Saturday, February 2, 2013

Discovering James P. Johnson

First there was the fact I never knew: the Charleston song, which everyone knows so well, was composed by a black man, James P. Johnson.

James P Johnson, smiling, playing the piano with other musicians in the background
But that was just the first of several mind-expanders on this morning's Weekend Edition interview with Marin Alsop, conductor of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

Johnson was the creator of the stride style of jazz piano. He (at the same time as George Gershwin) recorded piano rolls for player pianos; the rolls were later used by musicians like Duke Ellington to learn the style.

He also wrote orchestral music, which usually received a single performance, and then went into obscurity. The music was thought lost until Alsop began to search for it, and one day was allowed to look in the attic of one of Johnson's descendents.

I can only imagine the feeling she must have had when she opened the first box. Alsop and the BSO have been performing his pieces, and Alsop said that they are being played more widely now.

My ignorance of music knows few bounds, but this story makes me want to know more.


Michael Leddy said...

Duke Ellington wrote of him: “There never was another.” May I suggest, for an appetizer, Carolina Shout and After You’ve Gone?

Daughter Number Three said...

Michael, I was hoping you would comment. Thanks.