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Albert Ammons

Pianist Albert Ammons was the king of boogie-woogie, a bluesy jazz style that swept the United States, and then the world, from the late 1930s into the mid-1940s. Although his origins were modest, his powerful piano style would take him from Chicago barrooms to Carnegie Hall to the White House. As a soloist and in duets, Ammons's propulsive style gave life to classics like "Boogie Woogie Stomp" and "Pinetop's Boogie Woogie." Albert Ammons was one of the big three of late-'30s boogie-woogie, along with Pete Johnson and Meade Lux Lewis. Ammons was born on September 23, 1907, in Chicago, Illinois. Both of his parents were pianists, so it was little surprise that he had learned to play by the age of ten. He also played percussion in the drum and bugle corps as a teenager, and was soon performing with bands on the Chicago club scene. After World War I, he became interested in the blues, and learned by listening to Chicago pianists Hersal Thomas and the Yancey brothers. In the early-to-mid 1920s, Ammons worked as a cab driver for the Silver Taxicab Company and continued to reside in Chicago. In 1924 he met a fellow taxi driver who also played piano, Meade Lux Lewis. Soon the two players began working as a team, performing at clubs and house rent parties. Silver Taxicab eventually set up its own clubroom, complete with a piano, so that they would be able to find Ammons and Lewis when someone needed a ride. Ammons started his own band at the Club De Lisa in 1934, and remained at the club for the next two years. During that time he played with a powerful five-piece unit that included Guy Kelly, Dalbert Bright, Jimmy Hoskins, and Israel Crosby. Ammons also recorded as Albert Ammons's Rhythm Kings for Decca Records in 1936. The Rhythm Kings' version of "Swanee River Boogie" would sell a million copies. Despite this success, he moved from Chicago to New York City, where he teamed up with another talented pianist, Pete Johnson. The two performed regularly at the Café Society, and were occasionally joined by Lewis. In the late 1930s, all things boogie-woogie became a sensation, a trend that would hold true until the mid-1940s. The beginning of the trend coincided with Ammons's appearance at Carnegie Hall with Pete Johnson and Lewis in 1938, in John Hammond's "Spirituals to Swing" concert. Hammond's idea was to present a concert of black American music, from the blues and gospel music to contemporary jazz.

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