A Tribute to Jack Johnson is a studio album by American jazz musician Miles Davis, released February 24, 1971 on Columbia Records. It also serves as the soundtrack for a documentary by Bill Cayton about the heavyweight world champion boxer Jack Johnson.
The first major recording session for the album, which took place on April 7, 1970, was almost accidental: John McLaughlin, awaiting Miles's arrival, began improvising riffs on his guitar, and was shortly joined by Michael Henderson and Billy Cobham. Meanwhile, the producers brought in Herbie Hancock, who had been passing through the building on unrelated business, to play the Farfisa organ. Miles arrived at last and began his solo at about 2:19 on the first track.
The album's two long tracks were assembled in the editing room by producer Teo Macero. "Right Off" is constructed from several takes and a solo by Davis recorded in November 1969. It contains a riff from Sly and the Family Stone's "Sing a Simple Song". Much of the track "Yesternow" is built around a slightly modified version of the bassline from the James Brown song "Say It Loud – I'm Black and I'm Proud"; this may be a deliberate allusion to the song's Black Power theme as it relates to the film's subject. "Yesternow" also incorporates a brief excerpt of "Shhh/Peaceful" from Davis's 1969 album In a Silent Way and a 10-minute section comprising several takes of the tune "Willie Nelson" from a session on 18 February 1970.
Reception and legacy 
Jack Johnson was less commercially successful than Davis's previous electric album, Bitches Brew, reaching only No. 159 on the Billboard 200 where Bitches Brew had risen as high as No. 35. Some fans and critics, however, consider Jack Johnson to be the musically superior album. Robert Christgau of The Village Voice gave the album an A+ rating, indicating "an organically conceived masterpiece that repays prolonged listening with new excitement and insight". He dubbed it "a great one" and said that "all the flash of Bitches Brew coalesces into one brilliant illumination". Down Beat critic John Ephland described it as a "heavily edited mélange of musical forms". In a review of the album followings its reissue, John Fordham of The Guardian remarked on the transition in Davis's playing from a "whispering electric sound to some of the most trenchantly responsive straight-horn improvising he ever put on disc". According to Fordham:
Considering that it began as a jam between three bored Miles Davis sidemen, and that the eventual 1971 release was stitched together from a variety of takes, it's a miracle that this album turned out to be one of the most remarkable jazz-rock discs of the era. Columbia didn't even realise what it had with these sessions, and the mid-decade Miles albums that followed – angled toward the pop audience – were far more aggressively marketed than the Jack Johnson
set ... Of course, it's a much starker, less subtly textured setting than Bitches Brew
, but in the early jazz-rock hall of fame, it's up there on the top pedestal.
Both The Penguin Guide to Jazz and The Rolling Stone Album Guide gave A Tribute to Jack Johnson their maximum star-ratings. The Lexington Herald-Leader wrote that, although In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew were "groundbreaking" for "herald[ing] fusion's arrival", Davis' playing on Jack Johnson "surpasses both recordings". In a retrospective review of the album, Allmusic's Thom Jurek complimented its "funky, dirty rock & roll jazz" and "chilling, overall high-energy rockist stance", stating "Jack Johnson is the purest electric jazz record ever made because of the feeling of spontaneity and freedom it evokes in the listener, for the stellar and inspiring solos by McLaughlin and Davis that blur all edges between the two musics, and for the tireless perfection of the studio assemblage by Miles and producer Macero".
Track listing 
All songs were composed by Miles Davis.
- Side one
- "Right Off" – 26:53
- Side two
- "Yesternow" – 25:34
The first track and about half of the second track were recorded on April 7, 1970 by this sextet:
The "Willie Nelson" section of the second track (starting at about 13:55) was recorded on 18 February 1970 by a different and uncredited lineup:
At the end of the "Yesternow" there is a sound clip recorded by actor Brock Peters saying: "I'm Jack Johnson -- heavyweight champion of the world! I'm black! They never let me forget it. I'm black all right; I'll never let them forget it."
See also 
- ^ a b c Fordham, John (April 1, 2005). Review: A Tribute to Jack Johnson. The Guardian. Retrieved on 2010-01-13.
- ^ a b Jurek, Thom (November 1, 2001). Review: A Tribute to Jack Johnson. Allmusic. Retrieved on 2010-01-13.
- ^ Pareles, Jon (January 5, 2005). "Review: A Tribute to Jack Johnson". Blender (New York).
- ^ K.R.C. (January 23, 2005). "Review: A Tribute to Jack Johnson". Boston Herald: E.06.
- ^ a b c Christgau, Robert (June 10, 1971). "Consumer Guide (18)". The Village Voice (New York). Retrieved February 16, 2013.
- ^ a b Alkyer, Frank; John Ephland (2007). The Miles Davis Reader. Hal Leonard Corporation. pp. 315–316. ISBN 978-1-4234-3076-6.
- ^ a b Columnist (January 21, 2005). "Review: A Tribute to Jack Johnson". Lexington Herald-Leader: 6. (Transcription of original review at talk page)
- ^ a b Cook, Richard (2004). "Review: A Tribute to Jack Johnson". The Penguin Guide to Jazz: 410.
- ^ Calder, Robert R. (February 24, 2005). Review: A Tribute Jack Johnson. PopMatters. Retrieved on 2010-01-13.
- ^ a b Hoard, Christian (November 2, 2004). "Review: A Tribute to Jack Johnson". Rolling Stone: 215–218.
- ^ The original LP, like the film, was called simply 'Jack Johnson'.
- ^ Olson, Paul (February 7, 2005). Review: A Tribute to Jack Johnson. All About Jazz. Retrieved on 2010-01-13.
- ^ Christgau, Robert (1969-89). Consumer Guide: The Grades. Robert Christgau. Retrieved on 2011-02-01.
Further reading 
External links