What is boogie woogie?
Music, dance, lifestyle… This joyful musical style of the 30’s and 40’s America calls every time the audience’s attention immediately with its groove, rhythm and virtuosity. The genre had its golden age that time, but it is originated from former times.
The origin of boogie woogie
In America the big railway buliding revolution took place in the 19s century. The afro-american workers at the construction sites heard the rattle of the stream trains all night and day, which influenced their music: we hear the same rattle in boogie woogie music’s beating.
The origin of the phrase ’Boogie woogie’ is uncertain. Some researchers state that it derives from a Bantu word ’Mbuki Mvuki’, which meaning is conncected to dancing. Other reseracers revelaed that one of the parts of a tream train was called a ’Bogie’.
In the beginning railworkers gathered together in so called Barrelhouses. These buildings were stables, in one of the corneres there was a battered piano on which they played music for the dancers. This music and dance was the ancestor of boogie woogie.
The first pianists and recordings
The creation of boogie woogie can not be connected to one person or one place. The music-historical researches mention several pianists, who played the germs of boogie woogie. The writings mark Texas, where one could hear boogie woogie for the first time. For example Hersal Thoms and George W. Thomas Jr. were the biggest inspirations for pianists who finally made boogie woogie popular, like Jimmy Yancey, Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson or Meade Lux Lewis.
The first recording to use a 12-Bar blues harmonic progression with boogie woogie bass figures for a whole song was George W. Thomas Jr.'s ’The Rocks’, recorded in February 1923.
Despite of that a lot of pianists played in this style everybody called it different ways. The first recording which had the term ’boogie woogie’ in its title and connected the dance to the music was Pinetop Smith’s ’Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie’, recorded in 1928. Pinetop gave instructions for the dancers while he played, after all music and dance had very tight relation.
After this boogie woogie spread throught the world quickly. Three pianists had pioneering role in this: Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson and Meade Lux Lewis.
The boogie woogie trio
The trio played an incredibly successful concert in the famous Carnegie Hall in 1938, which launched the boogie woogie craze. Two of these outstanding pianists, Albert and Meade earned their living as taxi drivers. As time passed, all of them moved to New York, where they played countless concerts in a café, called Café Society. These musicians had different styles in their playing. Ammons usually played big block chords for full sound, while Jonhson played fast straight notes. Maybe Lewis was the most eccentric among them, he played often dissonant notes and he liked to put modern elements into his playing, too.
Several years later boogie woogie developed and give a new craze for the world: the Rock And Roll. We can discover early references in titles of old boogie tunes for the words ’rock’ and ’roll’. (For example Roll ’em Pete, The Rocks…stc.) Boogie woogie is the forefather of Rock And Roll.
The consturiction of a boogie woogie piece
Boogie woogie is jazz music. Therefore its most important characteristic is that its and improvistaive genre. So improvisation and spontaneous playing makes a big role in this music. The original boogie woogies had a structure, which is called a 12 bar blues period. The two hands have very different roles in a song. The left hand plays a constantly repeating bass figure (ostinato bass), while the right hand plays the melody. The soul of boogie woogie is the playing of the left hand, that’s why it is also called ’Left hand like God’. Boogie woogie is one of the most difficult piano technics to play.
Improvisation suits not only for music but for dance too. The dancers aren’t dance a learnt choreography, but hey listen to the music and if they hear a nice riff or a stop, they try to put an ecrobatic figure there for example. At the joyful dance competitions the judges give points for these too. A little taste of a dance competition
Boogie woogie has made a big development throughout the years. Today’s pianists are very colorful, you can find musicians who follows the direction of the classical boogie woogie pianists, others have new ideas and play more modern stuff in boogie woogie and others are mixing it. You can not get bored of this music, because every musicians plays boogie woogie in his or her own way and thanks to improvisation you can always experience something new on a concert.