketches (including 'The Charleston,' his era-defining hit, and 'Carolina Shout,' his finger-buster étude) and extended orchestral works."

Today a comment was made on the post: “Hello - nice article! I just wanted to say that thanks to our efforts at Smalls Jazz Club that there is now a tombstone on the site of James P. Johnson's grave. Thanks to all of the musicians and fans that showed up to pay respects!
Spike Wilner
Smalls Jazz Club”

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