The Evolution of James P. Johnson’s “Carolina Shout”
James P. Johnson, often considered the father of stride piano, was a prolific composer and performer. Johnson’s signature piece “Carolina Shout” has been recorded many times – three times even before the music was published. This paper analyzes, compares and contrasts the reproductions on the 1918 Art Tempo piano roll, the early 1921 Quality and Real Service piano roll and the late 1921 78 rpm Okeh Records disc. The sheet music first published in 1926 corresponds to, but does not match, any of the reproductions. Biographer Scott E. Brown argues in his book James P. Johnson: A Case of Mistaken Identity that the differences among the reproductions were improvisational in nature. Dr. Henry Martin’s paper Strategies of Non-Improvisation in the Piano Works of James P. Johnson argues that the differences among the reproductions are because they were predetermined compositional variations. This author believes that commercial considerations may also explain the differences among the reproductions. Perhaps Johnson wanted or needed to earn money, so he recorded as many different versions as he could sell to producers. The published sheet music for amateurs and professionals also likely spread the popularity of his composition. Legend has it that Duke Ellington learned “Carolina Shout” from one of Johnson’s piano rolls by slowing it down and putting his fingers in the keys that were pressed when he pumped the foot pedals. Johnson’s most famous stride piano student, Thomas “Fats” Waller, also played, recorded and promoted the show piece. Biographical information on Johnson and contextual information on the early history of “Carolina Shout” provide additional information on this early cutting contest standard. Analysis of the introduction, the first strain, and the end of each of the three earliest reproductions of “Carolina Shout” will illuminate their differences. Tom Davin’s interviews with James P. Johnson also help to elucidate the evolution of the earliest recorded performances. The discussion of authenticity or “aura” will include comments on the critical writings of Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, and Igor Stravinsky. The fact that Johnson participated in multiple, altered, early reproductions of “Carolina Shout” suggests that he was actively seeking fame, acclaim, fortune, or publicity for future performances, compositions and arrangements. Commercial, as well as artistic, considerations influenced the evolution of James P. Johnson’s “Carolina Shout”.