Among the many new types of music that burst forth from Harlem in
the late 1920s was stride style. The piano was instrumental to the
development of stride. Harlem-stride pianists appealed to wider audiences—both
highbrow and lowbrow—by dazzling them with showmanship and innovative,
One of the best stride pianists of the day was James P. Johnson.
He fused the rhythms and syncopations of stride's predecessor, ragtime,
with the jazz of Jelly Roll Morton and the classical pieces of concert
pianists. Duke Ellington would later use Johnson's intricate piano
rolls as study guides. Many of Johnson's most successful works—among
them "The Charleston"—became a test for musicians
aspiring to the label of "Harlem Tickler."
From orchestra halls to rent parties and bars such as Barron's Little
Savoy (a popular integrated joint in Harlem's Tenderloin district),
Johnson's sound was heard all over Harlem. In 1927 he composed his
famous piano rhapsody Yamekraw, which made its public debut
at Carnegie Hall with Fats Waller as the soloist. Johnson's creative
outpouring continued into the 1930s, when he composed Harlem Symphony
and the opera De Organizer. The latter boasted a libretto,
or text, by Langston Hughes.