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James P. Johnson: Classic James P. Johnson Sessions (1921-1943)

Jazz piano masters tend to slot easily into categories. There are seemingly beyond-the-bounds-of-possibility virtuosos (Art Tatum), blues melders (Wynton Kelly) and genre purveyors (Meade Lux Lewis), but few ivory-savants leapt about like James P. Johnson.

This box-which has the standard Mosaic heft, with six discs topped to the max-covers a little more than two decades in Johnson’s career, and it does the man a service surpassed only by his playing. For Johnson has never quite had his due, being what we think of as a “pianist’s pianist.” If you play the instrument, you probably love him, and hear in his work things you’d like to integrate into yours. But Johnson was never really a flair guy, nor a power guy, which can make you an underrated guy.

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