John Hammond

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John Hammond (far right) in the 1940s

John Henry Hammond II (born December 15, 1910 in New York City , † July 10, 1987 there ) was an American record producer , musician and music critic. He was a major talent scout in American popular music, best known for organizing Benny Goodman's first band and discovering Billie Holiday and Count Basie . He later "discovered", promoted and marketed Pete Seeger , Big Joe Turner , George Benson , Bob Dylan , Bruce Springsteen , Leonard Cohen , Aretha Franklin and Stevie Ray Vaughan, among others .

Family background / early years

Hammond came from a wealthy family on New York's Upper East Side ; he was a great-grandson of William Henry Vanderbilt . His parents were Louisville, Kentucky , James Henry Hammond and his wife, Emily Vanderbilt Sloane. Hammond was named after his paternal grandfather, General John Henry Hammond. He began to be interested in music at an early age and learned to play the piano from the age of four and the violin from the age of eight. His mother pushed him to classical music, but he was more interested in the music of the African American servants; In 1923 he listened to the jazz pianist Arthur Schutt during a stay in London .

In his youth he roamed Harlem where he heard Bessie Smith at the Alhambra Theater in 1927 , which shaped his taste in music for the rest of his life. In 1928 he began to study violin and viola at Yale University , but visited New York frequently, wrote for magazines on the side and was active as a political activist. In 1931 he supplied food to striking workers in Kentucky and in 1935 became an active member of the NAACP . Eventually he dropped out of college to become the US correspondent for the British Melody Maker . Meanwhile, his sister Alice Hammond Duckworth married his friend Benny Goodman.

Record producer

In 1931 his career as a record producer began with recordings by the pianist Garland Wilson . Hammond moved to Greenwich Village , was one of the first organizers of regular live jazz programs on the radio and, in his own words (in his autobiography, published in 1977), wrote about jazz in order to set an example against the racial segregation that was also popular in New York at the time Jazz events and in the orchestras was practiced almost continuously.

In 1933 he became a producer for Columbia Records. Hammond became one of the main promoters of the swing movement, where he also influenced the line-up. He played a role in the organization of Benny Goodman's band, which he convinced to hire African-American musicians such as Charlie Christian , Teddy Wilson and Lionel Hampton . In 1933 he heard the then 17-year-old Billie Holiday in Harlem; Bernie Hanighen and Hammond helped her first record with Benny Goodman. In 1937 he was appointed to the Advisory Board of the Hot Record Society . In the same year he heard the Count Basie Orchestra on a radio broadcast from Kansas City and brought the band to New York, where they soon became one of the leading swing orchestras (with Hammond also helping to shape the band). As a critic he tended on the one hand to enthusiastic support, on the other hand he was soon feared among musicians - comments he often made casually in a club could decide careers (he usually formulated rejection as it stinks ). Some of the bands, like Duke Ellington's , were able to evade his influence, but were harshly criticized by him.

In 1938 he organized the first From Spiritual to Swing concerts at Carnegie Hall , where he presented jazz, blues and gospel musicians such as Ida Cox , Big Joe Turner , Sister Rosetta Tharpe , the Count Basie Orchestra, Sidney Bechet , Sonny Terry , James P. Johnson and Big Bill Broonzy . Many musicians have also performed at the Greenwich Village Club Café Society , which was founded in 1938 and was a meeting place for left-wing intellectuals in the 1940s (and a regular venue for Billie Holiday). Hammond largely determined the musical program of the club, which was closed in 1947 in the early McCarthy era . He took little notice of the bebop movement, which determined jazz in New York after his return from military service in World War II. In 1948, Hammond moved to Mercury Records .

In 1953 he went to the Vanguard Records label , which Maynard and Seymour Solomon had founded. Previously, in an article in the New York Times, he complained about the poor recording quality of current jazz records. At Vanguard, he was given the opportunity to produce over forty albums over the next four years, mostly with musicians he knew from the pre-war era, such as Basie veterans such as Buck Clayton , Vic Dickenson , Jo Jones and swing-influenced artists such as Ruby Braff , Mel Powell or Sir Charles Thompson . Most of these recording sessions took place at Masonic Hall in Brooklyn .

In 2002 Prince released a song called Avalanche on his album One Nite Alone… in which he expressed his contempt for Hammond for exploiting this African American musician.

The 1960s

In late 1959 he returned to Columbia Records . He brought Pete Seeger and Babatunde Olatunji to Columbia and discovered the then 18-year-old Aretha Franklin , who was performing as a gospel singer . In 1961 he heard folksinger Bob Dylan at a session for Carolyn Hester and signed him. The songs Blowin 'in the Wind and A hard rain's a-gonna fall were produced by him. He also brought Leonard Cohen and Bruce Springsteen to Columbia. In 1975 he retired from the record company, but continued to work as a talent scout, for example by hiring guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan in 1983.

In 1971 Hammond received a Grammy Trustees Award for Lifetime Achievement, and in 1986 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame .

Hammond died in 1987 after a series of strokes. He was the father of blues musician John P. Hammond (known as John Hammond, Jr.), a nephew of former US Ambassador to Spain, Ogden Hammond , and a cousin of civil rights activist and Congressman Millicent Fenwick .


  • John Hammond with Irving Townsend John Hammond On Record: An Autobiography , Ridge Press - Summit Books, 1977, ISBN 0-671-40003-7
  • Dunstan Prial The Producer: John Hammond and the Soul of American Music , Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006, ISBN 0-374-11304-1
  • Samuel Charters: Who Was John Hammond? Liner Notes for the album The Basie Bunch - Too Marvelous for Words (Vanguard, ed. 1999)

Web links


  1. a b c Samuel Charters: Who Was John Hammond? Liner Notes for the album The Basie Bunch - Too Marvelous for Words (Vanguard, ed. 1999)
  2. they in July 1935 on a jam session met
  3. Collier: Duke Ellington , Knaur, p. 321, citing Hammond from 1936 that art had crippled the Duke Ellington Orchestra . He also accused him in a high-handed manner of not taking a clear stance on the race question. Differences with Hammond were also a reason why Ellington left Columbia in 1939.
  4. dismissed by his superiors as "Hammond's foolishness", because Dylan's protest music with overly long titles did not fit into the popular music scheme of conventional record companies