A contemporary of Willie “The Lion” Smith of Newark, who I wrote about in a 350 Jersey Songs entry last month, James P. Johnson (1894-1955) is another hugely important 20th Century pianist. He also happened to be a fellow New Jerseyan: He grew up in New Brunswick.
Johnson, Smith and Fats Waller have sometimes been called the “Big Three” of stride piano, a style that grew out of ragtime and paved the way for the later innovations of artists such as Duke Ellington and Count Basie.
Johnson’s best known composition was “The Charleston,” which inspired the ’20s dance craze. But you can listen, below, to another one of his great early compositions, the lively and catchy “Keep Off the Grass.” He wrote it in 1921, though the recording below is from the 1940s.
New Jersey celebrated its 350th birthday in 2014. And in the 350 Jersey Songs series, we marked the occasion by posting 350 songs — one a day, from September 2014 to September 2015 — that have something to do with the state, its musical history, or both. To see the entire list, click here.