James P. Johnson

1928-1938

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AllMusic Review by

Welcome to a dizzying tour of one man's adventures in the recording studios of New York over the span of ten very eventful years. This segment of the James P. Johnson chronology begins with the "Daylight Savin' Blues," a magnificent instrumental recorded in October of 1928. The Gulf Coast Seven were essentially an Ellington quintet with Perry Bradford and James P. Johnson. The most stunning component here is the soprano saxophone of Johnny Hodges, who had come up under the direct influence of Sidney Bechet. Perry Bradford does his share of singing, sounding particularly mellifluous in duet with Gus Horsley on "Put Your Mind Right on It." The key phrase in that song is the immortal refrain: "let's misbehave." There is something about these 1929 ensembles that tickles the brain. Two sides recorded for Victor on November 18 bear a strange resemblance to recordings made under the heading of Fats Waller & His Buddies nearly two months earlier, on September 24. For vocalists, Waller used three reed players and the banjoist from his band to form a sort of barbershop quartet, billed as the Four Wanderers. Johnson's orchestra featured King Oliver, had Waller sitting in with James P. at the piano, and crackled with frantic vocals by an unidentified group calling themselves the Keep Shufflin' Trio. Both singing groups are fairly outrageous and corny to almost bizarre extremes. The word "Modernistic" had exciting connotations in 1929, as culture and technology raced headlong into the unknown. Both the solo piano rendition and the almost ridiculous vocal version convey some measure of that excitement. This collection contains no less than six outstanding piano solos, including the first recording ever made by anyone of Cole Porter's "What Is This Thing Called Love?." Recycling a discarded melody from the Clarence Williams publishing catalog, "How Could I Be Blue?" is a priceless vaudevillian piano duet with comical cuckold dialogue between JPJ and Clarence Williams himself. While this precious recording has recently found its way on to various James P. Johnson reissues, seldom has the flip side been heard. "I've Found a New Baby" focuses upon Clarence's indigestion. James appears to have a half-pint of liquor in his hip pocket but after administering the "cure" he informs Clarence that he's been given a shot of foot medicine! This disc includes three vocals by Fats Waller's lyricist Andy Razaf, and then concludes with five smoky sides from 1938 under the banner of Pee Wee Russell's Rhythmakers. Convening on behalf of the Hot Record Society, this magnificent ensemble had elements of Eddie Condon, Duke Ellington and Count Basie, which is to say Chicago, New York and Kansas City. You'd also need to include New Orleans in the schematic, as Wellman Braud and Zutty Singleton represented everything that was strongest and best about the Crescent City. "Horn of Plenty Blues" is a majestic slow drag with vocal by the drummer. "There'll Be Some Changes Made" received such an in-depth treatment that it was recorded in two parts, allowing extra solo space for the more expressive members. Pee Wee's group swings like the dickens, finishing off this amazing retrospective with crowing vigor and collective enthusiasm.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 2:47
2 2:46
3 3:01
4 2:52
5 3:16
6 3:20
7 2:53
8 3:02
9 3:00
10 3:06
11 3:11
12 3:24
13 3:18
14 2:51
15 3:34
16 3:24
17 3:05
18 2:26
19 2:50
20 2:55
21 2:56
22 2:38
blue highlight denotes track pick