Jeff Benatar
The Eastman School of Music

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”.

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Jazz pianist and educator Jeff Benatar earned his DMA in Jazz Studies and Contemporary Media, with a minor in Pedagogy, from the Eastman School of Music. He also holds a BM with Honors from The Ohio State University, under the direction of Dr. Ted McDaniel and Mark Flugge, and an MA in Jazz History and Research from Rutgers-Newark, The State University of New Jersey, under the direction of Dr. Lewis Porter. Benatar has studied with Harold Danko, Stanley Cowell, Bill Dobbins, and Dariusz Terefenko. Benatar has presented “The Genius of Hank Jones” at the 2017 Jazz Educators Network Conference and “Herbie Hancock: Ultimate Variation” at the 2012 Leeds International Jazz Education Conference. His master’s thesis Uri Caine and His Jewishly Influenced Music is available at the Institute of Jazz Studies in Newark New Jersey. Benatar received second place at the West Virginia University, 2016 James Miltenberger (National) Jazz Piano Competition. Benatar is the instructor of the Jazz History and Analysis course for non-majors at Eastman, Lecturer of the Jazz Theory and Improvisation sequence at the University of Rochester, and a teaching intern at the Eastman Community Music School. Benatar has performed with Pat LaBarbera, Melba Joyce, Bob Sneider, Vaughn Weister's Famous Jazz Orchestra, The Rick Brunetto Big Band, The Tony Lewis Swing Orchestra, The Ohio State University Faculty Combo, and as guest soloist with the Columbus Jazz Orchestra.