Little is known about Dennis Johnson apart from his college friendship with “the father of minimalism,” La Monte Young. However, in light of recent research it seems that Johnson may have all but created the minimalism movement himself; and it appears that he did so all in the space of a single composition: November. Indeed, on several occasions La Monte Young suggested that his colossal masterwork The Well Tuned Piano was directly inspired by the very same Dennis Johnson piece. Now we know the breadth of its influence is likely even larger than this.
As the musicologist/composer Kyle Gann points out, November (1959) anticipated, if not initially introduced, nearly all the features we now associate with minimalism: diatonic tonality, additive process, phrase repetition, and overextended duration. Which, if correct, means that “one of the more influential moments in music history” went unstudied and unheard for over 50 years. Luckily, due to the tireless efforts of Kyle Gann in (re)constructing November’s score, and performer R. Andrew Lee’s enthusiasm to tackle the six-hour feat, we now have the opportunity to hear a recording of Johnson’s November for the very first time.
As The Wire reports, R Andrew Lee’s performance of November is being released by Penultimate Press and Irritable Hedgehog on March 16 as a 4CD box set. Now if only the works of La Monte Young would also receive the reissue treatment… ahem (hint to every record label owner, everywhere). Listen to a portion of November below: