Thursday, August 09, 2007

New York City - 23rd December 1938

Sometime in 1938 John Hammond had the idea of arranging a concert at New York’s Carnegie Hall, his idea was to celebrate Black music from its earliest days to the very latest jazz sounds. Today, this seems like an ambitious and exciting event - one well worth attending; in 1938 it was nothing less than an audacious idea. It was the first major concert, at such a prestigious venue, to feature Black artists, performing to an integrated audience. In the build up to the concert Hammond faced views ranging from antipathy to out and out hostility. Hammond needed a sponsor and having tried just about everyone he finally got the ‘New Masses’ to put up the money; it was the journal of the Communist Party.

On the Friday before Christmas 1938 Hammond walked on stage to introduce the first artist. It was a sell-out and those lucky enough to be at this “socially significant event” witnessed legendary performers at what’s been called “a musical milestone”. Fortunately, for later generations, Hammond had the foresight to record the concert; acetates of almost every performance were made.

In 1959 Hammond told of having signed Robert Johnson to appear - he failed to make it because he was killed in a bar room brawl (further embellishment to the Johnson legend). The concert was dedicated to the memory of Bessie Smith who had died 15 months previously; her niece Ruby accompanied by James P. Johnson sang her aunt’s songs.

“I first heard them at the Reno Club in Kansas City in 1936.”

– John Hammond introducing Count Basie

Probably the star turn were the pianists, Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson and Meade Lux Lewis – the Boogie Woogie Trio. Their appearance proved to be sensational and New York’s Café Society went wild for these charismatic performers. They accompanied Big Joe Turner who belted out ‘Low Down Dog’ and ‘It’s All Right Baby’ – jazz meets the blues and you can definitely hear the birth of rock and roll.

The Count Basie Orchestra, Hammond had originally signed Basie to MCA in 1936, were also on the bill. Mitchell’s Christian Singers and sister Rosetta Tharpe represented Gospel, while Sony Terry, Jimmy Rushing and Helen Humes played the Blues.


David Ross said...

Most interesting post Richard, it is always pleasing to discover that someone had the foresight to capture something important for future generations. Are the recordings available to the public?

Richard Havers said...

Yessiree Mr Ross

For a very keen price....

David Ross said...

Just purchased the last copy in stock, are you on commission?