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Overdue Ovation: George V. Johnson The singer’s roundabout route pays off with his latest album. PUBLISHED FEBRUARY 9, 2023 – BYMICHAEL J. WEST George V. Johnson keeps a recording close at hand. It’s a 16-second clip of Eddie Jefferson, the jazz vocalist who invented “vocalese,” from 1977. In the clip, Jefferson counts off a 4/4 beat; as a trio gets going behind him, he announces, “One of my students, George Johnson, come out from Washington, D.C. He’s next in line, next in line.” https://youtu.be/msHz4yTXjdM It’s the defining moment of Johnson’s musical career, and perhaps of his life: His teacher, one of jazz’s best-known male singers and innovators (and a dear friend before his 1979 murder), naming the younger singer as heir apparent. Not surprisingly, the tape became his calling card. He used it to introduce himself to musicians, and sometimes played it as a prologue to his performances. He even used it to open his 2000 debut recording—naturally titled Next in Line! “I don’t do it just for me—not just for me, but for Eddie,” says Johnson, now 73, sitting at a restaurant in College Park, Maryland, a few days after Christmas. “I promised Eddie Jefferson that I would continue his legacy.” Jefferson isn’t so prominent on the long-awaited follow-up album, 2022’s Walk Spirit Talk Spirit. Perhaps it’s because this album—featuring eight self-penned lyrics to classic jazz compositions and solos, in the vocalese style—is about Johnson’s own legacy. He spent eight years as a member of James Moody’s band, touring the world with the saxophonist (although unfortunately never recording with him). He also worked regularly with Jimmy Heath, Lou Donaldson, Barry Harris, and many others in addition to Jefferson. Jazz fans who don’t know his name nonetheless know his voice: It’s the warm tenor that sings on Pharoah Sanders’ 1981 recording of “Moment’s Notice,” still a staple of jazz radio. https://youtu.be/RHQEujakWbw He spent eight years as a member of James Moody’s band, touring the world with the saxophonist (although unfortunately never recording with him). He also worked regularly with Jimmy Heath, Lou Donaldson, Barry Harris, and many others in addition to Jefferson. Jazz fans who don’t know his name nonetheless know his voice: It’s the warm tenor that sings on Pharoah Sanders’ 1981 recording of “Moment’s Notice,” still a staple of jazz radio. Even as a child, he was learning and singing the songs he heard and when he was 18, he bought a reel-to-reel tape recorder and began taping himself singing along to Charlie Parker records. But aside from church choir, he never sang in public until the mid-’70s, when he was working as a Metrobus driver. One day on his route, he heard a radio advertisement for a new jazz club, Pigfoot, which had quickly become the hottest spot in town. That night, Johnson walked into the club, introduced himself to the house pianist—Malachi, who had toured with Billy Eckstine’s groundbreaking big band and as an accompanist Pearl Bailey and Sarah Vaughan—and talked his way into sitting in and singing his own lyric to Charlie Parker’s “My Little Suede Shoes.” “I saw a pretty little girl today/ she only lived a half a block away/ Although we didn’t get the chance to speak/ I knew one day that we would finally meet.” Before long, they were playing together regularly at Pigfoot. It was also a destination for big name artists passing through town, and Johnson thereby got to meet the likes of Art Blakey, Jefferson, and Donaldson—who collared the singer one night and whispered, “Move to New York.” Shortly thereafter, he did. It was a struggle at first: He sang on the streets during the day and slept on the subways at night. Then, after three months, he went to Carnegie Hall with his Eddie Jefferson tape, hoping to garner a spot on a Jefferson tribute. It didn’t happen, but while he was there, he met James Moody, who brought him onstage later that night at Sweet Basil. It was the beginning of a long and fruitful collaboration. “He put me in every great situation he could think of,” Johnson recalls. “I ended up going back to Carnegie Hall next year. Town Hall, Lincoln Center, Sweet Basil, Bottom Line, Fat Tuesdays, 92nd Street Y, South Street Seaport. Touring—Moody took me everywhere. I was probably one of the hippest singers in New York at that time. Weren’t any other male singers out, except for Leon Thomas, Andy Bey, and Joe Williams. Those were the three, and me.” It was Thomas who introduced him to Sanders one night at a club. Johnson told the saxophonist he had written a lyric to Coltrane’s “Moment’s Notice,” and Sanders invited him to sing it with the band. Two days later, Johnson—by then married and living in Trenton, New Jersey—got a call from Sanders. “He says, ‘George, we gonna be hanging out in New York for the weekend. You want to come hang out with us?’ He gave me the address. I got to New York, I went to the address, and it was Power Station Studio.” They recorded the song, which still reaps dividends for Johnson to this day. The dividends weren’t large enough to support a family, however, and Johnson took a job as a conductor on the NJ Transit railroad. (“Ladies and gentlemen!” He recites from memory. “This is the local train to Trenton, making stops at Newark, Elizabeth, Linden, Rahway, Mitchell Park, Metuchen, Edison, New Brunswick, Jersey Avenue, Princeton Junction, and Trenton.”) Trying to balance that with a musical career, however, was brutal—and by 1985 he also had three sons who needed his attention. He gave his notice to Moody, who understood: “He said, ‘George, keep your job. You got a big house, working the railroad, and even with my name, and my reputation, I can’t even get a house or a car.’” Still, Johnson did some music teaching at Trenton’s Afrikan People’s Action School, and continued writing lyrics—some of which made the cut for Next in Line, which he made just to keep a toe in the music scene. But it wasn’t until the 2010s, after a divorce, retirement, and nursing his mother through her final days, that Johnson retrained his focus on the music. Walk Spirit Talk Spirit draws on the stockpile of lyrics Johnson has collected across the decades, including two McCoy Tyner songs (the title track and “Fly with the Wind”); Hank Mobley’s “No Room for Squares”; and an old favorite, Parker’s “Moose the Mooche.” Recorded at pianist Allyn Johnson’s Divine Order Studios with an assemblage of D.C.’s best players, the album fills (George) Johnson with high hopes. “I think this CD will take me to places I’ve never been,” he says. “It’s gonna take me around the world. Got my passport renewed and everything, so hopefully—because now that I’ve got the time, all I want to do is sing and travel.” MICHAEL J. WEST www.michael-j-west.com Michael J. West is a jazz journalist in Washington, D.C. In addition to his work on the national and international jazz scenes, he has been covering D.C.’s local jazz community since 2009. He is also a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader, and as such spends most days either hunkered down at a screen or inside his very big headphones. He lives in Washington with his wife and two children.

YOUR MAJESTY GEORGE V JOHNSON JR ~ WALK SPIRIT TALK SPIRIT By Robert J. Carmack June 14, 2022 www.HipsterSanctuary.com I don’t know what it is about Jazz that makes me Astral-travel. My definition of a curated Jazz recording is, 1. Best material 2. Solid musicians 3.Willingness to “Go out on a Limb”(courage). When tackling a tour de force with powerful music and the ilk of McCoy Tyner, Nat Adderley, Wes Montgomery, Charlie Parker, Hank Mobley, and Lou Donaldson. What makes this project so hip and exciting is GEORGE V. JOHNSON Jr.’s vision and experience as working musician and songwriter.  Right out the gate, is a big splash intro to a moving piece of history by McCoy Tyner. Walk Spirit Talk Spirit (Knarrative Will Set You Free) we lost the great one in 2020. What George has done is take two of Tyner’s stellar compositions including “Fly with the Wind” and crafted them into masterpieces in sound and “Griot” lyrics, that tell the best stories abound. McCoy Tyner would be very proud of his work of art with lyrics. This is historical. I lived with this CD for almost a month before I even attempted to review this project in art and soul. In my humble opinion, given a generous amount of “plays” this can become a #1 jazz hit. For example, Johnson Jr’s remarkable lyrics treatment of Wes Montgomery’s ROAD SONG, a strong cut involving the stories from all around the world while traveling and experiencing life on life’s terms. I can only concur with others, who have experienced the personality and artistry of GVJ. Jr. Be sure to put on your seatbelt when you listen to NO ROOM for SQUARES” (Hank Mobley, blue note) Nat Adderley’s JIVE SAMBA, Lou Donaldson, GRAVYTRAIN (1960s soul jazz classic) George’s sinewy jazz sound shines on all the cuts in this beautiful session with just electrifying musicianship. Band personnel are; Devonte McCoy Trumpet, Elijah Easton saxophone, Herman Burney on Bass (I met years ago in Atlanta, when he was doing a gig with CEDAR WALTON trio) Allyn John Johnson Piano, Dana J. Hawkins drums, (**Steve Arnold bass). This ensemble brings a perfect balance of Dynamics while breathing new life into these classic, iconic tunes. George has perfect command of his jazz vocabulary, which is not surprising since, he was mentored by the best, the Grand Pop of vocalese, Eddie Jefferson, and James Moody. Eddie even claimed George was the next in-line for sheer skill and dominance in jazz vocals. Its like having a “Magic Jukebox” that plays all the best tunes and in the right order too. Recalling the electric pace of NO ROOM for SQUARES. It immediately takes me back to when my dad brought that album home, when I was just learning saxophone. Elijah Easton lit a fire under the Band, as if they needed more fuel, in his searing white hot solo, eating up bop changes like pancakes. ”This followed by a lucid, laser-focused solo by trumpeter Devonte McCoy. Allyn Johnson “brings the pain” on all the tunes he plays on. It’s Johnson Jr. and him alone, who places you in a cozy Jazz Inn in Western USA or, on stage in a smoky, boozy spot tucked away along the Rhine River in Europe during the 1950s..Magic! Lol!! Whether you were diggin’ Miles, Monk, Trane or Mobley, even when they walked the earth, Or, You are a modern Hipster downloading all you can making playlists.. YOU MUST FIND ROOM for YOUR Majesty! You will Hear and see what the Barons of Bop saw in George going all the way back to 1974. He’s relentless in his attack of these songs, injecting his own personal touch that hangs over you like a Dexter Gordon 32 note phrase in Bopology and swing. One other thing, what’s up with the “YOUR MAJESTY” thing?? Lol. I’m told it was gifted to him by another mentor John Malachi. When the jazz elders give you a nickname, you wear it with pride, like a “Blue Badge of Courage” and respect.  George V. is the total package also, backgrounds in music, dance, and theater. Watching him perform onstage or just interact with the masters is a treat all in itself.  www.HipsterSanctuary.com gives this effort, FOUR STARS! My highest rating.  Why not grab two copies, one extra for a Pal or student trying to learn about jazz .. very approachable music even for beginners. Walk Spirit Talk Spirit: YOUR MAJESTY ~ George V. Johnson,Jr. strikes the right chord with me. Get it at your favorite retail spot for recordings or downloads, or direct at www.georgevjohnsonjr.com

GEORGE V JOHNSON JR Walk Spirit Talk Spirit By CapitalBop · September 15, 2022 On Walk Spirit Talk Spirit, vocalist George V. Johnson Jr. delivers an ode to the legacy of jazz pianist McCoy Tyner, who passed away in 2020, via a combination of covers of tunes by Tyner and other legends. The eight-song album is a charming body of music, exploring a wide range of vocal jazz, with the versatile singer using almost every phrase in his harmonic vocab to give listeners a complete music experience.  Accompanying Johnson is Allyn Johnson on piano, Herman Burney on bass, Dana J. Hawkins on drums, Elijah Easton on saxophone and Donvonte McCoy on trumpet. The music includes established jazz classics and standards with Johnson’s lyrics and the band’s improvisations added to the mix, resulting in an album of music that’s unique yet very familiar. Johnson mischievously scats, even infusing Herbie Hancock’s “Cantaloupe Island” with an impromptu “Spiderman Theme” verse that may force a quick chuckle — or a rewind, even. He passionately urges listeners to “Come Fly Away with Me” on McCoy Tyner’s composition “Fly with the Wind.” He also delivers a soulful performance on the Lou Donaldson chestnut “All Aboard the Gravy Train” (Burney and Allyn Johnson also offer some outstanding playing here), creating a tune that’s liable to make listeners want to get up and “shake your booty!” Johnson makes every song a standout by showcasing his incredible range and vocal control. As for the band’s performance, there are more than a few remarkable moments on this album: Hawkins gets busy at the end of “Cantaloupe Island,” breaking away from setting the rhythm to create his own. Easton cuts loose during his opening solo on “Knarrative Will Set Us Free” (an interpretation of Tyner’s “Walk Spirit Talk Spirit”), voicing lyrics with his horn buzzing around while his colleagues keep a steady pace.  The musicians on the record sometimes nearly persuade the listener to forget that Johnson is even present. Still, when his sultry voice reappears after the impressive soloing from the group, it tends to feel as if he never really left. www.CapitalBop.com www.capitalbop.com/dc-jazz-albums-2022-so-far/

George V. Johnson’s album entitled, “Your Majesty | Walk Spirit Talk Spirit" is hip and refreshing as it honors the fundamentals of jazz and mindful storytelling.  The 8-song offering includes well-crafted classics featuring original lyrics and arrangements.  Johnson, along with his fellow comrades Elijah Easton (sax), Donvonte McCoy (trumpet), Allyn Johnson (piano), Herman Burney (bass), Steve Arnold (bass), and Dana-j Hawkins (drums) carry the listener through the album’s timely theme of transcendence and renewal of one’s spiritual self.  “Walk Spirit Talk Spirit”, the album’s first tune, opens with Allyn Johnson’s majestic playing alongside Dana J. Hawkins’ proficient percussion thus setting the tone for an audio journey.  George V. Johnson’s beautiful, commanding voice sings original lyrics over McCoy Tyner’s Walk Spirit Talk Spirit “Knarrative Will Set Us Free”, Donvonte McCoy and Elijah Easton follow Johnson’s lyrics with a smooth, conversational melody.  Elijah, Donvonte, and Allyn serve up back-to-back, vibrant solos and Herman Burney’s delightful strumming supports the song’s theme.   Other tunes featured on the album such as Lou Donaldson's Blue Note classic "Gravy Train", warning it very Funky, "No Room for Squares", "Fly With The Wind" with captivating vocal arrangements by Johnson, “Jive Samba” and “Moose the Mooche” are playful and proficient with memorable, sing-along melodies.  “Road Song”, arranged by Donvonte McCoy, one of the album’s gems, is luscious with exceptional storytelling and gentle solos. When discussing the album and his inspirations, George V. Johnson notes that “Your Majesty”, a nickname gifted to him in earlier years by John Malachi ("Sassy" Sarah Vaughn) was the most suitable to also title the album.  With a background in dance, theater, jazz and performance, the global elements of Johnson’s inspirations provide an intricate tapestry of sound worthy of setting the album, “Your Majesty | Walk Spirit Talk Spirit" on repeat for another round of engaging listening. Written By: MajeedahJohnson, blogger and Novelist IG @FearlessArtistry www.fearlessartistry.com

Driving from San Jose to San Francisco, listening to your CD. Outstanding! Love the arrangements, the swing, the groove, players, You, lyrics and message! Walk Spirit Talk Spirit! You Got It Done my Brutha! Giant Steps, Afrikahn Jahmal Dayvs jzl1.wordpress.com jazzlineinstitute.org KKUP 91.5fm KPFA 94.1fm

Knarrative Will Set Us Free | Walk Spirit Talk Spirit Review by: Steven Azami 03/08/22 (Radio Airplay) George V. Johnson Jr voice * Elijah Easton saxophone * Donvonte McCoy trumpet * Allyn Johnson piano * Herman Burney bass * Dana-j Hawkins drums Washington D.C. jazz artist George V Johnson Jr delivers an exhilarating bit of vocal masterwork, with his release of "Knarrative Will Set Us Free." Written in homage to the late pianist and frequent John Coltrane collaborator McCoy Tyner, this track features a fiery rhythm section built around a piano vamp that's very much in Tyner's style and spirit. Johnson's voice is in fine form here as he delivers an inclusive message of equity and unity, punctuated by strikingly passionate and inventive and trumpet. An extended solo section, passed first between the horns and then the piano and drums, fills out the midsection before a final chorus fades into a whisper, rounding out this dynamic arrangement. Jazz aficionados absolutely need to check out George V Johnson's "Knarrative Will Set Us Free", particularly fans of bop and vocal jazz. Strong Point(s):   Outstanding production, excellent mix, piano features prominently in the overall mix, which was a great choice. You definitely captured McCoy Tyner's oeuvre here. Fantastic band, amazing chemistry and support. Nice melody and repetition with the vocal. I really liked the 2nd voice, gives the lyrics a sort of polytextural and polyrhythmic feel. Solos were all off the chart, particularly the piano. Love the little diminuendo at the end. Again, an exceptional ensemble of highly talented musicians, playing with great energy and enthusiasm. Stellar track, all around. Truly an honor to have had the opportunity to review!