Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Randy Johnston - "Walk On"

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

In a recent Downbeat magazine “Blindfold Test,” Eric Harland, one of the current crop of terrific young drummers on today’s Jazz scene said:

“Lewis Nash? No? Kenny Washington!? [after he was given the information that the tune and the players he was being asked to identify was Magic Beans from Benny Green’s Benny's Crib on Sunnyside, 2013 with Benny on piano, Peter Washington on bass and Kenny Washington on drums].
“Only a few people can swing like that. When Kenny or Lewis play swing, it's a lifestyle. They live and breathe it. The trio is great. ... 4 stars.”

I can’t think of a higher compliment to pay a drummer than to say that they make the music swing.

Or as the late announcer Chuck Niles often declared when introducing his next track on his Los Angeles, CA FM Jazz radio program: “straight-ahead and swinging.”

The editorial staff at JazzProfiles takes great joy in finding music by the current crop of Jazz musicians that’s played in a straight-ahead and swinging manner.

In this regard, Benny Green and Kenny Washington were responsible for my discovery of guitarist Randy Johnson as they along with bassist Ray Drummond formed the rhythm section on Randy’s Walk On Muse CD [MCD-5432].

I didn’t know who Randy was but since Benny and Kenny were on the date, I thought I’d take a punt on this recording.

I’m sure glad I did as Randy’s blues-drenched, straight-ahead and swinging guitar style has since become a staple of my Jazz guitarist playlists.

Here’s more background on Randy and Walk On from the CD’s insert notes as authored by Bob Porter of WBGO Jazz Radio.

“Randy Johnston was working in Harlem at Small's Paradise with singer Delia Griffin when Etta Jones heard him for the first time. While her accompaniment has rarely included guitar (except on records), Etta Jones knows a good musician when she hears one. Within a few months, she and her partner, Houston Person, began dropping Randy's name among those on the lookout for new talent. Randy quickly began showing up on Etta's recordings -then Houston's.

Walk On is his first album as a leader. His accompanists are among New York's finest. Kenny Washington was the first player who came to Randy's mind. The versatile young percussionist is a favorite of almost everyone. Kenny, born in Brooklyn (5/29/58), has been a regular member of working groups led by Betty Carter, Kenny Burrell, Tommy Flanagan and, at this writing, Milt Jackson. Randy felt that Washington would be able to handle-with-ease the range of material for this first recording. One quick listen will tell you that the drum chair is in good hands.

Bill Easley plays a whole variety of reed instruments and has been active in Broadway show bands as well as studio work around New York. Originally from upstate New York he has worked out of Pittsburgh and Memphis prior to settling in the New York area. His long list of affiliations includes George Benson, Mercer Ellington and Jimmy McGriff. His own albums have appeared on Sunnyside and Milestone.

Benny Green seems the natural heir to what Wynton Kelly represented in the 50s and 60s. His lines are clean and cliche free and his style blends easily with much of the music being made today. While his customary working situation finds him at the head of a trio, his work with Art Blakey made certain that his abilities as a band pianist would have the best possible tutelege. He currently records for Blue Note.

Ray Drummond is a major league performer on bass and has been for many years. Raised in the San Francisco bay area he was the bassist of choice for travelling musicians coming to that part of the country prior to his move to the Apple.

The material chosen by Randy and producer Houston Person covers a lot of territory. The Jumping Blues is a Kansas City anthem long associated with the composer Jay McShann while Moanin' is the quintessential Jazz Messenger standard (one that Benny Green knows very well). Crazy She Calls Me is a feature for Randy's best ballad playing while his compositions, The Queen's Samba (a dedication to Etta Jones) and the title track, Walk On, demonstrate Randy's abilities as a writer as well as a player.

This album is being released in January 1992 at a time when much of the country will be battling chilly, winter weather. The music on this disc will certainly help to keep your soul warm at any time of year. The album title says it all. It is certainly time for thirty-five year old, ex-Detroiter Randy Johnston to take center stage and to Walk On - into the spotlight!

I’ve selected the title track to accompany the following video tribute to Randy which includes a collection of images of all of his recordings as well as some photographs of him.

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