Charlie Johnson led one of the most popular jazz ensembles in Harlem, right around the time some guy from DC was starting his own career as a bandleader. The rest, as they say, is footnotes.
Most historians concentrate on the nascent big band language contained in Benny Waters and Benny Carter‘s arrangements, painting the Johnson band as just another stepping stone in some inevitable teleology of jazz. Listening to the band as its own entirely unique animal, with one foot in Jazz Age stomp and another in Swing Era architecture, is far more rewarding (not to mention fairer to the musicians).
This writer used to experience great satisfaction and great disappointment that the band’s complete, teasingly scant recorded legacy was contained on one French EPM Jazz Archives CD he purchased as a teenager, with subpar sound and inaccurate personnel listings (still available for premium price!). Yet it was all that was available and all he needed, until now.
Thanks to the miracle that is the internet, here’s the Johnson band in all of their steaming, unissued and unearthed glory:
Thanks to whoever posted this brand new side on SoundCloud, and to the erudite trumpeter and jazz historian Yves Francois for spreading the news. Keep ’em coming!
courtesy of Yves Francois…
My infinite thanks to my friend KB [last name deleted for privacy] for finding this link and doing some research about it. It’s a shock that this was not issued (perhaps the depression has something to do with it).
It’s like a James P. Johnson piano solo made into a big band chart (maybe because it IS a Lucky Roberts composition). The arrangement is rather more sophisticated than the other two titles from that session. KB feels it is a Benny Carter chart, and judging from the tight harmonies with the trombone and sax trio at one point, plus the sax trio work and wild chords, KB’s suggestion makes sense.
There are fantastic solos by Sidney DeParis (plunger muted trumpet) and Ben Whitted (clarinet), and good ones by George Washington (trombone) as well as Benny Waters (tenor sax), but it is the band that shines the most, with great work by Edgar Sampson on lead alto and the superb brass bass of Billy Taylor alongside George Stafford on drums. Leonard Davis (trumpet) also solos at the end.
Wonderful discovery – apparently, the band’s last recorded performance. The other Johnson sides are available, in marvelous sound, on Frog DGF8 and DGF12.
I thought you’d enjoy this one!
WOW! This one has gone straight to the top of the transcription pile for my band…
Get to writing, man!