Jack Johnson, also known as A Tribute to Jack Johnson, is a soundtrack recorded by American jazz musician Miles Davis. The album was the second film score Davis had composed, after Ascenseur pour léchafaud in 1957. 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. Johnsons saga resonated personally with Davis, who wrote in the albums liner notes of Johnsons mastery as a boxer, his affinity for fast cars, jazz, clothes, and beautiful women, his unreconstructed blackness, and his threatening image to white men.
Jack Johnson was a turning point in Davis career and has since been viewed as one of his greatest works. Davis, who wanted to put together what he called the greatest rock and roll band you have ever heard, 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. The albums two tracks were drawn from one recording session on April 7 and edited together with recordings from February 1970 by producer Teo Macero. 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.
Background According to music critic Robert Christgau, Jack Johnson was the definitive showcase for guitarist John McLaughlin (pictured).
The first major recording session for the album, which took place on April 7, 1970, was almost accidental: John McLaughlin, awaiting Miless 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 albums 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 Stones 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 Im Black and Im Proud; this may be a deliberate allusion to the songs Black Power theme as it relates to the films subject. Yesternow also incorporates a brief excerpt of Shhh/Peaceful from Daviss 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.
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. It concludes with a voiceover by actor Brock Peters: Im Jack Johnson, heavy-weight champion of the world. Im black. They never let me forget it. Im black all right. Ill never let them forget it. The albums liner notes provide a description of the music
Michael Henderson launches into an enormous boogie groove with Billy Cobham and John McLaughlin. Miles immediately leaves the control room to join in with them. He achieved exactly what he wanted for the soundtrack by creating the effect of a train going at full speed (which he compared to the force of a boxer). By chance, Herbie Hancock had arrived unexpectedly and started playing on a cheap keyboard that a sound engineer quickly connected.
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