Jack Johnson (album)

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Jack Johnson
Jack Johnson S 30455.jpg
Original LP (Columbia S 30455)[1]
Film score by Miles Davis
Released February 24, 1971[2]
Recorded February 18 and April 7, 1970
Studio 30th Street Studio in New York City
Genre Jazz-rock[3]
Length 52:26
Label Columbia
Producer Teo Macero
Miles Davis chronology
Miles Davis at Fillmore
Jack Johnson
Alternate cover
Subsequent reissues

Jack Johnson, later reissued as A Tribute to Jack Johnson, is a soundtrack recorded by American jazz musician Miles Davis.[4] The album was the second film score Davis had composed, after Ascenseur pour l'échafaud in 1957.[5] In 1970, Davis was asked by Bill Cayton to record music for his documentary of the same name on the life of boxer Jack Johnson.[6] Johnson's saga resonated personally with Davis, who wrote in the album's liner notes of Johnson's mastery as a boxer, his affinity for fast cars, jazz, clothes, and beautiful women, his unreconstructed blackness, and his threatening image to white men.[7]

Jack Johnson was a turning point in Davis' career and has since been viewed as one of his greatest works.[8] Davis, who wanted to put together what he called "the greatest rock and roll band you have ever heard,"[9] recorded with a line-up featuring guitarists John McLaughlin and Sonny Sharrock, keyboardists Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea, clarinetist Bennie Maupin, and drummers Jack DeJohnette and Billy Cobham.[8] The album's two tracks were drawn from one recording session on April 7 and edited together with recordings from February 1970 by producer Teo Macero.[10] The music reflected Davis' interest in the eclectic jazz fusion of the time, but also foreshadowed the hard-edged funk that would fascinate him in the next few years.[8]


According to music critic Robert Christgau, Jack Johnson was the "definitive" showcase for guitarist John McLaughlin (pictured).[11]

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.[citation needed]

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 based on 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".[12]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.[citation needed]


"Right Off" comprises a series of improvisations based on a B flat chord, but changing after approximately 20 minutes to an E chord. "Yesternow" has a similar B flat ostinato and shifts to C minor.[13] It concludes with a voiceover by actor Brock Peters: "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."[14] Liner notes accompanying a later release of the album provide a description of the music:

Release and reception[edit]

Jack Johnson was released in February 1971 by Columbia Records to some commercial success — ultimately peaking at #4 on the Billboard jazz chart and #47 on the magazine's R&B chart – despite little marketing from the label.[16][17] However, it was less commercially successful than Davis's previous electric studio album, Bitches Brew, reaching only #159 on the Billboard 200; Bitches Brew reached #1 and #4 (respectively) on the jazz and R&B charts and peaked at #35 on the Billboard 200.[18]

In a contemporary review for The Village Voice, music critic Robert Christgau said that Jack Johnson is his favorite "piece of recording" from Davis since Milestones (1958) and Kind of Blue (1959), and felt that, although it lacks the excitement of the best moments from Bitches Brew, the album coalesces its predecessor's "flashy ideas" into "one brilliant illumination."[19] Steve Starger of The Hartford Courant called the album "magnificent" and "another gem" in Davis' 20-year "string of gems", and wrote that the tracks "really make up one long, churning, steaming, brooding, slashing musical experience that never dips below the highest of art." Starger found the sidemen's performances masterful and said that Peters' voiceover at the end gives "Johnson's words frightening majesty".[14] In a negative review for the Los Angeles Times, Leonard Feather viewed it as a "letdown after the unflawed triumph" of Bitches Brew and was dismayed by Davis for aligning himself with "the thumping, clinking, whomping battering ram that passes for a rhythm section".[13]


Professional ratings
Retrospective reviews
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 5/5 stars[20]
Blender 5/5 stars[21]
Boston Herald 4/4 stars[22]
Christgau's Record Guide A+[23]
Down Beat 4.5/5 stars[24]
The Guardian 5/5 stars[3]
Lexington Herald-Leader 4/4 stars[25]
The Penguin Guide to Jazz 4/4 stars[26]
PopMatters 7/10[27]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide 5/5 stars[28]

Robert Christgau later called Jack Johnson "a great one" in a 1981 review.[23] In a review upon the album's 1992 reissue, Down Beat critic John Ephland called it "trippy stuff" and a "heavily edited mélange of musical forms".[24] By contrast, Jack Fuller of the Chicago Tribune felt that Davis had failed in his attempt at the "rock idiom".[29] In The Rolling Stone Jazz Record Guide (1985), John Swenson gave the record four out of five stars and said it "was close to straight-ahead rock, with Miles' piercing horn nailed on top of Billy Cobham's explosive drums and John McLaughlin's roaring guitar".[30] In The Penguin Guide to Jazz (2006), Richard Cook wrote that the album "stands at the head of what was to be Miles Davis's most difficult decade, artistically and personally."[26] The Boston Herald cited it as one of Davis' "last truly great albums" and as "some of the most powerful and influential jazz-rock ever played."[22] 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.[3]

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".[25] 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".[20]

In a 2010 interview, American rock musician Iggy Pop said that around 1985, he purchased Davis' 1960 album Sketches of Spain and Jack Johnson in a no frills used record shop for less than $5 and that "they have been my inspiring companions ever since. The one tears me apart and the other puts me back together."[31]

Track listing[edit]

All songs were composed by Miles Davis.

Side one
  1. "Right Off"   – 26:53
Side two
  1. "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:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Szwed 2002, p. 464.
  2. ^ Miles Davis.com
  3. ^ a b c Fordham, John (April 1, 2005). Review: A Tribute to Jack Johnson. The Guardian. Retrieved on 2010-01-13.
  4. ^ "Album Reviews". Billboard: 44. March 20, 1971. Retrieved June 8, 2013. 
  5. ^ Tingen 2001, p. 100.
  6. ^ Szwed 2002, p. 307.
  7. ^ Szwed 2002, pp. 307-8.
  8. ^ a b c Pierce, Leonard (December 9, 2010). "Miles Davis : Primer". The A.V. Club (Chicago). Retrieved September 7, 2013. 
  9. ^ Tingen 2001, p. 104.
  10. ^ Cumming, Tim (October 16, 2003). "The controversy surrounding Miles Davis's Jack Johnson Sessions". The Guardian. Retrieved September 10, 2013. 
  11. ^ Christgau, Robert (October 14, 1997). "Miles Davis's '70s: The Excitement! The Terror!". The Village Voice (New York). Retrieved June 10, 2013. 
  12. ^ MILES BEYOND The Making of Jack Johnson, miles-beyond.com. Archived from the original. Retrieved 1 June 2015
  13. ^ a b Feather, Leonard (April 11, 1971). "Miles Ahead and Miles Behind". Los Angeles Times. p. C55. Retrieved June 8, 2013. 
  14. ^ a b Starger, Steve (March 27, 1971). "Original Material Helps New Group; Miles Davis Scores on Documentary". The Hartford Courant. p. 14. Retrieved June 8, 2013. 
  15. ^ French, Alex (December 23, 2009). "We Want Miles: The Q". GQ. Retrieved September 7, 2013. 
  16. ^ Cook & Morton 2006, p. 328.
  17. ^ http://www.allmusic.com/album/a-tribute-to-jack-johnson-mw0000311307/awards
  18. ^ http://www.allmusic.com/album/bitches-brew-mw0000188019/awards
  19. ^ Christgau, Robert (June 10, 1971). "Consumer Guide (18)". The Village Voice (New York). Retrieved February 16, 2013. 
  20. ^ a b Jurek, Thom (November 1, 2001). Review: A Tribute to Jack Johnson. AllMusic. Retrieved on 2010-01-13.
  21. ^ Pareles, Jon (January 5, 2005). "Review: A Tribute to Jack Johnson". Blender (New York). 
  22. ^ a b K.R.C. (January 23, 2005). "Discs; Rap's new player proves he's ready for big Game". Boston Herald. The Edge section, p. E.06. 
  23. ^ a b Christgau 1981, p. 102.
  24. ^ a b Alkyer, Frank; John Ephland (2007). The Miles Davis Reader. Hal Leonard Corporation. pp. 315–316. ISBN 978-1-4234-3076-6. 
  25. ^ a b "Miles Davis". Lexington Herald-Leader. January 21, 2005. Weekender section, p. 6. Retrieved June 8, 2013.  (subscription required)
  26. ^ a b Cook & Morton 2006, p. 327.
  27. ^ Calder, Robert R. (February 24, 2005). Review: A Tribute Jack Johnson. PopMatters. Retrieved on 2010-01-13.
  28. ^ Considine et al. 2004, p. 215.
  29. ^ Fuller, Jack (March 29, 1992). "Different Views Of Miles Davis". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved June 8, 2013. 
  30. ^ Swenson, John (1985). The Rolling Stone Jazz Record Guide. USA: Random House/Rolling Stone. p. 58. ISBN 0-394-72643-X. 
  31. ^ Doran, John (October 5, 2010). "My Favourite Miles Davis Album By Lydon, Nick Cave, Wayne Coyne, Iggy & More". The Quietus. Retrieved September 7, 2013. 


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]