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James "Red" Holloway, 1927 - 2012


James “Red” Holloway
May 31, 1927 – February 25, 2012

 Life is after all a terminal disease, and even if we were still teenagers, our mission at the AMRF pretty much guarantees there will be more funerals than weddings. It’s just that some passages are harder to take than others. Red Holloway’s death at the age of 84 on Saturday, February 25th, is one of the hardest.

 Just hearing his name I see his ever-present smile. I hear his laugh, and the way he said, “greazzy,” with more than a couple of z’s. I hear him snoring contentedly in my car as I drove him from rehearsal at the Firefly in Ann Arbor back to his hotel in Farmington. Mostly I hear his tenor saxophone, so sweet and so gritty all at once.

It’s not that I really knew Red; he wouldn’t recognize me on the street, and it’s beyond doubtful he’d even remember my name. He spent but four whirlwind days with us in Detroit during the 8th Annual Blues & Boogie Woogie Festival in 2006. But what I took from him during the few hours in which we were together and he wasn’t snoring was more meaningful than days and weeks I’ve spent with some others.      

The AMRF had decided in January to present a big band boogie-woogie show.  Paul Keller had agreed to serve as Music Director, with his 14-piece PKO providing the foundation. Pianists Mr. B, Bob Seeley, Charles Boles and Axel Zwingenberger were all in the mix, and we were casting about for additional players and vocalists, and also big band boogie woogie charts; Paul has a massive book but there were some holes we were looking to fill, and the more material to choose from the better.

It was sometime in the spring when I walked into AMRF President Ron Harwood’s office and he said that Axel had suggested we consider a guy he had worked with, Red Holloway, who played saxophones, sang, and probably had some charts. Ron asked me what I thought. After peeling myself off the ceiling I told him in language more colorful than can be repeated here that I thought it absolutely brilliant.

Red was 79 years old, a seasoned veteran and product of Chicago’s south side who straddled the worlds of jazz and blues with ease. He had played with everyone from Roosevelt Sykes, Willie Dixon, and B.B. King to Clark Terry, Sonny Stitt, and Dexter Gordon. He was a member of organist Jack McDuff's famed quartet in the early 60’s, with Joe Dukes on drums and a teenager named George Benson on guitar. He was a favorite sideman for vocalists Etta James, Joe Williams, and Carmen McRae.  He was the perfect choice to round out our ensemble.

I Googled Red and found his website. There was phone number I figured was for his agent. It was Red’s home number and he answered himself, the first of many pleasant surprises from this wonderful man. I explained the project, said that Axel had recommended him, and just like that, he was in. Just like that.

The concert itself was so magical we made two television shows from it. Red’s soul infused the entire evening. He reached deep into the mud for an exquisite duet with Mr. B on “Going Down Slow,” swung mercilessly with Charles Boles on "Rt. 66," and blew the house down while Axel pounded out the boogie woogie. He pulled out a pennywhistle to play an achingly beautiful ballad, and pulled in the audience to clap along and sing with him on “Locksmith Blues.” It made the crew a bit crazy that he was playing through the vocal mic, holding it in the bell of his horn between choruses, but they got over it.

Red’s contributions to the concert were extraordinary, but it’s the interview that really sticks with me. The express purpose of our Motor City Blues & Boogie Woogie Festivals is to bring artists to us so that both their music and stories can be captured on video for posterity. Red’s anecdotes alone were beyond entertaining: Sitting next to Johnny Griffin at fabled DuSable High in Chicago. Being stranded, starving and freezing on tour in North Dakota. Practicing a lick over and over in the closet with a towel jammed in the bell of his horn, so that he wouldn’t be blown off the stage at next week’s jam session in a south side club.

Most compelling is the extent to which his story informs our understanding of what music is, and what it means to be a musician. I hear every nuance of cadence and inflection as he said, “If you cannot play the blues, you cannot play good jazz.” I am still awed by the breezy eloquence of his simple statement, “I liked jazz, but I liked to eat too.” His equally eloquent summation gives voice to a universal truth: “If you’re going to be a real musician, you’re going to play anything that’s going to make you some money, so you can eat regular, and be just like the people who work six or seven days a week.”

We have been privileged at the AMRF to capture the performances and stories of over 50 artists, and we have learned from every one of them. We are particularly proud that one of those artists is Red Holloway. Not only did he provide some of the most compelling footage in our archive, but in the process he touched us all with his wisdom and beautiful soul.  He made us feel, not just good, but greazzy good. RIP

John Penney, AMRF

AMRF Festivals and Concerts  AMRF News  Artists  Blues  History  


  • i had the pleasure of working with red holloway in the 2006 concert and I must s...more
    - [Charles Boles]
  • Thanks for the wonderful article about my Dad! He was truly one of a kind and w...more
    - [Lianne Holloway]

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Mike Montgomery


All of us at the AMRF are still reeling after the sudden and unexpected loss of one of our oldest and dearest friends. Mike Montgomery passed in his sleep sometime after midnight last Tuesday, June 22, 2011. He was 77 years young.

Mike was a world renowned authority on ragtime, early blues and jazz, and particular on piano rolls; he discovered a barn full of them as a teenager growing up in Chicago and was immediately smitten. Mike produced some 26 LPs and CDs, wrote liner notes for many more, and contributed hundreds of scholarly lectures and articles. You’d be hard pressed to find a CD or book or anything in any media published in the last 50 years having to do with ragtime that does not acknowledge Mike’s contributions.

To call him a “Scholar” however doesn’t do him justice. Mike was a Sage.  More than just knowledgeable, he was wise and enlightened, and since music was his avocation rather than vocation he led with his head and heart rather than his wallet.  Mike was more interested in sharing than he was with taking credit, content that his extraordinary contributions simply be disseminated whether acknowledged in a “Special Thanks” section or a footnote or not at all. He went out of his way to share his discoveries; a friend in Ann Arbor reminisced about how Mike showed up out of the blue one day bearing an envelope filled with information about the history of the building he lived in, hooting with delight as he revealed its contents.  All of us who knew and worked with Mike have similar stories.

Mike and AMRF Founder and President Ron Harwood were close friends and colleagues for many decades. Mike rarely missed a Motor City Blues & Boogie Woogie Festival, and his research provides fundamental underpinnings for the book on Sippie Wallace and the Thomas family that Ron is writing with the AMRF’s John Penney. Mike continued to make significant contributions until his tragic death. He was a regular visitor at Ron’s offices, where he was well known and well loved. “Make sure to bring Mike by to say ‘Hi’” was a common request.

At Mike’s Memorial one man tearfully recounted how his father had died when he was a youngster, and how Mike had become, in a very real sense, a father to him.  He went on to say that, after he had given a tearful and mournful eulogy for his father, Mike pulled him aside. “You are speaking in a minor key,” Mike told him. “You need to speak in a major key.” How brilliant, how Mike…

Though for many of us Mike Montgomery’s passing is almost more than we can bear, we can take some solace in the joy and wisdom he shared and that enriched our lives. That we could count him a friend is more than a precious thing, and when we speak of him, and sing of him, it will always be in a major key.

AMRF News  History  Piano Rolls  


  • We called him "The Encyclopedia Montgomrica." This is a terrible loss....more
    - [piano]

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10 Years Young!


The Motor City Blues & Boogie Woogie Festival has always been about more than just presenting a great annual concert or two. From the beginning it was conceived as a vehicle that would bring great artists together so that their performances and stories could be captured on videotape.The goal is to document and preserve our musical and cultural heritage so that future generations will have an opportunity to understand it. This is the mission of the American Music Research Foundation.  

As we celebrate our 10th anniversary we can look back with satisfaction on the history we have preserved and even some history we have made. We have documented the music and stories of over 59 artists, including such seminal figures as Koko Taylor, Johnnie Johnson, and Jay McShann. (For a complete list visit the artists page of our website.)

In 2004 Maria Muldaur recreated the sound and look of the Classic Blues singers of the 20's with James Dapogny's Chicago Jazz Band, a performance that inspired the best selling album, "Naughty, Bawdy & Blue," and the title of our TV show and DVD, "Boogie & the Blues Diva."In 2006 we presented 22 artists on stage for a night of Big Band Boogie Woogie, including performances in which world renowned solo pianist Bob Seeley played with a big band for the first time. In 2007 we reintroduced Frank "Sugarchild" Robinson, who disappeared from the scene after having been one of the biggest stars of the day as a child in the 50's.

We have produced seven public television programs that have aired over 1,500 times on over 300 stations across the country. Three additional hours of programming are in production, and there are many more to follow.

Throughout our 10 years, our good friend John Collier has documented our festivals with his brilliant photography.

AMRF Festivals and Concerts  History  


  • Beautiful slideshow. I can't wait for the show this weekend!
    - [ryan]

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John Hammond's "From Spirituals to Swing"


 The New Masses Presents
“From Spirituals to Swing”
         Carnegie Hall

John Hammond conceived of this concert as a political statement set to music:  “...the Negro people have produced some of the most amazing musicians the world has ever known,” and they deserved better than the oppression and discrimination they were subjected to.

Hammond was born on December 15, 1910 in an eight-story mansion on New York’s upper east side, an heir to the Vanderbilt fortune. As a child he discovered a Columbia Grafanola in the servant’s quarters, and by the age of 12 was collecting recordings of “early Negro and country artists.” His grandmother had a player piano and he also began collecting jazz rolls. At the age of 17 he snuck up to Harlem to hear Bessie Smith, telling his parents he had to go out to play string quartets. For the rest of his high school days he inhabited the Harlem clubs, frequently the only white face in the room.

While a student at Yale Hammond returned to New York on weekends and spent his nights in Harlem. During his sophomore year a recurrence of jaundice forced him to drop out, but by then Hammond had determined that he wanted a career in the music business.

His father sent him to “The Millionaire’s Club” in Georgia to recuperate. As Hammond says in his autobiography, “I returned to New York physically recovered and emotionally enraged. The habit of discrimination was so encrusted by centuries of acceptance that both black and white knew no other way to act. I had walked through my first southern Nigger town, the son of the president of a private club for millionaires, many of them Southern, all of them white and Protestant. To know better was no longer enough. I had to do something.”

For Hammond doing something meant promoting the artists and music he loved. As an independently wealthy man he was able to pursue his passion as he saw fit. As a young man he wrote about jazz for music magazines, invested in concerts, produced his first records, and hosted the first ever radio program devoted to jazz. He traveled the country by car, seeking out new talent.

At the center of his vision was a concert that would “bring together for the first time, before a musically sophisticated audience, Negro music from its raw beginnings to the latest jazz,” but it took years to find a sponsor that would underwrite the talent search and Carnegie Hall production. In early 1938, the Marxist publication, “New Masses,” agreed to sign on.

Hammond contacted a talent scout in North Carolina and set out to find his performers. Robert Johnson was at the top of Hammond’s list but had been killed by his girlfriend earlier in the year. “Big Bill” Broonzy was signed instead. Hammond also signed many of the performers he had discovered in New York, Chicago, and Kansas City.

In the printed program for the event Hammond laid out the show, not in the order of performances, but in the order by which the music evolved. There were eight parts:

Introduction During which recordings made by the H. E. Tracy expedition to the Africa were played.

I. Spirituals and Holy Roller Hymns
Mitchell’s Christian Singers were a group of laborers from North Carolina that sang a cappella on Sundays. Hammond went to their home, a back country shack without water or electricity, to sign them up.Sister Rosetta Tharpe was a forerunner to Mahalia Jackson, a singer and guitarist who played a “Holy Roller” style of hymns that straddled gospel and the blues. She played mostly in churches but had done one night at The Cotton Club, which brought her to Hammond’s attention.

II. Soft Swing 
The Kansas City Six featured Lester Young (cl. tsax.), Buck Clayton (tr.), Eddie Durham (electric g.), Freddie Greene (g.), Walter Page (b.), and Joe Jones (dr.) Their music straddled swing and dixieland styles of jazz.
III. Harmonica Playing
Hammond went to North Carolina to sign
Blind Boy Fuller, but Fuller was in jail. Living next door was blind harmonica player Sanford (Sonny) Terry, and upon hearing him Hammond signed him on the spot.

IV. Blues
It had been Hammond’s dream to feature
Bessie Smith, but she had passed on by the time the concert was in production, so he signed Ruby Smith – no relation to Bessie – accompanied by James P. Johnson, one of the originators of the “stride” style of piano that straddled the transition from ragtime to jazz.Hammond discovered blues shouter Joe Turner and his colleague boogie-woogie pianist Pete Johnson in Kansas City, and first brought them to New York to perform at The Famous Door in 1936. In 1938 he brought them back for a guest appearance on Benny Goodman’s “Camel Caravan,” and they stayed to perform in Carnegie Hall. Bill Broonzy had moved from Arkansas to Chicago in 1924, where he had become a major figure in the blues scene. The Carnegie Hall performance marked the first time he had played for a white audience. Jimmy Rushing was the vocalist in Count Basie’s band, and Helen Humes was a volcalist Hammond had discovered in Louisville, Kentucky and recommended to Basie. They both performed with small groups at Carnegie Hall before performing with the orchestra.

V. Boogie-Woogie Piano Playing
Pianists Albert Ammons and Meade Lux Lewis had shared a rooming house with
Pinetop Smith in Chicago from 1927 to 1930. Smith had a hit with the recording of “Boogie Woogie” in 1928. After he passed away in 1929, Ammons and Lewis continued to develop the form. At Carnegie Hall they played solo, duo, and six-handed with Pete Johnson. The Spirituals to Swing concert began the boogie-woogie craze in this country. Ammons and Lewis were recorded together at the very first session for Blue Note Records in January of 1939.

VI. Early New Orleans Jazz
 Sidney Bechet (cl. ssax.), Tommy Ladnier(tr.), James P. Johnson (p.), Dan Minor (trb.), Jo Jones (dr.)

VII. Swing
 Count Basie and His Orchestra

The concert was oversold to the extent that chairs for an additional 400 people had to be put on stage, and a second “From Spirituals to Swing” concert was staged on Christmas Day, 1939.

Blues  Boogie Woogie  Gospel  History  Jazz  


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The copyright Law of 1909 - Mike Montgomery


Our"Boogie Beat" newsletter is published quarterly for members only.  In the current issue, independent music historian Mike Montgomery writes about the impact of the copyright law of 1909. An excerpt is reprinted below. To read the entire article, become a member of the AMRF. You will receive of Boogie Beat in the mail and become eligible member discounts on tickets and merchandise, including our forthcoming DVD from the 2004 Motor City Blues & Boogie Woogie Festival, "Boogie and the Blues Diva."

The copyright laws enacted in the US in the late 1700s were intended to protect the OWNERS of written (and musical) material from unlawful (and unfair) infringement by others.  That simply means if someone publishes a book, or a music company publishes a song, no one else can legally appropriate it, without permission.  Let’s say it’s 1870, some years before the invention of paper music rolls and phonograph records (and cylinders).  You write (compose) a song.  To get it published for general sale you first need to “sell” an established music publisher to see merit in your song and to envision selling enough copies to make a profit....

..When a song is under copyright protection, no one else can legally appropriate your song (or any part of it).  But it’s up to you to sell your song to a publisher who will treat you fairly at the outset, if that’s possible.

The important concept to keep in mind is this:  ONLY ONE PUBLISHER CAN OWN YOUR SONG AT ANY ONE TIME...

Enter the Inventors

During the 1870s a variety of clever inventors were working on ways to make mechanical music and reproduce recorded sounds.  In the player field, John McTammany was developing his concept of creating perforated paper rolls which would be scrolled across a sort of harmonica by a crank.  With the right amount of air pressure, brass reeds would sound according to the notes that were cut into the paper roll.  This was the birth of the mammoth player industry.  At first, small perforated rolls, covering about 14 notes on the piano, were produced and were designed to play on small table-top “organettes."  Soon larger self-contained organs, operated by foot pedals became available, and these played many more notes.  By the end of the 19th century, the rolls had grown larger, and there were devices which could play the keys on a regular piano.  These devices are known today (to collectors and historians) as “push-ups.”   The German Welte Company called its push-up a “Vorsetzer” which translates into a “Sitter In Front Of” player.  In the meantime the phonograph inventors were perfecting the reproduction of sound using either cylinders or small flat discs which could play back sounds, voices and music on early phonographs....

At first the publishers, when discovering their tunes appearing on these small crude paper rolls, may have been pleased and even amused.  The rolls contained no lyrics (lyrics on rolls would come many years later), and if properly credited to the composers and publishers may have even been considered a sales stimulus to get people to go to their local music stores and buy the actual sheet music.  But later on, when scads of published and copyrighted songs were appearing on paper rolls, it was no longer amusing.  Publishers demanded royalties, and it was up to Congress to change the existing copyright law to cover this new development...



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Gumbo In Congo Square


The roots of blues, rhythm & blues, jazz, and rock 'n' roll are all in New Orleans, and the evolution of the music is inseperable from the evolution of the city.

"Gumbo" is the most common metaphor for New Orleans, and it most apt. A good homemade gumbo can take days to make - mine generally take three or four. The first thing you make is the roux, flour cooked in fat that provides the smoky foundation for the dish. Next you add stock, and finally you add the stuff - crawdads, shrimp, chicken, sausage, greens, whatever.

The gumbo that is New Orleans took centuries to make, and the roux was made in the earliest days of the original settlement.

The eminent New Orleans scholar Pierce Lewis has described it as, "an inevitable city on an impossible site." Inevitable because it is at the mouth of the Mississippi River, and impossible because there really isn't a "mouth." Rather, for 200 miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico, there is nothing but swampland.

The site of the original French city, commissioned in 1718, has been described as, "wretched." It is too hot, too humid, prone to flooding and hurricanes, and the swamps bred untold numbers of disease-laden mosquitos. Respectable Europeans who had a choice did not choose to live in New Orleans. The original settlers were mostly hustlers, thieves, and opportunists.

The first slaves arrived directly from Africa in the early 1720's. But the French Catholic attitude towards slavery was quite different from that of the English Protestant colonials, and it resulted in a relatively large population of "free people of color" from the earliest days of the colony.

In the first place, slaves were allowed to earn money. City masters often loaned their slaves to others as wage laborers, and slaves were given the weekends off, when again they could work for wages. They used the money to buy their freedom.

Additionally, the French were quite open about secual liasons with slaves. Their mixed race offspring were frequently raised as free men or given their freedom when the father died. Many received an education, some going back to France for it.

These original settlers are the Creoles of New Orleans. They are French speaking Eurpoeans and Africans and, most importantly, everybody in between. In 18th century New Orleans there was no stark distinction between black and white, as there was in the English colonies. Africans and Europeans shared both genes and cultures, and the mixing of many rich shades of brown, both physically and culturally, was essential to the roux.

Another crucial ingredient was the infusion of Native American culture. Africans and Native Americans had much in common. They were both oppressed by the white man. They shared similar beliefs about nature and man's place in it. And they shared a love of music and dance. They were natural friends and allies.

Native Americans orchestrated the first documented escape of African slaves from the colony in 1725. The first account of Africans dressing as Native Americans - a sign of respect among neighboring tribes - comes from the Mardi Gras celebration of 1746.

Rampart Street in New Orleans demarked the inland boundary of the original city. Just outside the rampart was an open field. There are many conflicting stories, but it is apparent that it was a gathering place for Native Americans.

Creoles and Africans began to gather there too. There are stories about Creoles and Native Americans playing lacrosse together on the field. Over time, it evolved into a marketplace.

In 1744 this field was legitimized as the "Place de Negroes," where on weekends free people of color could gather openly to do business, trade news and gossip, and just hang out together. Slaves were allowed to join the congregation, and on Sunday afternoons they would come with traditional African drums and instruments. They would play music and sing, and dance.

Within a few years their numbers grew to hundreds, and Europeans, Creoles, African Americans, and Native Americans would all gather on this field for the weekly musical celebration.

The translation is not exact, but Place des Negroes became Congo Plain, and then Congo Square.

France ceded Louisiana to the Spanish after the Seven Years War in 1763, bought it back in 1800, and within three years sold it to the Americans. French Canadian refugees, the Acadians that came to be known as Cajuns, began arriving in 1764. And a few decades later black, white, and mixed race refugees from the slave revolts in Haiti began to arrive in large numbers. Sailors and settlers from all over the world would come, and some would stay.

Through all of this the Sunday afternoon gatherings continued in Congo Square, with more or less legitimacy. The Americans outlawed them in 1811, but the congregations simply reemerged elsewhere. So in 1817, in the interest of keeping them under watchful eyes, the city reestablished Congo Square as a place where, on Sunday afternoons, slaves could celebrate their heritage. As the city grew and flourished over the next century, this celebration of song and dance became renown throughout the world.

Congo Square is the cauldron in which the musical gumbo of New Orleans was cooked, and musicologists and historians point to all the stuff and stock added during the heyday of the 19th century as the source of most American musical genres.

But the roux was made much earlier, and without it the gumbo would not have been possible.

Blues  History  Jazz  


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St. Augustine Parish to close


Treme church holds rich history of New Orleans
Friday, February 10, 2006
By Bruce Nolan
Staff writer

St.Augustine Parish and its rich New Orleans history become victims of Hurricane Katrina

Called to manage a floodscape of devastated church parishes and hollowed-out neighborhoods, the Archdiocese of New Orleans Thursday said it could no longer afford to subsidize a treasure that counts as one of Hurricane Katrina's walking wounded: St. Augustine Parish, the cradle of black Catholicism in New Orleans.

Archbishop Alfred Hughes announced Thursday that he will close the parish, the third- or fourth-oldest in the archdiocese.

St. Augustine's historic church will remain open for weekly worship, now as one of two places of worship in the newly enlarged St. Peter Claver Parish next door.

But historic St. Augustine Parish will cease to exist in mid-March. Whatever future the community builds for itself, it will do so under another name and under a new pastor.

Founded in 1841 on a former plantation at the edge of the French Quarter, St. Augustine's roots are African, French, Haitian and Spanish.

Its story provides a window into the rich cultural ancestry of old New Orleans. ... [MORE]



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