Thursday, September 26, 2013


Boogie-woogie is an African American style of piano-based blues that became popular in the late 1930s and early 1940s, but originated much earlier, and was extended from piano, to three pianos at once, guitar, big band, and country and western music, and even gospel. While the blues traditionally depicts a variety of emotions, boogie-woogie is mainly associated with dancing. The lyrics of one of the earliest boogie-woogie hits, "Pinetop's Boogie Woogie", consist entirely of instructions to dancers: “Now, when I tell you to hold yourself, don't you move a peg / And when I tell you to get it, I want you to Boogie Woogie!”  

It was recorded in 1928 and first released in 1929. Smith's record was the first boogie-woogie recording to be a commercial hit, and helped establish "boogie-woogie" as the name of the style. It was closely followed by another example of pure boogie-woogie, "Honky Tonk Train Blues" by Meade Lux Lewis, recorded by Paramount Records; (1927), first released in March 1930.

Late 1930s: Carnegie Hall

Boogie-woogie gained further public attention in 1938 and 1939, thanks to the From Spirituals to Swing concerts in Carnegie Hall promoted by record producer John Hammond. The concerts featured Big Joe Turner and Pete Johnson performing Turner's tribute to Johnson, "Roll 'Em Pete", as well as Meade Lux Lewis performing "Honky Tonk Train Blues" and Albert Ammons playing "Swanee River Boogie". "Roll 'Em Pete" is now considered to be an early rock and roll song.

The album with those historic concerts is available on iTunes and for purchase but also on Spotify for listening.

[image from:]

These three pianists, with Turner, took up residence in the Café Society night club in New York City where they were popular with the sophisticated set. They often played in combinations of two and even three pianos, creating a richly textured piano performance.

Here's a very nice rare recording at the Café Society night club from 1944 - Ammons and Johnson perform 'Boogie Woogie Dream".

1930s–1940s: Swing

After the Carnegie Hall concerts, it was only natural for swing bands to incorporate the boogie-woogie beat into some of their music. Tommy Dorsey's band had a hit with an updated version of "Pine Top's Boogie Woogie" in 1938, which was the swing era's second best seller, only second to Glenn Miller's "In the Mood". 

I am not a fan of Dorsey's version, but here it is, live:

From 1939, the Will Bradley orchestra had a string of boogie hits such as the original versions of "Beat Me Daddy (Eight To The Bar)" and "Down The Road A-Piece", both 1940, and "Scrub Me Mamma With A Boogie Beat", in 1941. The Andrews Sisters sang some boogies, and after the floodgates were open, it was expected that every big band should have one or two boogie numbers in their repertoire, as the dancers were learning to jitterbug and do the Lindy Hop, which required the boogie-woogie beat.

Here are The Andrews Sisters boogie-woogie-ing for their country in the 1941 Abbott & Costello film, "Buck Privates".

And of course one of my favorite boogies is by my beloved Count (here, live):

Key figures

Amongst the many pianists who have been exponents of this genre, there are only a few who have had a lasting influence on the music scene. Perhaps the most well known boogie-woogie pianist is Albert Ammons. His "Boogie Woogie Stomp" released in 1936 was a pivotal recording, not just for boogie-woogie but for music. 

Ammon's 'Stomp' sounds very similar to Pine Top Smith's hit, doesn't it? Hmmm

Some of the flattened sevenths in the right hand riffs are similar to licks used by early rock and roll guitarists such as Chuck Berry, who augmented Johnnie Johnson's 'Sir John Trio' by fusing his Charlie Christian-inspired guitar style with Johnson's boogie-woogie riffs. Ammons' two main compatriots were Meade 'Lux' Lewis and Pete Johnson.

My favorite boogie-woogie by Ammons is the "Sixth Avenue Express" here performed by both Ammons and Johnson. Don't you just want to get up and dance???

Before these three were playing piano, the two leading pianists were Jimmy Yancey and 'Pine-Top' Smith. Both of these pianists used bass patterns similar to ragtime and stride piano, but the distinctive Boogie-Woogie right hand licks were already in use. 

All text is from Wikipedia and these are my personal highlights (mostly relating to swing). For the full text on Boogie-Woogie, please visit Wikipedia.
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