sábado, 2 de febrero de 2013

Jef Lee Johnson / An Eclectic Underground Avant-garde Guitar Master

Philadelphia guitarist Jef Lee Johnson dies at 54

January 31, 2013|By Dan DeLuca, Inquirer Music Critic

Jef Lee Johnson, 54, a Philadelphia guitar virtuoso who played with musicians from McCoy Tyner to Aretha Franklin and Mariah Carey and who was renowned for his command of a variety of styles, died Monday, Jan. 28.

He died at Roxborough Memorial Hospital, said his brother, James. The cause was complications from pneumonia and diabetes, according to his Belgium-based management company.

"He was a soft-spoken genius that made every musician around him better," the Philadelphia trombonist and bandleader Jeff Bradshaw said. He called Mr. Johnson an "out-of-the-box musician whose style of play would not be confined by genres. He was brilliant in them all."
The guitarist, raised in Germantown, was introduced to music at Providence Baptist Church, founded by his grandfather, Rowland C. Lamb Sr.

Mr. Johnson, who graduated from Central High School, earned a reputation as a musician's musician during a career of more than three decades, beginning in the '70s, when he was a teenager playing on gospel recordings by the Rev. James Cleveland.

Before the decade was out, Mr. Johnson was filling in for Carlos Santana in jazz piano giant McCoy Tyner's road band. In the 1980s, Mr. Johnson's collaborators included the smooth-jazz chanteuse Phyllis Hyman and the avant-jazz drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson.
He made his first recordings with Philadelphia violinist John Blake in 1985, and was briefly a member of Paul Schaffer's "World's Most Dangerous Band" on Late Night With David Letterman. As a studio guitarist, he worked with George Duke, Jeff Beck, Roberta Flack, Stanley Clarke, Erykah Badu, and, most recently, the jazz crossover star Esperanza Spalding.

In 1996, he released Blue, the first of a series of solo albums that could move from quietly luminous acoustic interludes to noise-rock freakouts.

In 2008, Mr. Johnson played on Rediscovering Lonnie Johnson, a tribute to the blues and jazz guitar great who died in 1970. In an Inquirer interview about that project, Mr. Johnson's words could aptly have described his own music.

"There was some fiery music," he said. "There was jazz, there was blues. He was playing everything at once. I guess he was dying to get it out."

As a guitarist, "Jef was instantly identifiable," said Aaron Luis Levinson, the Grammy-winning producer who played with Mr. Johnson in the jazz-noise band Gutbucket and chose him to "play" Lonnie Johnson on the Rediscovering album.


Jef Lee Johnson (aka R.C.) - Black & Loud

Jef Lee Johnson (54)
Underground Philly Jazz Legend

January 31, 2013|BY JOHN F. MORRISON, Daily News Staff Writer

HIS PLAYING had been described as "ferocious," "salty" and a few other colorful adjectives.

The object of these descriptions was the greatest jazz guitarist you never heard of: Jef Lee Johnson. However, if you're a dedicated jazz fan, you might have caught him at any number of music venues in Philly over the years, mostly playing in groups, with or behind other musicians, hidden but eloquent.

You also might have heard his distinctive sound on numerous albums and solo discs, many of them starring other musicians. Once again, hidden but eloquent.

Jef Lee Johnson, born and raised in Germantown, died Monday in Roxborough Memorial Hospital of complications of pneumonia and diabetes. He was 54 and still lived in Germantown.

In a review of his album, "Black and Loud," last March, Inquirer reviewer Karl Stark called Johnson "a singular fellow."

"No one but Johnson, whose credits range from McCoy Tyner to Aretha Franklin to the David Letterman band, could have made this wide-ranging set of 19 originals and two covers.

"You get to listen here to the firings of his neural net. He uses guitar lines as artist Jackson Pollock might have.

"He melds dollops of funk, rock, blues and jazz into confections of sheer tunefulness or shrill effluent. Repetition is part of the hypnosis. And while his shaky voice is a cross between that of Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Wonder, that just gets you in the neighborhood."

Stark went on to say that only Johnson "could find the inner neurosis of Little Richard's 'Tutti Frutti.' But being different has its own rewards."

"He was a strange, wonderful cat," said Philadelphia-based Aaron Levinson, Grammy-winning producer and musician. "He could do it all."

Levinson's most recent production was "Rediscovering Lonnie Johnson," comprising the music of the pioneering jazz guitarist who died in 1970.

Jef portrayed Lonnie Johnson on the album, lending his own unique musical twists to Lonnie's music. He said that he didn't want just to repeat what the other man had done.

In a portrait of Jef Johnson in the Philadelphia City Paper, A.D. Amorosi wrote: "Swampy blues, blissful avant-garde jazz, deep strange blues, dusky funk, Jef Lee Johnson does it all."

He quoted Aaron Levinson as saying, "Like Coltrane, Jef is inside the music. He plays from a place that is beyond notes, beyond technique."


Jef Lee Johnson (aka R.C.) - Testimony - Black & Loud-  (RIP Jef)