Albert Ammons (September 23, 1907 – December 2, 1949) was an American pianist and player of boogie-woogie, a bluesy jazz style popular from the late 1930s into the mid-1940s.
Born Albert C. Ammons in Chicago, Illinois, his parents were pianists, and he had learned to play by the age of ten. His interest in boogie-woogie is attributed to his close friendship with Meade Lux Lewis and also his father's interest in the style. Both Albert and Meade would practice together on the piano in the Ammons household.
From the age of ten, Ammons learned about chords by marking the depressed keys on the family pianola (player piano) with a pencil and repeated the process until he had mastered it. 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, learning by listening to Chicago pianists Hersal Thomas and the brothers Alonzo and Jimmy Yancey.
In the early to mid-1920s Ammons worked as a cab driver for the Silver Taxicab Company. In 1924 he met back up with boyhood friend and fellow taxi driver Meade Lux Lewis. Soon the two players began working as a team, performing at club parties. Ammons started his own band at the Club DeLisa in 1934 and remained at the club for the next two years. During that time he played with a 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" sold a million copies.
Ammons moved from Chicago to New York, where he teamed up with another pianist, Pete Johnson. The two performed regularly at the Café Society, occasionally joined by Lewis, and performed with other jazz musicians such as Benny Goodman and Harry James.
In 1938 Ammons appeared at Carnegie Hall with Johnson and Lewis at From Spirituals to Swing, an event that helped launch the boogie-woogie craze. Two weeks later, record producer Alfred Lion, who had attended John H. Hammond's From Spirituals to Swing concert on December 23, 1938, which had introduced Ammons and Lewis, started Blue Note Records, recording nine Ammons solos including "The Blues" and "Boogie Woogie Stomp", eight by Lewis and a pair of duets in a one-day session in a rented studio.
In 1941, Ammons' boogie music was accompanied by drawn-on-film animation in the short film Boogie-Doodle by Norman McLaren. Ammons played himself in the movie Boogie-Woogie Dream (1944), with Lena Horne and Johnson. As a sideman with Sippie Wallace in the 1940s Ammons recorded a session with his son, the tenor saxophonist Gene Ammons.
Although the boogie-woogie fad began to die down in 1945, Ammons had no difficulty securing work. He continued to tour as a solo artist, and between 1946 and 1949 recorded his last sides for Mercury Records, with bassist Israel Crosby, and took on the position of staff pianist with the Lionel Hampton Orchestra.
On August 6, 1947, Albert's son, up-and-coming tenor saxophonist Gene Ammons, joined him as a member of "Albert Ammons And His Rhythm Kings" for a Mercury recording session. This, very likely, was the first father-and-son recording team in jazz.
In 1949 he played at President Harry S. Truman's inauguration. During the last few years of his life Ammons played mainly in Chicago's Beehive Club and the Tailspin Club, and just four days before he died he had been at the Yancey apartment listening to Don Ewell and Jimmy Yancey play. Albert himself could only play one song, having just regained the use of his hands after a temporary paralysis.
Albert Ammons died from a heart attack on December 2, 1949, in Chicago and was interred at the Lincoln Cemetery, at Kedzie Avenue in Blue Island, Worth Township, Cook County, Illinois. Even following his death, the pianist continued to assert a strong influence over a new generation of pianists, including Erroll Garner and Ray Bryant.
Boogie-woogie was an invigorating art form that bridged the gap between jazz, blues, R&B and eventually rock and roll. Albert Ammons represented boogie-woogie's highest level of artistic achievement. (Info mainly Wikipedia)
Fabulous piano duet by Albert Ammons and Pete Johnson with Boogie Woogie Dream from 1944. The girl is a very young Lena Horne!