On eBay, there are always a good number of James P. Johnson recordings — ranging from original 78s to 10″ and 12″ vinyl pressings to the occasional compact disc. Today, though, a small trove of sheet music has come to light — worth admiring. This song is justly famous — one of James P.’s pretty lines (with echoes of CARELESS LOVE and perhaps even older, undocumented folk strains). Of course I remember Kenny Davern’s comment on this title, “You know, that’s face to face.”
Here’s another — perhaps more famous because of Fats Waller and Marty Grosz. The cover, typically, is wonderfully idealized; neither of those two comely people looks like a porter or a chambermaid, but perhaps they’re dressed up for Thursday night at the Savoy Ballroom:
And the last one is a real oddity. Somehow I don’t think of it as a particularly ambitious composition — is it the presence of Mike Riley? — but I wonder if any of my readers has ever heard it.
Now to more serious matters. Although no one would count James P. Johnson as undeserving, he is buried in an unmarked grave. In New York City, a group of jazz pianists led by Spike Wilner have set up a downtown version of a Harlem rent party to benefit James P., posthumously — to purchase a marker for his grave. I won’t be nearby on October 4, but this is an enterprise worth supporting: James P. Johnson’s Last Rent Party!
Smalls Jazz Club Oct. 4th, 2009 1:00-to 9:00 PM
James P. Johnson, the father of stride piano, the composer of “The Charleston” and “Carolina Shout,” and one of the founders of modern jazz piano lies, shockingly, in an unmarked grave in Maspeth, Queens, Mt. Olivet Cemetery. Please join the James P. Johnson Foundation, a non-for-profit organization dedicated to music education and to raise the awareness of James P. Johnson, the Johnson family and Smalls Jazz Club for an all day “rent party” to raise money to buy a monument to commemorate this great musician! Join us on Sunday, October 4th beginning at 1:00 PM at Smalls Jazz Club located at 183 West 10th Street at 7th Ave. The afternoon will begin with a symposium by musicologist and Johnson scholar Scott Brown on the life and work of James P. Johnson. This will include an exhibit from The James P. Johnson archive housed at The Rutgers Institute for Jazz Studies. Around 3:00 will then be a steady stream of pianists to play solo piano in tribute to James P. Johnson. Artists to appear include: Dick Hyman, Ethan Iverson, Ted Rosenthal, Terry Waldo, Mike Lipskin, Conal Fowlkes, Spike Wilner, Aaron Diehl and others to be announced. Suggested tax-free donations are $20 with all the proceeds to go to the James P. Johnson Foundation. You may come and go as you please throughout the afternoon. Refreshments will be served. Please come by and pay your respects to The Dean of Stride Pianists! For more information: email@example.com, www.jamespjohnson.org.