Boogie-woogie is a style of jazz piano, based on blues music and usually played quickly. The birth of boogie-woogie isn't precisely known, although some sources indicate that the earliest forms of boogie-woogie would have appeared in the late 19th century in Texas. Early boogie-woogie was played in "Barrel House" and "Honky-tonk", establishments where alcohol was served and people danced around a piano. In the early 20th century the boogie-woogie starts growing the U.S., especially in Chicago. The sound of steam locomotives would have influenced blues pianists, to create boogie-woogie music.
Forerunner Blues Pianists
Pionner blues pianists who influenced boogie-woogie includes George W. Thomas (1885-1930 or 1936) from Texas, who recorded in 1923 a piece called The Rocks , considered the first boogie-woogie solo recording. Hersal Thomas (1909 1926), who died at a very young age, was quoted by Albert Ammons and Meade Lux Lewis as being very influential. His most famous recording was Suitcase Blues in 1925. Jimmy Blythe (1901-1931) moved to Chicago in 1916 and cut a great number of piano rolls. He also recorded in 1924 his Chicago Stomp, which was played entirely on a boogie-woogie bass line.
It is Clarence "Pine Top" Smith (1904-1929) who first used the term "boogie woogie" in his 1928 recording Pine Top's Boogie Woogie . This song had a great influence on all other tunes of its kind and will be used by Albert Ammons in his Boogie-Woogie Stomp . He was a regular in barrel-houses and rent-parties, and died accidentally in a shooting.
Clarence "Pinetop" Smith, Pine Top's Boogie Woogie (1928 )
Jimmy Yancey (1898 - 1951) played an important role in the history of blues and boogie. Born in Chicago, he started playing the piano rather late and developed his own way of playing the blues. Unwillingly, he became an influential figure in the Chicago musical life: his playing was a major source of inspiration for Meade Lux Lewis and Albert Ammons. However, Jimmy Yancey chose the job security to the artist's life and worked for 25 years as a gardener at the Comiskey Park. But in 1939, recording studios became interested in his music and from 1939 to 1940, he was invited to cut a number of piano solos: sometimes ingenious, sometimes unpredictable. He particularly liked to finish each track with a short coda, still the same, a E flat, and whatever the tone he was playing.
The great boogie -woogie players
PETE JOHNSON (1904 - 1967)
Boogie-woogie owes much to Pete Johnson, pianist from Kansas City. He began his musical career as a drummer before becoming a pianist. He accompanies the singer Big Joe Turner with whom he recorded Roll 'Em Pete , one of the first rock' n roll. He played in many clubs in New York including the famous "Cafe Society", sometimes alongside colleagues Albert Ammons and Meade Lux Lewis. He recorded many piano solos in the '40s before moving to Buffalo in 1950.
On December 23 1938, was held at Carnergie Hall the concert that launched the boogie-woogie madness: From Spirituals to Swing involving Pete Johnson and Albert Ammons and Meade Lux Lewis. It was the first time that black artists played in this prestigious hall. James P. Johnson, Count Basie also played in this concert. It was a great success, and the beginning of a craze for boogie-woogie.
MEADE LUX LEWIS (1905 - 1964)
Born in Chicago in a musical family, he began music by learning violin, but turned to the piano after hearing Jimmy Yancey and Thomas Hersal. Completely self-taught, he began performing and perfecting his style with his friend Albert Ammons, whom he met when he was a taxi driver. In 1927, he recorded one of his compositions that would become his most famous song Honky Tonk Train Blues. But Meade Lux lewis only came into the public eye around 1935, when he began recording for Parlophone and Victor. After the Carnegie Hall concert in 1938, he became, with Albert Ammons and Pete Johnson, a legendary boogie-woogie player. The trio continued to perform at the "Cafe Society", while the popularity of the boogie-woogie was in full swing. In 1941 he moved to Los Angeles and continued giving public performances, even appearing in some motion pictures. He died in 1964 in a car accident.
ALBERT AMMONS (1907 - 1949)
Born in Chicago, and he learned piano from the age of 10. He quickly became interested in blues and learnt by listening pianists like Jimmy Yancey and Thomas Hersal. In the early 20s, he worked as a taxi driver in Chicago. At that time, he met Meade Lux Lewis, a taxi driver too and passionnate for piano blues. The two men played together during their free time and perfected their technique. From 1934 to 1936, Albert Ammons formed his own band, the "Rhythm Kings". Following the success, Albert Ammons moved to New York, where he met Pete Johnson. The two pianists became friends and performed together and at "Cafe Society".
Albert Ammons & Rhythm Kings, Boogie Woogie
After the success of the Carnegie Hall concert From Spirituals to Swing in 1938 and the growing popularity of the boogie-woogie, Albert Ammons continued recording alongside many musicians, featured in the film Boogie-Woogie Dream with Pete Johnson. He had a severe injury to a finger whilst cooking in 1941, but continued playing and recording until his death in December 1949. His playing is powerful and joyful, and has one of the best swing playing among the boogie-woogie players.