One Track Mind: Gail Jhonson, "Do Something Else" (2010)

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By Nick Deriso

It’s no surprise that a performer who got her start working with funny funkster Morris Day settles into a lightly swinging keyboard groove from the first on “Do Something Else.”

Why do anything else? After all, Gail Jhonson wrote the book on neo-soul piano. Literally: her published works include Funk Keyboards and Dictionary of Keyboard.

But there is more to “Do Something Else” than bubbly Jeff Lorber-style smooth jazz. Jhonson brings all of her many talents to bear as soul-lifting spiritualist, next-gen feminist inspiration, big-picture band leader and, Philly street-corner rhythmist.

That starts with these just-right collaborative nudges to the charming mixture of Latin-tinged R&B by saxophonist Tom Braxton, a celebrated performer who first found fame as musical director with the late Wayman Tisdale.

There is, in this wordless interplay, an empowering moment as Jhonson more than holds her own, despite working in a genre with precious few women bandleaders.

That’s been her story from the beginning.

Growing up in Philadelphia, Jhonson absorbed key influences like McCoy Tyner, Stevie Wonder, Hubert Laws, Ahmad Jamal and most particularly, Ramsey Lewis. This immersion helped her forge groundbreaking musical bonds across the musical spectrum. She’s played with the Prince protégé Day, Bobby Womack, Jermaine Jackson and Norman Brown. Brown was so impressed with her that he made her the musical director for his Summer Storm Tour in 2005, a working collaboration that continues to the present.

All of it informs “Do Something Else,” in ways large and small.

Jhonson pushes this new single (from the HerStory album on 111 East Jazz Records) along like a perceptive conversationalist with a deep well of life experience, adding flourishes of humor and inviting intellect.

At the same time, she’s a good listener, and plays well off a group that also includes Fred Clark and Rob McDonald on synthesizers and bass, respectively.

“Do Something Else,” exuberant yet worldly, is the sound of an artist who has already come into her own.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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