Listening to the radio a few weeks ago, I heard for the first time the pioneering 1920s African-American jazz/blues guitarist Lonnie Johnson. I was stunned by the virtuosity and style. It seemed to me like an odd but incredible fusion of Robert Johnson (raw and bluesish) guitar playing with Django Reinhart (jazzy and swinging). And as it happens, Lonnie Johnson was a big influence on Reinhart, and also played with jazz titans like Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong. Now I feel silly to have not known him.
In listening to his music in the days since that initial radio introduction, I've become particularly transfixed by the song "Four Hands Are Better Than One" because of its combination of Johnson's guitar with an accompanying piano that has, because of the way that it was recorded, a strange, almost ethereal presence - almost like the piano player is playing loud and hard, but doing so in the next room from where Johnson's guitar solo is front and center. That said, it's only fitting that this virtuoso of a guitarist is the focus of the song, which zooms along with a rapid but nimble tempo that for me is at once frenetic and, more indefinably, even gentle like a lullaby.