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Albert Ammons/Meade Lux Lewis/Pete Johnson: The Boogie Woogie Trio, Volume 2

There are 23 performances by the boogie men on the first CD, all from broadcasts out of the Sherman Hotel, Chicago, during September-October, 1939. There are eight solos by Ammons, six each by Johnson and Lewis, a duet by Ammons and Lewis and two romps by the trio. All titles are originals by the pianists, except for three (including “St. Louis Blues”) that Ammons tackles, and two of Lewis’ solos have not been issued before. By 1939, boogie-woogie had become something of a national fad, spurred on by the threesome’s success in the Spirituals to Swing concert at Carnegie Hall in 1938. John Hammond’s part in virtually introducing this music to a huge public was a boon to mankind of which he could justly be proud, much of it due to his own earlier discovery of Meade Lux Lewis’ record of “Honky Tonk Train Blues.”

Once you’re accustomed to this idiom, you should find appealing differences in the three pianists. Ammons was born in 1907, Lewis in 1905, and Johnson the same year as Pinetop Smith, in 1904. Their great precursor, Jimmy Yancey, was born in 1894 and his influence is probably more evident in Lewis’ slower pieces. Boogie-woogie was blues for dancing and in 1939 the popularity of Swing would have accounted for some of the hard-swinging tempos.

The Ralph Sutton set, made in 1969 and previously unreleased, is another beautiful example of how this fine pianist has kept the stride style alive and well. The program, all of it played with authority and manifold affection, includes five Fats Waller numbers, James P.’s “Snowy Morning Blues” and several other good old good ones. Recorded in Mrs. Sutton’s Aspen supper club, the music has a warm, relaxed feeling that is at least partly due to the able assistance of bassist Al Hall and drummer Cliff Leeman. The latter’s brushwork is sometimes over-recorded and Hall’s solos are at times accompanied by irritating audience babble. Sutton’s own disrespectfully titled original, “Dog Ass Blues,” is a lively performance, but not apparently related to Johnny Hodges’ “D.A. Blues” on the 1960 Paul Gonsalves Victor LP.

The ten titles and seven-minute medley (including “The Charleston”) on the James P. Johnson disc appear to be from piano rolls. They reproduce well and provide a good introduction to his work as both pianist and composer. He was the important figure in establishing the stride idiom, thereby effectively making the piano’s transition from ragtime to jazz. “Carolina Shout,” which influenced so many early jazz pianists, is still impressive here, and so is the following “Arkansas Blues.”

The short-playing Teddy Wilson CD consists of ten jazz standards recorded for Standard Transcriptions in 1945 by a sextet. With Wilson are Charlie Shavers, Red Norvo, Remo Palmieri, Al Hall and Specs Powell. The notes make much of the clash between “swingsters” and “beboppers” at that time, but there is little evidence of it in the music. There are the unexpectedly good, musicianly solos from the leader and Norvo, but the general level is smooth rather than exciting, as though this were the work of a bunch of studio musicians. The effect of a studio career is noticeable in Powell’s playing. The time pressures of transcription recording may account for some of the deficiencies. Apart from soloing, Wilson is always enjoyable as an accompanist. Shavers blows hot and strong in his climactic chorus on “I’m Confessin’,” Satchmo being the righteous source of his inspiration. Palmieri comes up with some pleasing ideas, but his solos lack continuity.

Originally Published