100 Jazz Profiles
1907 - 1949
Pianist. A Chicagoan through and through, Ammons was a pioneer of the city's popular boogie woogie piano style, which had been brought there from the South by his father's generation. He learned from his father at the family pianola, and by studying with his school friend Meade 'Lux' Lewis, who also became a boogie woogie star.
The two took jobs as cab drivers together , having a piano installed at the depot for them to play in their time off, and they worked the 'rent party' circuit. Ammons then played to entertain travellers on the trains that plied between Chicago and the South, and he worked in several Chicagoan bands in the early 1930s. In 1934 he formed his own group, which went on to make some powerful records.
By 1938 he moved to New York , and became a celebrity through playing piano duets with Kansas City-born Pete Johnson. They starred at Carnegie Hall and the downtown CafÃ© Society, often being joined by Lewis to make up a storming boogie trio. Although Ammons injured a finger in a cooking accident, and briefly suffered from a type of paralysis, he continued to work throughout the 1940s, mainly as a soloist back in Chicago, playing his distinctive, energetic brand of piano, with its suggestions of train-rides, rent parties and the down home blues, all mixed together. His son Gene (1925-1974) became a well-known hard-bop tenor saxophonist, playing in the bands of Billy Eckstine and Woody Herman.
Peter Silvester: A Left Hand Like God: A Study of Boogie Woogie (London, Quartet) 1988
Albert Ammons 1936-39 (Classics 715)
Suggested track: Boogie Woogie Stomp
Ammons info from the All Music Guide
on radio 3
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