Ode to Jef Lee Johnson: The Promise of Lovolution

Charles Blass By

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It was an elliptical experience being around Jef. He brought out the truth in people. As soon as he was in your orbit you would know if you were bullshitting musically (and yourself as a human). It was always a surreal experience. —Deb Silver

One of the most sensitive souls I have ever met. One of the greatest musicians I have ever met. One of the best friends I have known.—Cindy Blackman-Santana

Jef Lee Johnson has brought me to another truth. Rest now and laugh as some will only now understand the gift. Jef Lee Johnson an American Composer Guitarist Vocalist Producer Sonic Dancer......Play On Brother. Fly on...it does rain but I will still burn !! —Ronny Drayton

There is no way to overemphasize, especially at this point in time, how my own writing on music is completely embedded in musicWitness art original picture-Testimony, within the full-scale hands-made analog source of the reduced digital versions seen on your screen. Just like the rhythms of the marks and colors, everything is emerging directly out of the live listening experience in real time.

It was the intense experience with Sonny Sharrock's huge, palpably buoyant river of rainbow-colored sound, still carrying my body on through the past 20 years, that prepared my readiness for Jef Lee's stunning, completely-inhabited Sonny-spirit playing Space Ghost in tribute the first time I heard him in 1998.

musicWitness policy has always been to offer the art first of all in enduring applause for the performing musician, so Jef Lee had visual prints of each encounter and just today, Margaret Davis Grimes recalled this sweet, funny observation, "Jeff handed Jef Lee a print of one of Jeff's art works, and I think Jeff wasn't sure Jef Lee would like it or want to have it, and Jeff asked to have it back for a minute for some reason, and Jef Lee pulled himself up to his full height and intoned: "You'll have to fight me for it!" "

Jef Lee had also received a full-size 100cm high-definition color print of The THRILL five years ago at the Jazz Standard in New York. Looking in deeply, he expressed, in his own natural, quiet, extra- humble way, an intimately-articulated direct feeling for the movement of the layers of colors in close touch with his personal sound. At the end of that evening when Time FOX was thrown down, we loaded the framed THRILL together with his axe into his car across the street from the club and he rolled home to Philadelphia.

In Philadelphia, the first roots of the musicWitness Project had begun to grow down at Pep's and the Showboat Lounge back in the late 1950s. Listening then to Art Blakey, Chico Hamilton, Sonny Rollins, Dizzy Gillespie and Sonny Stitt, Miles Davis with John Coltrane and Cannonball live with a sketchbook on the bar, I can realize now how another ripple was already expanding out of the actual birth of Jef Lee Johnson's ever-resonant 'Circle and Sound.'

JLJ's sound is all about the Mystery. He loved to play it out of his standing shadow, not the spotlight. A few more souls may get connected and tune in to the sounds. —Jeff Schlanger

We worked together with George Duke and Rachelle Ferrell for many years and he TRULY will be missed by all who really knew and loved THE REAL Jef Lee Johnson.

On the outside, Philly-born guitarist Jef Lee Johnson could seem aloof to most people. He seemed very distant and unfazed by anything or anyone. Constantly pondering life and all of its questions. But there was another Jef Lee Johnson that most people never took the time to know.

"The Little Rascals" (Hal Roach Studios 1920's -30's) was one of his very favorite subjects to laugh and talk about during breaks at recording sessions or while on the phone. If Jef could have been any one of the characters from that early comedy series, he would have been the little black child known affectionately as "Stymie." The reason I say that is because in my view, most of what went on around Jef Lee as far as the world was concerned... well, it stymied him. It puzzled him. It made him look and shake his head in confusion and amazement and then quietly lower his head once again to begin yet another creative guitar excursion.



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