Daily Archives: September 11, 2009

JAMES P. JOHNSON, EVERYWHERE

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.”

James P. 1

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:James P. 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.  James P. 3

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:  info@smallsjazzclub.comwww.jamespjohnson.org.  

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EXTRA! THE CANGELOSI CARDS CD

newsboy2Thanks to Eve Polich, I learned that the Cangelosi Cards debut CD was not only finished but on sale.  I’d been thinking about this disc since Tamar Korn had said that the Cards were making their first-ever formal recording.   

But at the same time, bringing this extraordinary group into a recording studio made me anxious.  The Cards create an ecstatic spectacle whenever they perform.  Even if there isn’t a whole line of dancers in front of the band, the music makes everyone bond joyously, and the band climbs higher and higher. 

I’ve been at recording sessions, observing the most experienced professionals, and I know the effect that even the most congenial studio can have on creative improvisers.  Everyone plays splendidly, but there is the chilling effect of being watched too closely, of having your every breath recorded — literally — for posterity.  It’s a rare band that’s totally relaxed in the studio, and most musicians seem exhausted at the end of the session, relieved that it’s over, vaguely dissatisfied with the results.  I wondered if the artificial environment of the recording studio would cause the Cards to lose some of their exquisite energies?   

I need not have worried.  Yes, there’s no crowd audible on the CD, and the absence of enthusiastic noise took a few minutes to get used to.  But the music comes through more clearly than it ever does in live performance.  I hear nuances of timbre in solo and ensemble that I would only have sensed in a club.  And the Cards seem not at all intimidated by the microphones, the weight of being captured for immortality.  From the first notes of MY BLUE HEAVEN, the Cards rock — without strain or tension, but with a graceful intensity.  The rhythm section is splendidly easy; the front-line players show off their distinctive voices and timbres.  Subtle, convincing little arrangements, too.  As we’ve seen, the Cards are full of surprises: no performance is predictable, although there is none of that irritating seeking-after-novelty that distinguishes lesser groups.  You’ll hear a persuasive, irresistible swing that gives way to tender ballad playing, in their characteristically varied repertoire — hinting at Billie Holiday and Jimmie Rodgers, to mention only two names. 

Tamar’s voice is, as always, a delight — and in this form, I can hear textures that a club audience might have over-ridden.  She sings sweetly, growls the blues, becomes her own trumpet / hi-hat cymbal, and yodels — her focused but expansive vocal instrument responding to every nuance of the music.  And I truly admire the witty trombone playing of Musselman, Lichtman’s fluent clarinet and eloquent mandolin work, Milius’s forceful harmonica solos, Meyer’s perfectly poised violin playing, Sanders’ solid rhythm playing and eloquent lines, Holden’s deep-down bass support, and Webster’s nimble, searching piano.  The Cards would have been welcome on Fifty-Second Street in its glory days: hear the rocking momentum they create on IDA, as well as the Victorian delicacy of TREASURES UNTOLD.       

And, although it seems paradoxical, the disc isn’t too long.  Many CDs are filled to the brim with twenty similar performances, making listening to them somewhat exhausting.  The eight selections here are a wonderfully satisfying banquet.     

The details?  The CD is available for $10 from La Compania de Musicos Viajeros (www.losmusicosviajeros.net) 718-744-7391; email is correspondence@losmusicosviajeros.net.  Obviously, the ideal way to buy it is to pick up several copies at a Cards appearance.  Why “several copies”?  They make ideal gifts;  they will be collectors’ items; they help fund this irreplaceable band.  But you already have figured that out.  I heard rumblings that it would be possible to download the music from the site, but you’d have to check there.

The disc is called THE CANGELOSI CARDS: CLINTON STREET RECORDINGS.  My Blue Heaven / It’s Like Reaching For The Moon / Blue Yodel No. 2 / Ida, Sweet As Apple Cider / September Song / Puttin’ On The Ritz / Treasures Untold / The Anniversary Song.  It features the full octet: Jake Sanders, guitar; Tamar Korn, vocals; Cassidy Holden, bass; Matt Musselman, trombone; Dennis Lichtman, clarinet and mandolin; Marcus Millius, harmonica; Karl Meyer, violin; Gordon Webster, piano.

It delights me — and I can’t wait until the next one!