Clarence Johnson: Low Down Papa - JazzWax

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February 28, 2011


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Michael Steinman

Beautifully explained for a generation and a century that has never seen one of these things in action. Two other comments: a pianist could go back over the roll and insert more notes (more punches) so often a roll sounds as if two pianists are playing --and rolls had a wonderful (unique!) side-benefit. If you were a young inexperienced player, you had the technology that would enable you to have James P. Johnson in your living room. The keys went up and down as if the Master was playing CAROLINA SHOUT. You could stop the roll; you could slow it down; you could put your fingers on the keys as James P. played, and you could thus learn how to reproduce a masterpiece . . . eventually, after much study. One young fellow in Washington, D.C., did just this -- a fellow named Ellington. Fascinating how apparently primitive technology, arcane at best now, could be so useful! Not miniaturized -- no iPod -- but with reverberating effects!

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  • Marc Myers writes regularly for The Wall Street Journal and is author of "Anatomy of a Song" (Grove) and "Why Jazz Happened." Founded in 2007, JazzWax is a two-time winner of the Jazz Journalists Association's best blog award.

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