James P. Johnson is one of the most influential and neglected figues in 20th century American music. Best known as the teacher of Fats Waller, he was the composer of "Charleston", THE song that exemplified the 1920s, a writer of serious orchestral works, a magnificent accompanist of Bessie Smith and others, and the leading figure in the Harlem stride piano style. As such, he influenced Ellington, Basie and Thelonious Monk amongst others.
He recorded extensively, but for a long time little of his material was available on CD. Classics has now completed a reasonably comprehensive eight volume reissue, which is a must for Johnson fans. This CD, however, encapsulates most of Johnson's genius in one disc.
The recordings, made for Asch, cover most facets of Johnson's career. His ability as a stride virtuoso is demonstrated in "Liza" and "Twilight Rag", his ragtime roots in Scott Joplin's "Euphonic Sounds", and his empathy for the blues in a number of tracks, the best being "Snowy Morning Blues", given two markedly different performances and the poignant "Blue Moods Sex".
His neglected serious compositions are demonstrated with "Yamecraw", "Jungle Drums" and "Jazzamine Concerto", all well worth hearing in the only recording opportunity Johnson ever received to air them. (They have since been rediscovered and recorded by the Concordia Orchestra, and are well worth hearing. They compare favourably with the grossly over-rated Gershwin).
All in all, this is a splendid disc that does justice to Johnson's multi-faceted genius. While it is a little short of full-blooded stride piano (why was Asch's version of "Carolina Balmoral" not included?), no one with more than a passing interestin jazz piano should be without it.