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June 1999

James P. Johnson
Parlor Piano Solos From Rare Piano Rolls
Biograph Records

James P. was one of the earliest jazz musicians "to command respect." He played a big role in the transition from ragtime to stride, and thence (hence) to jazz. His influence on Waller and Ellington was of immense significance, and his "Carolina Shout" was undoubtedly one of the most pivotal of piano solos. It is served up here with a dozen other performances, six of them also Johnson's compositions-a welcome reminder of his importance as a composer. "If I Could Be With You One Hour Tonight" was still years away.

The recording is good and the tempos chosen by Michael Montgomery, who also "pumped" the rolls, seem better than on most records of this kind, where a tendency toward the ricky-ticky march elements of ragtime is too often prominent. A lot of flash and fingerbusting was, of course, very much a part of the game then, but Johnson's technique emerges impressively through the various subsequent recorded processes. Chris Albertson refers to Count Basie in his good notes, and despite the lean economy of the style he made famous, Basie always remained like Ellington-warmly in favor of the stride idiom. Hugues Panassie, in his dictionary, also described Johnson as having "no equal in the invention of riffs." So as a source he has probably still not had all the credit he deserved.

Originally published in June 1999
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