Happy 104th Birthday to my dear friend and mentor Eddie Jefferson "Father of the Art of Jazz Vocalese," writing and singing lyrics to Improvised solos.
Recent discovered interview. I'm the Luckiest guy I know ~~ Richie Cole
August 3, 1918 to May 9, 1979
The Making of A Jazz Singer by George V Johnson Jr (Screenplay)
I met Eddie Jefferson in 1974 at a performance at Fort Dupont in Washington DC. At that time I was 24 years old and working as a Metrobus Driver. My regular run was the G2 from Howard University to Georgetown University on P Street was. One of my daily stops was Duke Ellington School of Performing Arts. Some of my passengers were young Wallace & Antoine Roney trumpet, their sister, Ron Sutton saxophone, Eric Allen drums, David Marsh and many others. Nothing like today.. they were very respectful and called me Mr. Johnson. Their conversations were about Bird, Miles, Cifford. Trane, Monk and Dizzy.. Look at their careers today. It's amazing to watch each of them grow to become great musicians. Another famous building I would drive past was the house where the Exorcist was being filmed..
One evening after work, I was hanging out at my favorite spot, the Pigfoot Workshops and having a conversation with John Malachi and Bill Harris guitarist and owner of the club. They knew I loved Eddie Jefferson and mentioned that he was performing at Fort Dupont Park Concert Series.
The band was Richie Cole Rueben Brown piano, Marshall Hawkins bass, Bernard Sweetney drums featuring Eddie Jefferson vocals. It was a dream of a lifetime to finally meet Eddie. I first began singing along with his recordings as a child when my father played his music for his company during card parties. They loved to play bid wisk and eat crabs. Crabs were $45 a bushel in the 60s at the Warf.
My father would always fool around saying cool things on the microphone. In his deep baritone bass voice he'd say "My name is Sweet Daddy Glo To! When I'm Gone it won't be No Mo." He was so cool on the mic and I wanted to be just like him.. 😆
I'd listen and watch him carefully.. When he wasn't home I would sneak and turn on the mic and began experimenting / exploring. I loved Frankie Lymon
and of course James Brown. He made everybody Funky and do the James Brown. That's who I got many of my dance moves from 😆 🤣
The other singers that I dug were Sam Cooke, King Pleasure, Jon Hendricks and Eddie Jefferson. Everyone sang Moody’s Mood For Love, but the ones that really caught my attention was Sam Cooke's music and Letter From Home LP "A Night in Tunisia" and a few others.
It was his stories that captured my imagination. Nobody else was singing like this.. I wanted more. I listened to everything in my father's collection and learned most of them by memory and ready to sing in public if I had the opportunity. That wouldn't happen for another 10 years or so. I was singing in the school and church choirs from elementary to high school. That was different and very confined. Though it was in church where I sang my first public duet "Blessed Assurance" with my sisterJackie. It felt good, i was a natural and I didn't get nervous. When the congregation started shouting, clapping and sing along I knew it was my calling.
Now, my father always knew someone was playing with his stereo system because the diamond needle would get broken a few times.. he'd go crazy 😆 What happened to my needle? Somebody's been playing my records.. 😆 🤣
As time went on I had learned most of Eddie Jefferson's recordings. It was a secret passion that I didn't openly do until I was in my twenties and heard about the Pigfoot Jazz workshop.
After a few months of singing Eddie's material is when I was told that he was performing at Fort Dupont Park. I lived in South Hill High rise Apartments at Southern Ave & Pennsylvania Ave ext. The park was five minutes away. I arrived early to see if I could me him. Coincidentally, when I attented Sousa Jr High in the early 60's Fort Dupont was an all white 18 hole golf course. The city changed after the 1968 Riots and the Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Most of the White folks left DC. Except for a few changes It's turned into forest since, but now we have Gentrification. Washington DC is no longer Chocolate City...
I was sitting in my lawn chair beside a older couple and started a casual conversation. We introduced ourselves and the guy said he was one of the performers. 🙏 it was Eddie Jefferson. The singer of my dreams. What a coincidence.
I told him I loved his style and had been singing at the Pigfoot. When I told him my name was George V Johnson Jr, he said he heard about me. We instantly became friends.
When Eddie went on stage and began singing he blew my mind. He was my biggest "Star," and from that day on I was on him like white on rice. That evening we were supposed to meet up at Harold's Rouge N Jar. He didn't show because he had to catch a train, but I had the opportunity to sit in with Richie Cole, Rueben Brown and the group. The word got back to Eddie that I was cool 😎. For the next few months, I literally called him everyday. He never got tired or turned me away. He came back to DC several times and I invited him to stay at my apartment. That's when we really had chance to know each other. It was my enrollment in The University of the Eddie Jefferson School of Bop!
(I'll fill in with more stories)
A few weeks later I flew to Detroit to see him perform with Roy Brooks & The Artistic Truth at Ethel's Lounge on Mack Avenue..
Funny thing I almost got robbed while getting in a taxi at the airport. Cat tried to jump in cab with a pistol... now that's a whole new story.. another time.. lol
The band members..
Vincent York, Vincent Bowens, Kenny Cox,
I was Eddie's biggest fan / groupie.
For three years I followed him and drove to see him as much a possible at his crib at 227 Linden Blvd. Queens NY. He'd take me to different night clubs around the city and Harlem.
In 1975 he booked me at Joe Lee Wilson's spot the Lady's Fort.. with Monty Waters sax, Hakim Jami bass, Jimmy Lovelace drums.. I was nervous but I knew Eddie's material and I knew they were familiar.. he was pissed because I didn't have any charts. Shit.. I didn't know anything about charts then. I was just singing for love.. lol
After the gig when my friend Andre Massey and I went out to his new MG sports car it was broken into and someone stole all our belongings. I do remember a few homeless people sleeping in a boxes.. my first New York lesson.. don't leave shit in your car!! 😆 😆
Whenever Eddie performed in DC he stayed at my apartment. I was in awe every minute.
All day we be talking,
smokin, chillin like two peas in a pod. Eddie was a walking encyclopedia and never got tired of me asking questions. He said that he always wanted to see a young cat with a smooth voice singing the Vocalese style. I had all his albums and could sing each song fluently and he loved that.. but!!!
The most important thing he said to me in these exact words "Write your own Shit" so people won't say you're imitating me, establish my own identity and take the Art from to another level..
It was a dream come true to learn from the greatest Jazz singer on the Planet. I used to get the chills watching him..
One evening after 3 years of tutoring I followed him to Philadelphia to see him perform. When he was on stage I always studied his every move, every nuance. Eddie Jefferson was the most exciting singer I ever saw in person.
He'd be singing and all of a sudden he'd break out tap dancing and the crowd would go crazy..
Always dancing, moving, grooving and telling stories.
The tape player was always on and this happened https://youtu.be/msHz4yTXjdM
Eddie Jefferson's Final Concert appearance. Jazz Showcase. Full Concert
Spring of 1978 was the last time I saw Eddie Jefferson. He was in town performing with Richie Cole at Harold's Rouge N Jar. He layed over that weekend. I had just refurbished my wardrobe with new clothes, plenty of extra suits and sport clothing. Eddie and I were the same size. I gave him five sport jackets, shirts and slacks. That fall I took a sabbatical from the railroad and enrolled in Howard University to tour with the Broadway Musical "Raisin."
May 9, 1979 I received a telegram from Bill Harris informing me that Eddie Jefferson was dead...
In his last video performance at the Jazz Showcase he's wearing a sport coat, shirt and suede vest I have him.. Everytime I watch the video I smile with happy tears.. our last conversation was a promise to produce my first album. I had just penned lyrics to John Coltrane’s Classic Moments Notice and several Charlie Parker's compositions. The dream was cut short...
Eddie Jefferson, 60, Jazz Lyricist, Slain After Leaving Detroit Club
My first vocalese lyrics were written in 1974 to John Coltrane's classic "MOMENT NOTICE". Six years later in 1980 I was introduce to the great Pharoah Sanders by the late great Leon Thomas while hanging out together at the Village Vanguard. Pharoah asked me to join him on stage. I knew of his relationship with Trane so I thought I'd surprise him with my lyrics to Moments Notice. He and the audience were estactic. One week later Pharoah invited me to hangout with him.
When I got to the address it was Power Station Studio. After watching the group record a few tracks he surprised me and asked if I would like to sing my lyrics. John Hicks, Art Davis, Billy Higgins, Bobby Hutcherson, Steve Turre and Danny Moore played with grace. One take and the rest is history.
My first musical influences:
Mr. Spencer H. Payne (bottom right) was the resident manager of the apartment buildings where we lived growing up on Benning Road SE during the 50's and 60's. I was eight when the family moved there in 1958 and left in 1968, the year of the riots.. He was a well known pianist on the local scene that performed in the local clubs and concerts around the Metropolitan area and on occasions gave jam sessions at his apartment.
I enjoyed spending the night at Mr and Mrs. Payne's residence. It was the place to be during the jam sessions. The grown ups would be getting down and having fun all the time. The parents would be throwing down with different type of soul food. I recall us making a few nickles and dimes to show them the newest dance steps. The Payne's were our extended family. Sandra, Butch, Kevin, Darren, Sharon, and Karen. It was five of us also... Jackie, Denice, Roney, Derek and myself.
It was my first introduction to live jazz music and where I would meet many of the local legends who would occasionally be there. Keter Betts, Bertel Knox, Calvin Jones, Shirley Horn, Rick Henderson Harold Minor, George Dude Brown, Buck Hill, Nap Turner to name a few. My father George Sr. went to school with Shirley Horn and Nap Turner. He loved music and was the neighborhood Dee Jay. During the 50's he had amplifier, turntable and built his own speakers. He also had a large collection of 45's, and albums. He was always blasting the hip sounds. jazz, r & b, rock n roll, gospel and all. We listened to everything in those days. Everybody in both apartment buildings partied and had fun in those days. Those were the best growing up years in my life,
Years later during the 70's when I was in my twenties I would meet back up with all the musicians. But this time little did they know all the music rubbed off on me. Throughout the years I had been listening, studying and practicing Eddie Jefferson, King Pleasure, Lou Rawls, Jon Hendricks, James Brown, Frankie Lymon, Jackie Wilson etc. The Pigfoot is where I would meet my next mentors John Malachi and Shirley Horn and many of the up and coming musicians in DC, as well as Eddie Jefferson. This was the spot where all the cats hung out. It was the hippest night club in the city... to be continued (many musical stories)
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