Classic James P. Johnson Sessions (#262)

It was a characteristic error about James P., whose genius and influence have long gone unremembered. For years, Johnson’s contributions to jazz have been largely ignored or discounted. Even the fame of Fats Waller has only helped to eclipse Johnson’s own reputation. Only now are we beginning to see the real value of James P. Johnson’s many gifts to jazz.

But some, such as Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Earl Hines, Art Tatum, Willie “The Lion” Smith and , of course, Fats, knew about Johnson, regarding him not only as their musical father but also as the “greatest pianist in jazz.” Later, even modernists like Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell would admit to his influence.

As one of the first who wrought ragtime into jazz, Johnson’s role as a major transitional figure has been eclipsed in jazz lore by Jelly Roll Morton, the man who claimed to have “invented” jazz. Yet the recordings that James P. made in 1921 show him to be much more advanced than those made by Morton two years later. James P.’s piano style, which became known as Harlem stride piano, is much closer to a pure jazz style while Morton’s retains more of the distinctive ragtime feeling. Furthermore, those who think the jazz rhythmic conception called swing first appeared on the early recordings by Louis Armstrong should listen to Johnson’s 1921 recording of his composition, “Harlem Strut.”

- Bob Hilbert, liner notes for Mosaic Records MD4-109
© Mosaic Records