Albert Clifton Ammons was born as first child of three in Chicago, Illinois on September 23, 1907. By the age of ten he learned the rudiments of piano from his mother. A few years later at junior high school he met Meade "Lux" Lewis who played piano too. Al’s advantage was the piano at home. So he learned faster than Meade. At that time they two both were very influenced by the Chicago Blues pianists Hersal Thomas, the brothers Alonzo and Jimmy Yancey and Jimmy Blythe. In the age of seventeen Albert married Lila Kay Sherrod who was only sixteen years at age. Shortly after in 1924 their son Edsel was born. The birth of Gene one year later completed the young family. Because of her classical piano training Lila spent a lot of time teaching Albert. Without a doubt Lila was very important for Al’s career.
State Street, Chicago about 1910
Around 1925 he and Meade worked as cab drivers in the same taxi company. At the end of the 1920s the two fellows lived in the same rooming house as Clarence “Pinetop” Smith’s family. From him Al picked up useful phrases to use them later in his most notable Boogie Woogie Stomp. During the 1920s Al was one of the very much sought-after “rent party pianists”. At that time he was also performing with bands on the Chicago club scene.
Albert Ammons And His Rhythm Kings at DeLisa 1935: Bobby Hicks (t), Jimmy Hoskins (dr), Delbert Bright (sx), Albert Ammons (p), Ike Perkins (g) and Lawrence Sims (b)
It was 1934 when he put together the first band of his own. With his Rhythm Kings he played very successful in the prestigious club DeLisa in Chicago. Two years later after breaking there "Albert Ammons And His Rhythm Kings" released their first records together (Boogie Woogie Stomp, Nagasaki,…).
In late 1938 the wealthy producer and jazz critic John Hammond conceived the idea of presenting the country’s best black musicians at New York’s Carnegie Hall in a concert setting called “From Spirituals To Swing”. Al, his friend Meade and the Kansas City boogie pianist Pete Johnson were invited to play separately and in friendly competition – overnight the "Boogie Woogie Boys" were born and the boogie-woogie craze was on.
with Pete Johnson
At the beginning of 1939 Ammons who was the backbone of this trio recorded with trumpeter Harry James (Woo Woo). Then Ammons began a long association with Pete Johnson, the two playing extended residencies at Café Society in New York and for radio broadcasts in Sherman Hotel in Chicago. Often they played their gigs in trio with Lewis and/or accompanied by Blues singer Joe Turner, a native of Kansas City like Pete Johnson. The end of the 1930’s decade was Al’s best time of his life. In 1941 very notable recordings (Boogie Woogie Man, Barrel House Boogie, Cuttin’ The Boogie, Foot Pedal Boogie, Sixth Avenue Express, …) with Pete Johnson followed. In the same year he played himself in the movie Boogie-Woogie Dream with Lena Horne, Pete Johnson and Teddy Wilson and his Orchestra:
Albert Ammons is rightly considered by many as the best boogie pianist of all time, certainly one of the most imaginative and dynamic. He was an excellent boogie pianist also playing other styles like highly effective stride. Without any doubt it was an advantage for him to be left-handed.
In the early 1940s Ammons healthy situation got tough. At first he came down with pneumonia. After an accident with a knife while fixing up a sandwich he had to cease performing for a while. A breakdown brought on by too much work and too much drinking followed. In spite of his bad healthy situation he continued touring with Pete Johnson across the country. It wasn't until 1944 that he returned to a recording studio once more. When this session for Commodore Records took place Al’s music had become more rhythmically complex (The Boogie Rocks, Albert’s Special Boogie, Bugle Boogie, Reveille Boogie, ...). Spectacularly records with Pete Johnson in duet succeeded in Hollywood (St. Louis Blues, Lady Be Good, Sheik Of Araby, ...) also in the same year.
At that time the relationship between Hattie Mae Young and Albert was complemented. It probably was in the mid 1930s when he met that attractive and young woman. Playing concerts, travelling long distances and long-term absences from home – Ammons began to slip away from his family. Hattie was free to be Albert’s company. Extremely jealous of anybody associated with Albert and very much in love with him she stepwise wove a cocoon around the two of them even crossing of the frontier of excluding family.
World War II and the boogie-woogie era were coincidental and when the war ended the boogie-woogie era seemed over. Ammons and Johnson never again played a duet at Café Society. Ammons resettled in his hometown in 1945. Recovering from about of excessive drinking, he started with his Rhythm Kings the famous Mercury recordings (Lady Be Good, Swanee River Boogie, Sheik Of Araby, Roses Of Picardy, …) – million sellers. At this time he brought his son Gene, who was becoming a local sensation and later grew up to a world famous jazz saxophonist, into the Rhythm Kings for the next Mercury sides St. Louis Blues, Shufflin’ The Boogie, Hiroshima and S.P. Blues.
with Elliot Paul
In January of 1949, Ammons and Elliot Paul – a noted intellectual author, a piano student of Ammons and his friend – were invited to play a piano duet when President Harry Truman was inaugurated in Washington D.C. Subsequently Ammons joined the Lionel Hampton Orchestra as staff pianist. Shortly after on December 2, 1949 the foremost boogie-woogie pianist died of cardiac insufficiency only 42 years of age