The world still hasn’t quite caught up to James Price Johnson, ambitious composer, eminent pianist, generous mentor and teacher.
How about CHARLESTON or ONE HOUR, MULE WALK or YAMEKRAW?
He lifted up every band he played in, and as a stride progenitor, he lived up to his announcement that he could create “a trick a minute” at the keyboard. And through his loving paternal care of one Thomas Waller, we have generations of pianists who thank him and sing his praises.
James P. doesn’t get the attention his works or his playing merit. But eBay has a few more exhibits for sale and for delighted contemplation. Printed music, not records — harking back to a time when every household had a piano and someone reasonably competent to make it sing and shout.
Early in his career, James P. (who studied the classical repertoire and took many of his “tricks” from it) had ambitions — always frustrated — to write and perform longer works. Many have been unearthed and recorded after his death, but EBONY DREAMS (1928) is new to me. I’d love to hear what a real pianist could do with this music: if I bought it, it would simply reproach me, unplayed, from the piano:
And here’s something more popular and less intimidating — a song from a 1932 musical. I’ve heard Marty Grosz sing it (as THERE GOES MY HEADACHE) and it’s entertaining although not hugely memorable. But I’d never seen the sheet music for this show before:
And just to keep this post from being too dry a trip into the world of paper ephemera, here’s something for the ears. Here’s James P. with Sidney DeParis, Vic Dickenson, Ben Webster, Jimmy Arthur Shirley, John Simmons, and Sidney Catlett, performing AFTER YOU’VE GONE for Blue Note. Listen to his ringing solo chorus and the fine, spare comping he gives the soloists:
You see I don’t mean my title to be taken lightly!
STRIDE INTO GENEROSITY: EVERY DOLLAR GOES TO THE MUSICIANS