George V. Johnson has had an incredible journey leading up to this recording and I have been a witness to the ride since the beginning in the 1970s. The title “Your Majesty” comes from John Malachi who mentored George when he was getting started with his vocalese. Not hip to John Malachi? If your listening to the music of George Johnson, you probably are, but just in case…
John Malachi was born in North Carolina but grew up in Washington, DC. As a teenager he and fellow pianist Billy Taylor would check out Jelly Roll Morton at the Jungle Inn on U Street. One of his closest friends was Thomas Barrett, my wife Sondra’s dad. John’s talent was such that Billy Eckstine recruited him to be the pianist in the band he was forming in 1944 which included Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Dexter Gordon, Gene Ammons, Art Blakey and Sarah Vaughan,. John gave her the name "Sassy".
He was an integral participant in the creation of bebop. I would be the fly on the wall listening to stories about Mr. B’s band and the exploits of Diz, Bird and Dex whenever Tom Barrett and John Malachi would get together.
Around 1974 guitarist Bill Harris opened a club in Northeast Washington DC called Pigfoot where John would preside as the pianist to accompany such artists as Kenny Burrell, Al Hibbler, Arthur Prysock, Milton "Smitty" Smith, Clea Bradford, Frank Foster, Billy Mitchell, Leon Thomas and many more. He conducted workshops for aspiring musicians and vocalists. His prize student was a Metro bus driver named George V. Johnson Jr.
I was broadcasting the New Thing Root Music Show on WAMU at that time and lived in the neighborhood of Pigfoot. Shirley Horn lived a few blocks away on Lawrence Street and Andrew White down South Dakota Avenue. Bill Harris’s club was a center of jazz activity and George was in the midst of it. John introduced him to his close friends such as Art Blakey, Lou Donaldson and Eddie Jefferson. He would tape interviews that I did on the air with such prominent musicians as Dexter Gordon and others.
George and John developed such a close friendship that he introduced him as Your Majesty George V Johnson Jr "Opening Night" of his debut professional concert at the Pigfoot.
George made it his mantra and thus the title for this album.
Under John’s tutelage George was working on what is called in jazz circles vocalese, singing a lyric to what was originally an improvised solo by an instrumentalist. The father of vocalese is Eddie Jefferson who wrote and sang lyrics to James Moody’s instrumental version of “I’m In The Mood For Love,” later known as “Moody’s Mood For Love.” King Pleasure recorded and had a hit with it, but Jefferson gained recognition by recording and touring with Moody. Other singers who have utilized vocalese include Lambert, Hendricks & Ross and Manhattan Transfer. Jefferson performed frequently with Richie Cole in DC in the 1970s and when he heard George Johnson perform he was so impressed with his vocalese that he tagged him “Next in Line.”