GEORGE V JOHNSON JR REVIEWS



GEORGE V JOHNSON JR'S JOYFUL JAZZ WAS A LIFETIME IN THE MAKING

Singer George V. Johnson. (Courtesy of George V. Johnson/Courtesy of George V. Johnson)
By Mike West August 17

George V. Johnson was a promising jazz singer in the 1970s and ’80s — recording with Pharoah Sanders, working with Dizzy Gillespie, touring for eight years with saxophonist James Moody — but the native Washingtonian put his art on hold for 30 years to work instead for New Jersey Transit. He recently retired from that job and is restarting his musical career in earnest. Perhaps that’s why he was the very picture of joy at Blues Alley on Tuesday night.

Johnson is a practitioner of vocalese, a somewhat overlooked art form in which singers put lyrics to previously instrumental tunes and even to transcribed improvisations. His own reworkings include Charlie Parker’s “My Little Suede Shoes,” something of a signature for Johnson, and Hank Mobley’s soul-drenched “East of the Village.” The bad news is the late saxophonists’ acrobatics were such that when Johnson (or anyone else) sings them, the words go by too fast and too bountifully to be caught in one hearing. More easily understood, though, is the sheer thrill that the singer expressed at any moment. He strutted in place, with a smile whose brightness was matched by his eyes, and emitted streams of words in a smooth-as-silk voice. On “East of the Village,” he ran through dense rhythms as casually as a kindergartener would a nursery rhyme.

But Johnson also trod some well-worn vocalese ground. Specifically, he showcased “Moody’s Mood for Love,” with lyrics by vocalese founder (and Johnson’s mentor) Eddie Jefferson. Incredibly, Johnson out-suaved his teacher: He was effortless, smoothing out the stutter of the opening “Here I go-here I go-here I go” almost subconsciously, then tossed the spotlight off to tenor saxophonist Elijah Balbed with a light “and a girl says. . . .” (Incidentally, it’s a tribute to both Johnson’s voice and poise to note that when he introduced Balbed and trumpeter Donvonte McCoy after their solos, he did so with the aplomb of a professional emcee.) But the relaxation he brought to the tune only increased the feeling of delight.

None of it, though, outdid the delight of one of Johnson’s originals. “Mother Africa” seemed somber at first, with an aching, cascading intro by pianist Deante Childers. But when bassist Kris Funn and drummer Keith Killgo entered, they brought with them a South African groove that was pure happiness. As Johnson intended it: the tune was all uplift, the leader singing a chorus of “Mother Africa, we love you” and adding lines about peace, love and brotherhood. It was enough to inspire tears of joy. This song, this man, need to be preserved for posterity.



George V Johnson Jr, born and bred in D.C., has made his name as a vocalist, actor, producer, composer, and playwright. He performed at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden along with Armand Ntep and musicians such as Deante Childers before hundreds of jazz-enthusiasts who enjoyed the laid-back atmosphere while lounging around the garden’s pool and sitting atop the grass. Johnson’s sounds brought life to the 12,000 garden fans before the rain fell, even coaxing some audience members to get up and dance with original songs including “Mother Africa,” a beautiful piece written in tribute to Nelson Mandela and the end of Apartheid.



COLTRANE’S classic “Moments Notice” is a complete gas! Sanders like Coltrane, pulls and holds attention with his entrances. Bobby Hutcherson’s and Hicks solo’s are heated and models of vivid imagination. The three put forth some of the very best solo’s in the entire album. The there’s the arresting new talent introduced here on compact disc in debute -


GEORGE V JOHNSON JR., whose marvelous lyrics and vocal work are truly auspicious! He sngs with James Moody on occasion and is happily remindful of the insistent giftness of the late EDDIE JEFFERSON. Johnson’s three stanzars close with ”Relax dig the sounds of Coltrane’s Music. Coltrane fills your heart with love and harmony. Trane played with magic. Listen to the melodies and you will see momently. When you here the message of his song!”. There’s no doubt in my mind that henceforth George V Johnson should and will be sought for his own gift to the music. He sang the song for Sanders at the Village Vanguard, and Sanders “felt that George ought to be heard”.



Thank you, Pharoah Sanders for your spirit of sharing! Wheeeeee....what a dynamite track this is~~~~HERBIE WONG!