Pete Johnson

Pete Johnson - pianist, composer, recording artist (1904-1967)

The history of jazz and blues piano is an interesting one, and it benefits from being told separately from the history of jazz in general. The best performers didn’t always fit into the prevailing styles of the time. Boogie-Woogie piano developed largely in the Midwest, particularly Chicago, with the result that its practitioners were sometimes referred to as “western” pianists in order to distinguish them from the New York piano professors. Some players in this style developed in St. Louis or Detroit, but this blues-based variation was centered in Chicago, for it was there that the great Jimmy Yancey developed this approach and influenced many other pianists.

Pete Johnson began his musical career in 1922 as a drummer in Kansas City, Missouri. From 1926 to 1938 he worked as a pianist, often accompanying singer Joe Turner. In 1938 he and Turner appeared in the Spirituals to Swing concert at Carnegie Hall. This concert started a boogie-woogie craze, and Turner and two other performers at the concert, Meade Lux Lewis and Albert Ammons, became the foremost champions of this genre.

Pete Johnson is the foremost exponent of “Kansas City boogie woogie style”. This is in contrast to to his colleagues of the Boogie Woogie Trio, Albert Ammons and Meade Lux Lewis from Chicago, whose main influences were Jimmy Yancey, Pinetop Smith, Hersal Thomas, Clarence Lofton and Jimmy Blythe. Meade Lux Lewis played a harmonic and rhythmic system all of his own, where as Albert Ammons relied heavily on his powerful touch and a swing-to-perfection which enabled him to emulate a Fats Waller like rhythmic tension. Pete Johnson was different. Although employing the physical approach of a mainly self-taught player to the keyboard, which when he played blues and boogie woogie, was an advantage. He was a player who had good knowledge of harmonics, structures, great command of rhythm and plentiful experience of swinging along with high caliber jazz musicians.

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