Hammond (1910-1987) played a decisive role. John Hammond was not only rich but also musically well educated. Classical music education was expected from him in his family. Since his earliest youth, however, he has been much more interested in the music of his Afro-American servants. He broke off his viola studies at Yale University and became a promoter, record producer and partly feared music critic. He made Boogie "socially acceptable." In December 1938 and 1939 he organized the legendary "From Spirituals to Swing" concerts, which presented the development of Afro-American jazz music and triggered a real boogie-woogie fever. It has been said that after one of the concerts, the bouncers had to ask some ecstatic boogie fans to climb down from the chandeliers. The boogie fever was also helped by the founding of the Cafe Society in New York by former shoe salesman Barney Josephson. "Annoyed" by the still prevailing racial segregation in the music clubs, he founded the first club in Greenwich Village in 1938 and another mixed racial club for both artists and the public in 1940. The motto was: "The right place for the wrong people". Here, too, promoter John Hammond provided advice and financial support in difficult times. Cafe Society soon became a meeting place for left-wing intellectuals. This ultimately led to an extremely negative press campaign during the McCarthy era and to the closure in 1950. The three greatest representatives of the next generation of pianists appeared in both Carnegie Hall and Cafe Society: Albert Ammons, Meade "Lux" Lewis and Pete Johnson. They developed such technical perfection and musical refinement that they became the most famous pianists of their time.

The Great Trio: Albert Ammons, Mead "Lux" Lewis and Pete Johnson

Albert Ammons born 1907 in Chicago, died 1949 in Chicago at the age of 42. Mead "Lux" Lewis born 1905 in Chicago, died 1964 in Minneapolis in a car accident. Pete Johnson born 1904 in Kansas City, died 1967 in Buffalo. Albert Ammon´s and Meade "Lux" Lewis' pianistic friendship is linked to a taxi company of all things: The Silver Taxicab Company in Chicago. Around 1925 they worked there together with other pianists as taxi drivers, but "disappeared" regularly during their work to play piano together somewhere else. The desperate owner solved the problem by setting up an instrument in the office of the taxi office and in this way keeping "the boys" always ready for action. During this time Ammons and Lewis lived together with Pinetop Smith (who taught Lewis piano lessons) in a house. Since only Ammons had a piano, his apartment became a popular meeting place for boogie sessions. Lewis already recorded the "Honky Tonk Train Blues" for Paramount in 1927: An echo from his childhood, when he grew up near a freight train station. At that time, however, America, which was shaped by the economic crisis, was not open to this music. The third piano boogie master didn't come from Chicago. Pete Johnson from Kansas City - originally a drummer - learned to play the piano at the age of 18. Nevertheless, he became a virtuoso boogie and esteemed all-round jazz pianist. Johnson composed the Dive Bomber, one of the most complex boogie pieces ever. Already in the late 1920s he worked together with the singer Big Joe Turner (1911- 1985). Axel Zwingenberger continued this work in 1978: Together with Big Joe Turner he produced "Let´s Boogie Woogie All Night Long" and this recording was awarded the German Record Prize of the Phono Akademie. Quote from Big Joe Turner: "We was doin´ rock and roll before anyone ever heard of it." Ammons, Lewis and Johnson celebrated their greatest successes in the second half of the 1930s, after the world economic crisis had slowly been overcome. Lewis still had to work as a car washer until 1935 to improve his meager income. Only when the committed promoter Hammond personally got him out of there and brought him to New York did he make the "breakthrough". In 1935 he recorded the "Honky Tonk Train Blues" again. Ammons founded his own band - the Rhythm Kings - in 1934 and recorded the famous Boogie Woogie Stomp in 1936. In December 1938, Ammons, Lewis and Johnson performed with Big Joe Turner at the groundbreaking From Spirituals to Swing concert at Carnegie Hall. The golden age of boogie began - a real boogie woogie fever had broken out. In the following years the three autodidactic master pianists were able to establish themselves materially and musically. Solo, duo and trio recordings were produced regularly. They founded the Boogie Woogie Trio in New York, which soon became the house band of the Cafe Society. Johnson and Ammons performed as a permanent piano duo in the 1940s. Their perfect interplay is still the reference for all Boogie Woogie Piano Duos today. Ammons, whom his contemporaries described as a very lively man, also played with Benny Goodmann, Harry James and Lionel Hampton in the 1940s. Shortly before his death, he appeared at the inauguration of President Harry S. Truman. On his 100th birthday his granddaughter Lila Ammons appeared several times with Axel Zwingenberger. His son Gene Ammons was a well-known tenor saxophonist. Johnson lost a finger in an accident in 1952 and had to end his career. Despite regular income in the golden years, he was quite impoverished in his last years. A German jazz fan - Hans Maurer had published "The Pete Johnson Story" in 1965 to collect money for the musician. The book, meanwhile a rarity, can be purchased in only a few antiquarian bookshops worldwide for a lot of money. Johnson died in 1967.

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© 2019 by Chris Conz - Boogie Woogie, Blues and Jazz Piano - Switzerland