Just when you wonder what will happen to the art of vocalese, other than its sustenance by a few artists like Kurt Elling, George V. Johnson, Jr. sneaks onto the scene with his own self-produced CD that begs for attention. And deservedly so.
A student of legendary vocalese singer Eddie Jefferson, Johnson for whatever reason has waited twenty-something years to come out of his cocoon and spread his wings. A resident of south Jersey, and no doubt known as a singer only within the East Coast environs, Johnson has taken the initiative to record, produce and market his own CD, Next In Line, proving the value of the Internet to spread the message about deserving artists.
Eddie Jefferson himself kicks off Next In Line with an 18-second sound bite that introduces Johnson during a night of singing in 1977 as Johnson was to take over the thread of vocalese thought and melody Jefferson established. Now, Johnson figuratively is picking up that thread again with a CD mostly of jazz standards that Johnson put to words. Fittingly, Johnson pays tribute to the Eddie Jefferson style, right down to employing a swinging alto saxophonist, Arnold Sterling, who fills, and in some respects enlarges, the Richie Cole role.
Perhaps most impressive is Johnson's own song about the good-natured ambition and competitiveness of performance on "Opening Night," repeating the initials "CBS" for emphasis upon the grandness of his aspirations. "Freedom Jazz Dance" involves...dance. Tina Prat taps out the rhythm of the tune after Johnson's group sets up the groove to the words of Eddie Jefferson.
Next In Line deserves more than a listen. It deserves attention. And it deserves a follow-up album, hopefully on a commercial label.
Eddie Jefferson sound bite: Opening Night; My Little Suede Shoes; Star Eyes; Nigerian ju ju Highlife; Gingerbread Boy; Freedom Jazz Dance; Bitches Brew.