JAMES PRICE JOHNSON (1894 - 1955)
James P. Johnson, a highly influential African-American jazz pianist who also wrote popular songs and composed classical works, was the founder of the stride piano idiom, a crucial figure in the transition from ragtime to jazz. Growing up in New Brunswick, New Jersey, Johnson studied classical and ragtime piano techniques, and by his late teens he was performing in saloons, in dance halls, and at parties in a black community near Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan. While playing for dancers before 1920 he became noted for his rare ability to create embellishments, variations, and improvisations on popular songs, including the blues, which were relatively new at the time. He made piano rolls followed by recordings of his own songs. He also composed and orchestrated music for stage revues in collaboration with his leading student, Fats Waller.