Northeast Ohio Jazz Society Publishes Boogie Woogie Stomp about Albert Ammons

by Jim Prohaska

Review of Christopher I. Page's 1997 Boogie Woogie Stomp-Albert Ammons & His Music. Unfortunately this lavishly illustrated classic book of boogie woogie history is out of print.

This article is reprinted here with the permission of Jim Prohaska.

The NOJS is proud to announce the publication of Christopher Page's new book, Boogie Woogie Stomp-Albert Ammons & His Music. This is a first-class work by anyone's standards and one that the Northeast Ohio Jazz Society is particularly proud to publish. Author Chris Page is a long time NOJS member has spent much of his spare time (even when it was not so "spare") over the past five years piecing together this fascinating work. The book is about a man who was a major influence on American music, yet remained pretty much an enigma until now.

Boogie Woogie Stomp takes us back to the roots of boogie woogie as it was taking shape on Chicago's South Side. Pianists such as Hociel Thomas, Pinetop Smith, Jimmy Yancey, Cow Cow Davenport, and Jimmy Blythe were some of the influences that shaped Albert Ammons' musical development and career. It traces Ammons' rise to fame and his triumphs in New York, initiated by John Hammond (scion of the Vanderbilt fortune, jazz lover, and influential producer and A&R man at Columbia Records for almost forty years).

Hammond had heard Albert Ammons, Meade Lux Lewis and Pete Johnson playing boogie woogie together while visiting Chicago on several occasions. Hammond loved boogie music, so the trio was high on his wish list of performers to feature in the first "Spirituals To Swing" Concert at Carnegie Hall in December of 1938. The trio was an instant success, and boogie woogie music became first a national, and then an international sensation.

The height of the boogie woogie craze was from 1939 to the end of World War II. Although boogie music has been around since the turn of the century and was first recorded in the early 1920s, it existed as a regional type of blues. Its stylistic peculiarities were indigenous to each area where it could be heard. The concerts that the trio performed, the national radio exposure, and the many New York club dates (Cafe Society, in particular) stimulated the public's thirst for boogie woogie.

Ammons, Lewis and Johnson started recording prolifically while in New York. One new record company featured them in trio and duet formats, and Lewis and Ammons singularly as soloists. Their record sales helped establish Blue Note Records. Ammons' "Boogie Woogie Stomp" - the namesake of this book, was actually Blue Note Record No. 2 (on a 12-inch 78 rpm) released early in 1939.

After World War II, many changes occurred in music (as well as everything else!) and boogie woogie was no longer the fad. However, Ammons stayed very active. He still did many club dates and his recordings for Mercury Records were modest hits for him and his Rhythm Kings during the late '40s. The exception was "Swanee River Boogie" which sold over a million records and remained in the Mercury catalog for years. By this time, Ammons was back in Chicago doing local gigs along with some occasional travel. His heavy drinking finally took its toll, and he passed away in 1949 at age 42.

Chris Page's book is easy to read and flows well. Boogie Woogie Stomp includes personal interviews with family, friends, and music business associates of Albert Ammons. The book is peppered with photos and illustrations, many of which have never been published. These crisp and well-reproduced images propel the reader through the book. There is also a detailed bibliography and an extensive discography with individual commentary on each of Albert Ammons' recordings.

This past July 11-13, Chris Page threw a party to celebrate the initial printing of Boogie Woogie Stomp. Those who attended were people who played major parts in Chris's research. Not surprisingly, most of the attendees were piano players, many of whom actually saw Albert Ammons perform. Boogie players Charlie Castner (Louisville, KY), Ben Conroy (Austin, TX), Tom Harris (Fort Worth, TX), Charlie Booty (Milan, TN), Paul Taylor (Cleveland, OH), Jim Budzil (New York, NY) and Axel Zwingenberger from Germany (whom Chris brought to Nighttown earlier this year) all provided rollicking non-stop boogie woogie.

Dick Mushlitz and Phil Kiely (Newburgh and Evansville, IN), who co-host annual piano parties themselves, were also there. Kiely presented Chris Page with a framed and autographed Christmas card he had received from Albert Ammons in 1948.

The highlight of the party was the presence of some of Albert Ammons' family, including Ammons' son, Bishop Edsel Ammons and his wife; granddaughter Lila Ammons; Mrs. Anthony "Little Sammy" Ellis, niece; and James "Junebug" Ammons, Albert's nephew. Both "Little Sammy" and James were family favorites of Albert, and he took them many places when they were both in their teens.

It was truly a memorable experience to have the family there. The weekend was topped off on Sunday morning when Lila, a classically trained singer, performed for the group with accompaniment from Charlie Castner. She was then joined by her father Edsel, for a duet on "Amazing Grace." Bishop Ammons addressed the gathering with an emotion-filled message to all (and most especially to Chris Page) for an unforgettable weekend and the preservation of his father's memory though this wonderful book. Chris's research has brought the Ammons' family closer together through the discovery of their past, much of which was unknown to past, much of which was unknown to them individually until Chris Page brought it all together through his tireless research.

Edsel's poignant and moving words expressed a new closeness with his father, something that was lacking in his youth. The book also gave him a greater appreciation for his father's music and for the family that had been split apart by social stigmas oft-times attached to jazz, jazz musicians, and the environments where jazz was performed in the 1930s, '40s and '50s. Bishop Ammons' words left no one un-moved. The party ended with Jim Budzil stomping the stuffing out of "Just A Closer Walk With Thee" played in a blues cum stride cum boogie rendition that got everyone off their seats.

Chris Page, Author of Boogie Woogie Stomp

Christopher Page did not set out to write Albert Ammons' biography. As he writes in the preface to Boogie Woogie Stomp, "I wanted to discover and reconstruct the man behind the famous name...the irrepressible joy that radiates through the notes on Albert Ammons's records...seems to have been a reflection of his soul, and I had to find out if this was true."

Page first heard Ammons playing "Boogie Woogie Stomp" in a junior high school experimental jazz class. The teacher, Jack Ingersoll, gave him the records and within weeks he was trying to play the bass on "Swanee River Boogie."

Years passed, life was filled with school, work, family and so many other commitments. Yet, Page's fascination with Ammons did not fade.

In 1989 Page started his personal "pilgrimage" that culminated with the publication of Boogie Woogie Stomp which has given everyone an opportunity to learn more about the man who introduced the world to boogie woogie. As Albert Ammons was a catalyst for boogie woogie, Chris Page hopes his work will be spark more interest. Page notes, "I hope this book brings out more material. This should not be the last word on Albert Ammons."