James P. Johnson, one of America’s most noted jazz artists, was born on February 1, 1894, in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Johnson’s early musical training included the study of classical techniques under an Italian piano instructor. He is considered one of America’s seminal musical figures, combining elements of ragtime, the Blues, popular songs, ring-shout dance rhythms and his own classical virtuosity to create the first distinctive jazz piano style — Harlem stride. His 1921 stride composition, Carolina Shout, is considered the first recorded jazz piano solo. Two years later, he became the first black staff musician for the QRS piano roll company. From his 1923 Broadway production, Runnin’ Wild, came the tune and dance most closely associated with the Roaring ’20s — the Charleston. Other Johnson tunes that have become jazz standards include, If I Could Be With You, Old Fashioned Love, Snowy Morning Blues and You Can’t Lose a Broken Heart. His Harlem Symphony, Jazzamine Piano Concerto and part of a one-act opera created with poet Langston Hughes were performed during his lifetime and have been recently rediscovered. A favorite accompanist of Bessie Smith and Ethel Waters, he taught Fats Waller and Duke Ellington. Johnson died on November 17, 1955, in New York City.
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