Ode to Jef Lee Johnson: The Promise of Lovolution

Charles Blass By

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Jef's own music, performed mainly in trio format, is exquisite, blissful. In Philadelphia, New York, France and a few other places, for years audiences were treated to Jef's incendiary appearances. With Rob Reddy's Honor System and numerous other projects, Jef was featured prominently, along with bassist Dom Richards and drummer Pheeroan akLaff among others. Fans of Jef were thrilled to catch him any time with anyone, and Reddy's groups and adventurous compositions provided important channels for Jef.

Jef also appears on a handful of seminal hip-hop/R&B albums with some premier recording artists who generally under-utilized (perhaps wasted) his talents. One bar looped, down in the mix? Why get Jef? A couple of exceptions in which Jef is permitted to do his thing include Common's "Jimi Was A Rockstar" featuring Erykah Badu, and The Roots' "Water." It's telling that upon Jef's passing Erykah Badu tweeted "Rest in Beats," as he is barely heard on the many sessions he did for her albums.

Onstage, for example with D'Angelo or Esperanza Spalding, it seemed often the same story, like having a rare sportscar in the driveway and hardly driving it beyond the courtyard. Those superstars deserve recognition for hiring Jef, but it was a mixed blessing. Few bandleaders were confident enough to let Jef shine under their auspices. He was mostly kept in the background blend save for a few precious slivers here and there.

George Duke is one notable exception. His ego didn't prevent him from giving Jef room to stretch and blow, and many documents of their fruitful collaborations are available.

Whatever the reason Jef had in recent years for taking on the cryptic moniker, there seems to have been a strong resonance with the symbolism of "Rainbow Crow." At times Jef could be considered a "dark" character but his sounds are so full of light.

Yes, there was a Guitar God who walked among us, now departed from this plane, on to the next gig. Reckoning, grappling with Jef's death. Death becoming Life. One of his last albums is called Longing Belonging Ongoing.

Jef left behind generous heaping scoops of soul, infused with so much wisdom and love, overdubbed into eternal horizon. Like Etoy's conception of eternity, Jef lives in perpetuity online. YouTube, MySpace, MyFunk and other areas remain for all to seek and behold. May you be blessed to watch and listen to Jef Lee Johnson's soul shining.

He wrote a song called "Lovevolution," and I've often wondered if in part it was a personal message (I've used the name Lovolution since around the same time I met Jef). In any case it remains a testament to Jef's magnanimous vision and diplomatic mission.

I was fortunate to see Jef this past November here in Zurich, when he passed through with Esperanza Spalding. He seemed tired but not particularly ill—I guess he was absorbing his illness within deep exhaustion, maybe carrying it in stride. I gifted him with some sounds from my radio programs including his trio performance at WKCR, and a mix containing Velvert Turner, Dungen, Burnt Sugar, Cal Tjader and Ed Blackwell. He was polite, gentle and wry as ever.

Circa 1990 I acquired a guitar pick that had belonged to Hendrix, and gave it to Jef. It was a light one, and he used it only once, to record acoustic guitar on a tune called "Pray for Rain." The only thing to ease the pain: We'll be forever listening to the Rainbow.

"You can fix it, make it like brand new." I'm a supercool attendant in the carpark of life" "I once was free, now I'm changed..." "We all wanna be free from something..." "You're as free as you wanna be." "Never fret, never fear, always true, always here."

"I have to put these records out myself. The music is to be heard, not just me sitting around and improving upon what's been done. It's like having paintings hanging in the house. people have to see them—in my case, hear them"

—Jef Lee Johnson

Related Links

Jef Lee Johnson Scholarship Fund donations Jef Lee Johnson Memorial "Sight Sound Mission" Jef Lee Johnson Memorial, Sun Radio All About Jazz Interview All About Jazz Review: St. Somebody All About Jazz Review: Hellion Undercover Black Man Interview Jef Lee Johnson at Audio Gumbo

a pause for sweet surrender for lasting serenade a voice heard over and under one moment spun eternal a pause for lasting serenade the sound of gentle thunder a life of song silently held tender jef lee johnson remembered —Rick Iannacone

The Crow flies... —Reggie Washington

JLJ is traveling... in out all through my door/window, all around... circle beyond circle. —Morita Wuji Hiroxi

Jef was one of the most unique guitarists I've worked with. His sound, choice of notes, style—all uniquely Jef. He will be dearly missed.— George Duke

Everyone listen to as much of his music as you can get ahold of. Besides being an incredible player Jef was an astounding lyricist. Still not ready to accept "was," though! —Chico Huff



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