Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Black to white

Just a little bit more on Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson, Meade Lux Lewis, and John Hammond especially, before we move on to Stu's introduction into the early British blues scene. One of the Stones' greatest achievements is that they brought authentic black American music under the attention of a white British and European audience. But before the Rolling Stones, and other British bands of course, could even do that, black American music itself had to find (or even fight) its way into a mainly white US establishment. And that's where John Hammond comes in, as Elijah Wald (in his wonderful book on blues legend Robert Johnson) recalls:

The key moment in the transformation of black vernacular music into an important white taste came on December 23, 1938, with the From Spirituals to Swing concert at Carnegie Hall. Here, for the first time, white New York society heard a broad range of African-American music presented as art rather than simply entertainment. John Hammond, who organized the program, was a wealthy connoisseur who is justly famous for his work on behalf of such artists as Teddy Wilson, Billie Holiday, Count Basie, and many others.

It was through his influence at Columbia Records that Bessie Smith was able to make her last recordings, after her glory days were past, and he would go on to sponsor the varied talents of Charlie Christian, Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, and Bruce Springsteen. He conceived of From Spirituals to Swing as a capsule history of African-American music, and began the evening by playing some field recordings of traditional African chants. Then came the Count Basie band, the boogie woogie pianists Meade Lux Lewis, Albert Ammons, and Pete Johnson with Joe Turner, gospel from sister Rosetta Tharpe and Mitchell's Christian Singers, New Orleans jazz fronted by a group fronted by Sidney Bechet, stride piano by James P. Johnson, a harmonica instrumental from Sonny Terry, and blues from Big Bill Broonzy

Source: Elijah Wald, Escaping The Delta, HarperCollins books, 2004.

At the time, Ian Stewart won't have been aware of all this (as he was only six months old!), but somehow somewhere his appreciation of black American music in general, and of course boogie woogie piano in particular, found its place into the early music of the Rolling Stones.

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