Boogie Woogie Piano Greats

Albert Ammons

Albert Ammons (1907 - 1949) was an American pianist who is widely regarded as the the king of boogie-woogie. Born in Chicago, Illinois, his parents were pianists, and he had learned to play the piano 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 brothers Jimmy Yancey and Alonzo Yancey. 

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 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, where he teamed up with another pianist, Pete Johnson. The two performed regularly at the Café Society, and were occasionally joined by Meade Lux Lewis, and performed with other noted jazz artists such as Benny Goodman and Harry James.

In 1938, Ammons appeared at Carnegie Hall with Johnson and Lewis, an event that helped launch the boogie woogie craze. Record producer Alfred Lion attended John H. Hammond's From Spirituals to Swing concert of December 23, 1938, which had introduced Ammons and Lewis. Two weeks later, Lion started Blue Note Records and recorded nine Ammons solos, eight by Lewis, and a pair of duets in  one-day session in a rented studio. Recorded as a sideman with Sippie Wallace in the 1940s, Ammons even cut a session with his son, the tenor saxophonist, Gene Ammons.


Ammons played himself in the movie, Boogie-Woogie Dream (1944), with Lena Horne, and Pete Johnson. Although the boogie-woogie fad began to die down in 1945, following World War II, Ammons had no difficulty securing work. He continued to tour as a solo artist during this time, and between 1946 and 1949 recorded for Mercury Records, his last sides, with bassist Israel Crosby

His final triumph came when he played at President Harry S. Truman's inauguration in 1949. Ammons died in February 1949 in Chicago, aged only 42. He was interred at the Lincoln Cemetery, at Kedzie Avenue in Blue Island, Worth Township, Cook County, Illinois.