The story of a Negro Rhapsody by James P. Johnson.
YAMEKRAW - A RHAPSODY IN BLACK AND WHITE
Porgy and Bess – Metropolis – Mississippi Suite – Broadway at Night – Grand Three Shades of Blue and Rhapsody in Blue. All well known compositions, suites labelled as Modern American Music – White men’s symphonic jazz of the 1920s up to 1940s as played by Paul Whiteman, composed and arranged by George Gershwin and Ferde Grofé.
Duke Ellington can be labelled as the black African –American who composed numerous suites and concert works in symphonic jazz, like Reminiscing in Tempo, Black and Tan Fantasy, Black, Brown and Beige and the lesser known Symphony in Black and New World A-Comin’. But what about titles like Yamekraw, a Negro Rhapsody, Tone Poem or Symphony Harlem? Titles of suites, orchestral works, now forgotten, but written by a composer, whose name you won’t associate with this kind of music: James P. Johnson.
A few months ago the book Ellington Uptown, written by John Howland, was published by the University of Michigan Press in its series Jazz Perspectives. ( ISBN-13: 976-0-472-03344-4 ).
The full ttitle of the book is: Ellington Uptown - Duke Ellington, James P. Johnson and the Birth of Concert Jazz – The Story of the African American contributions to the symphonic jazz vogue of the 1920s through the 1940s.
James P. Johnson - Charleston (1925)
When James P. Johnson made his first recordings in May 1921 he was in his twenties and became known as a stride piano player, but in fact he started to play the piano in clubs long before since 1913. During the 1920s he developed into one of the best Harlem stride piano players, a model for numerous followers, but also started to compose more "serious"(?) works, like the music for the Broadway musical Runnin' Wild. He also started to compose large-scale orchestral works, like the 1927 Yamekraw, which was a piano rhapsody to be comparable with Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue.
A concert of Yamekraw by Fats Waller in Carnegie Hall ( 27th of April 1928) (click on the picture to enlarge) (photo in negative)
In his book, John Howland reserves many pages to describe the cultural background of Yamekraw, subtitled A Rhapsody in Black and White ( mind the similarity with the title of Rhapsody in Blue).
In 1930 the music was used into a Vitaphone short, titled Yamekraw, in which James P. Johnson seems to play the piano himself, although he is not visible in the film. In his book John Howland unravels the sources of certain themes used in Yamekraw - James P. borrowed themes from musicians like Perry Bradford and other black blues musicians from the 1920s.
As far as I know James P. Johnson recorded the tune just one time, in 1944, now available on a Folkway LP; Yamekraw - a Negro Rhapsody - ( in four movements). I love to introduce you to the fourth movement!!
There has been some contemporary releases from this Yamekraw Rhapsody in Black and White, recorded by Marcus Roberts and the members of the Orchestra of St. Luke's and the Lincoln Centre Jazz Orchestra ( June 1995) and one played by William Allbright. I found a life performance, in two parts, by Richard Alston; both fragments conclude this blog.
Thanks to Ate van D., a Dutch Jazzhistorian, I learned that Yamekraw has been performed at one of the Dutch Jazzweken (= Jazz weeks), by an orchestra of the VARA-radio networks during the 1930s. No more info available at the moment. Who can help?
Oscar Aleman Choro Music Flexible Records Hit of the Week-Durium Keep Swinging News Letter Keep Swinging Contributions