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SoundGround >> Jazz Funk Virtuoso Jef Lee Johnson


11/24/12 10:55 PM
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hugomma
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Like just about everything else I've been listening to for the past year, Ali turned me on Jef Lee Johnson. He played on Ronald Shannon Jackson's "Red Warrior" albumm along with Steve Salas, a badass funkateer in his own right. Here's live performance from A Valux Jazz in 2009. The vocals are what they are, but it's really all about the playing. Picture Steve Salas with a bit of Mike Stern's harmonic vocabulary, & you'll have some idea of what Jef Lee Johnson does. Oh, & if you don't have time to sit in front of YouTube but want to burn an MP3 of this (or anything else on YouTube), here's a free YouTube to MP3 converter: http://www.video2mp3.net/?x=78&y=31&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DcA8Gqc7l-cA&quality=1
11/25/12 4:56 AM
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jman
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Hey Hugo how goes the jazz lessons???

The "better" I get at playing over changes, the worse I realize I am. The only thing I can hope for is the analogy that I heard from Frank Gambale when he first started sweep picking. He said he hit this middle period where he couldn't straight alternate pick anymore and he also wasn't good enough at sweep picking to do that...lol. He said eventially the sweep picking thing worked out for him, but he was scared there for a while.

I don't know why I'm diving into and trying to play jazz so badly. I suck at it, and don't even really like jazz that much. I do like some cool fusion stuff, so I guess that's part of it.

So did you have any more lessons?
11/25/12 3:47 PM
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Ali
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Edited: 11/25/12 9:11 PM
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Thanks Hugo! And of course VTFU.... for those of us who are too impatient, the first guitar solo (which is more than a solo... it goes on for a good long time, and is a good piece of storytelling) starts just before the 5-minute mark.

I have not problem at all with the vocals being what they are, either, in general. I do sometimes have the urge to forward to guitar improvs (but that's true of Living Colour, so of others of JLJ's predecessor's is Shannon Jackson's bands, too).

The blues-to-funk thing in JLJ's playing makes me think of Johnny Guitar Watson, a bit. Of course that outside stuff (like at around, say 16:20) doesn't make me think of Watson at all.
11/25/12 9:48 PM
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Ali
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Edited: 11/25/12 10:05 PM
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Here's a power trio...



The video editor spelled Jef's name wrong (but so does Amazon). He really doesn't have much to do for the first 3:57 besides play a groove, but then he gets busier.

I like all three of these players a lot; still, not sure what I think of this, beyond the setting of a hard groove.
11/26/12 11:32 AM
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hugomma
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Edited: 11/26/12 11:54 AM
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jman - Hey Hugo how goes the jazz lessons???

The "better" I get at playing over changes, the worse I realize I am. The only thing I can hope for is the analogy that I heard from Frank Gambale when he first started sweep picking. He said he hit this middle period where he couldn't straight alternate pick anymore and he also wasn't good enough at sweep picking to do that...lol. He said eventially the sweep picking thing worked out for him, but he was scared there for a while.

I don't know why I'm diving into and trying to play jazz so badly. I suck at it, and don't even really like jazz that much. I do like some cool fusion stuff, so I guess that's part of it.

So did you have any more lessons?

 

They've been going well jman.  Things have been nuts at work and I haven't had a chance to update the Dale Bruning thread.  I've had two more lessons, but will probably have to skip Dec due to work & the holidays.  I've been focusing on 1 & 2 string vertical scales, naming each note & visualizing what it looks like on the staff.  It's slow, & sometimes mind numbing, but my fretboard knowledge and reading have improved tremendously.  Still have a long way to go.  

 

Mr. Bruning got very specific about picking.  He likes to hold the pick flat on the side of the index finger at about a 45 degree angle.  We've gotten into alternate, sweep (what he calls consecutive) picking, & rest stroke picking (making contact with the next string over on up and down strokes.  For example, if you pick the low E, you pick through it till the pick touches the A string, & vice versa.)  

He hasn't given me any chord assignments yet, but that's coming.  I recently started naming each note & interval for Drop 2 Maj7, Dom7, Min7, & Min7 flat 5 inversions.  Since that's what  Mr. Bruning's having me do with the scales, it makes sense.  I have a feeling that's the direction we'll be going in when we get to chords.

11/26/12 11:44 AM
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hugomma
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Ali - Thanks Hugo! And of course VTFU.... for those of us who are too impatient, the first guitar solo (which is more than a solo... it goes on for a good long time, and is a good piece of storytelling) starts just before the 5-minute mark.

I have not problem at all with the vocals being what they are, either, in general. I do sometimes have the urge to forward to guitar improvs (but that's true of Living Colour, so of others of JLJ's predecessor's is Shannon Jackson's bands, too).

The blues-to-funk thing in JLJ's playing makes me think of Johnny Guitar Watson, a bit. Of course that outside stuff (like at around, say 16:20) doesn't make me think of Watson at all.

To be honest, I didn't mind JLJ's vocals either, but when your band is full of dudes that are THAT good on their instruments, I want a singer that's that good, too.  Someone like Mike Patton, Napoleon Murphy Brock, Chris Cornell, Dean Bowman, Flo & Eddie, or George Duke on vocals.  (Frank had the right idea :-)  

I actually liked Jef's singing, especially compared to most of the jazz fusion geniuses with sub-par vocals.  Just wasn't sure how anyone else would feel about it.  If you have a cool, distinct voice like Jimi or Zappa, & know how to use it, it can go a long way,  JLJ's got cool voice & uses it well, IMHO.  

Imagine if JLJ were to team up with Doug Wimbish?  Their voices would work well together, & they could do some wild vocal harmonies.  Not to mention the face melting funky grooves those mutherfuckers would conjure up.  And a little RSJ & his "Unchained Melody" & I smell another supergroup :-)

11/30/12 11:07 AM
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Ali
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He's been touring in Esperanza Spalding's band recently. Here's a day where he had a break, and did some Q&A and a little concert with bassist Chico Huff (a very diffeent sort of player from Esperanza Spalding... not as pretty to look at. Which I shouldn't even say. But I always notice before checking out my old Shakira and Pink Lady collection).

11/30/12 11:14 AM
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hugomma
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Ali - He's been touring in Esperanza Spalding's band recently. Here's a day where he had a break, and did some Q&A and a little concert with bassist Chico Huff (a very diffeent sort of player from Esperanza Spalding... not as pretty to look at. Which I shouldn't even say. But I always notice before checking out my old Shakira and Pink Lady collection).


This is the clip I was talking about last night, where JLJ qutoes Hendrix in the chair jam (& starts with "Castles..." at 3:25 & then "Purple Haze") & then talks about how the older dudes never used the word jazz. 

11/30/12 1:53 PM
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hugomma
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Ali - Here's a power trio...



The video editor spelled Jef's name wrong (but so does Amazon). He really doesn't have much to do for the first 3:57 besides play a groove, but then he gets busier.

I like all three of these players a lot; still, not sure what I think of this, beyond the setting of a hard groove.

The jam was okay.  I've heard better from JLJ & Tacuma, although he was slaped that pink bass like it was a shaved vagina.  Never heard Calvin Weston before, but he's obviously a hell of a player.  What I really liked was JLJ's Octavia tone.  Very nice.  When it comes to tone, he's like the anti-Mike Stern.

11/30/12 2:07 PM
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Ali
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Genealogy - Grant Calvin Weston was, IIRC, the drummer for Ornette's Prime Time after RSJ. Played on "Of Human Feelings". He played on a bunch of the better James Blood Ulmer records. Hanging a lot these days with Billy Martin of MMW. Or Martin's hanging with him, might be a better way to put it. His stuff with Blood is killing, in particular. Black Rock is one record where you definitely think "who's the drummer??" I'll hook you up with some of that.
11/30/12 2:20 PM
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hugomma
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Ali - Genealogy - Grant Calvin Weston was, IIRC, the drummer for Ornette's Prime Time after RSJ. Played on "Of Human Feelings". He played on a bunch of the better James Blood Ulmer records. Hanging a lot these days with Billy Martin of MMW. Or Martin's hanging with him, might be a better way to put it. His stuff with Blood is killing, in particular. Black Rock is one record where you definitely think "who's the drummer??" I'll hook you up with some of that.

Ah, so I have heard him before, just didn't know it was him.  I gotta start looking up liner notes for these albums I've been acquiring lately.

Yeah, I enjoy the Ulmer stuff, the guy's very unique.  Look forward to hearing more. 

Jazz is a dirty word, & it's not the teacher - you are, Ali.

12/10/12 12:33 AM
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hugomma
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Edited: 12/10/12 1:10 PM
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Here's a different take on "Giant Steps" with a slide that sounds more like Jeff Beck than Jef Lee Johnson.

12/10/12 12:50 AM
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Ali
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Edited: 12/10/12 12:58 AM
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This 2002 video is really good. Might take 3:40 or so for the less patient among us.

That Giant steps is honky-tonkin' jazz with a touch of Secanol.
12/11/12 2:00 AM
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hugomma
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Ali - This 2002 video is really good. Might take 3:40 or so for the less patient among us.

That Giant steps is honky-tonkin' jazz with a touch of Secanol.

Love that little theme JLJ develops at 3:43 & keeps paraphrasing though the solo.  VTFU, & thank you Ali.

1/29/13 1:42 PM
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hugomma
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Just found out that Jef Lee Johnson passed away.  Ali & I were just talking about him last night.  Although he's a recent 'discovery', it feels like I lost a good friend.  This one hurts.

If there is a heaven, I hope he's jamming with Pete Cosey & Sonny Sharrock right now. 

1/29/13 1:46 PM
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hugomma
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Here's a 2002 tribute JLJ did to Sonny Sharrock.

My eyes are getting a bit dusty...

1/29/13 8:58 PM
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Ali
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This is sad. I first knew of Jef Lee Johnson because he was one of the successors to Vernon Reid (in Ronald Shannon Jackson's bands). Some really great music. I didn't know what else he did, really, till we started talking about him here, on the SoundGround. I didn't know he was a multi-instrumentalist, or he had a "pop" side, or was playing with Esperanza Spalding... all that, till recently. And only revisited how good he was with Shannon Jackson recently, too.

A lot of that was because of you pointing it out, Hugo, but then... yeah, a new discovery, in spite of my having been aware of him a while back. And to hear he dies just when I feel like I'm discovering him is a real drag.

He had really big ears, really fluid chops, a really good attitude.... He was something special. R.I.P.
1/30/13 11:38 AM
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hugomma
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Here's what Ronald Shannon Jackson posted on his Facebook page about Jef Lee:

"I'm a short dark skin ugly Black man". This is what Jef Lee Johnson use to tell me, with that no nonsense look of his, when I was trying to get him to come out of his hotel rooms in Le Mans and Rennes France. I had to go out and bring him food so that he would have enough energy to play the concerts. Playing and recording with Jef Lee was like watching/hearing/feeling the time delayed blossoming of a dozen roses coming from a six string guitar. He sung the melodies I wrote with such warmth passion and humor that it made me laugh play and cry at the same time inside. A true Avant-Garde Harmolodic original Jef Lee Johnson's spirit will never die....in rhythm Ronald Shannon Jackson.
1/30/13 11:44 AM
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Ali
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Edited: 01/30/13 11:45 AM
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Wow... beautiful tribute from RSJackson.

Jef Lee Johnson was a Philadelphia native. Philly.com has a really good obituary, really moving. It's here:
http://www.philly.com/philly/obituaries/20130130_Jef_Lee_Johnson__54__undeground_Philly_jazz_legend.html
1/30/13 11:45 AM
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hugomma
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Edited: 01/31/13 1:57 PM
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Sorry if I'm being weird about this, guys.  I have a friend who played with Jef Lee & felt some connection to him.  

From what he said, Jef Lee was a phenomenal musician & "a beautiful dude".   I was looking forward to hearing him live & possibly meeting him if/when he came to Denver.  His playing is a huge insparation & points to the direction I'm trying to work towards.  

This is bothering me more than it probably should, but I really feel like we lost a special man & musician.

1/30/13 12:06 PM
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hugomma
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Ali - Wow... beautiful tribute from RSJackson.

Jef Lee Johnson was a Philadelphia native. Philly.com has a really good obituary, really moving. It's here:
http://www.philly.com/philly/obituaries/20130130_Jef_Lee_Johnson__54__undeground_Philly_jazz_legend.html

Thanks for sharing Ali.

____________________________________________________________

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."

Amorosi wrote that when he interviewed Jef for the City Paper article in 2010, "I found a humble genius before me, a guy who just wanted to work and read, a man not into the folderol of fame, but rather the intensity of each note."

Jef said that playing with McCoy Tyner, the legendary Philadelphia jazz piano player, known for being part of the John Coltrane Trio, taught him his guitar chops.

He grew up in Germantown and the Providence Baptist Church of Germantown, on E. Haines St., built by his grandfather, Roland C. Lamb Sr.

He did his first sessions on records at the age of 18 with the late Rev. James Cleveland, famed gospel singer and composer.

In his interview with Jef, Amorosi quoted him as saying, "I'm a cranky old guy now. My original thing was to be great. I wanted to be like Thelonious Monk, not to be famous. I wanted to be expansive musical infinity. To be famous is a whole other gene. Every time I tried to get famous, it died."

Information about survivors or funeral services was not immediately available.
1/31/13 11:09 AM
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Ali
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Testimony:

1/31/13 1:58 PM
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hugomma
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Edited: 02/04/13 1:21 AM
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Ali - Testimony:

 

Bittersweet.  Thanks, & VTFU.

 

2/4/13 1:23 AM
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hugomma
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Shannon & Jef Lee - "Truth & Grace".

2/4/13 10:42 AM
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hugomma
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Here's some scarier RSJ/Jef Lee stuff "The Beast".  Of course, the cameraman films everyone but Jef.  And a few words from RSJ himself.  He posts on YouTube as cymbata.  Jef Lee's solo starts at 1:37.  

"this was recorded in 1987 in Renne, France. the guitar players are Jef Lee Johnson,played the? first guitar solo and Jack Desalvo. the bass players are Conrad Mathis,behind Jef Lee and Ramon Posser , behind Jack. this was the theme song of this version of the Decoding Society.....in rhythm Shannon"


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