My History of Boogie Woogie Piano Music
I was a 17 year old recruit in the US Army Air Corps in 1945 when I heard this exciting music for the first time.
One of my buddies was a truly expert piano player who enjoyed showing off his skill in what we called “The Rec Room” where we often spent what leisure time the Army gave us in basic training.
Wow! He played so wonderfully! I was fascinated by the seemingly endless flow of delightful and dynamic sounds which he called Boogie Woogie.
Although the orgin of the term Boogie Woogie is basically unknown, several sources suggest that the words trace back to the word “boogie” in the late 1920s which was used for rent parties as early as 1913.
Its modern-day spelling is usually thought to have been first used in the titles of both issues of “PineTop’s Boogie Woogie” which Clarence “Pinetop” Smith recorded before his untimely death in the late 1920s.
Opinions and theories vary widely regarding the origin of the words for this style of music. Some of the linguistic phrases with African roots such as “boog” or “booga” both of which mean to beat as in beating a drum are probably the best guess. In any event, the music most certainly originated among newly emancipated African Americans.
The United Sates was a segregated society in those days with Racial discrimination a common event in the life of black people. During this period of time in America, a number of companies produced phonograph records which were clearly labeled as Race Records which were marketed almost exclusively to black communities. Americans.
However, many people of all groups, enjoyed the music and were buying the 33, 45 and 78rpm recordings which were state of the art products at the time. My first purchases included the piano duets of Pete Johnson and Albert Ammons, especially such delightful pieces as “Sixth Avenue Express” which my old Army pal had played again and again at my request.
Although a large number of black piano players were active in America at the time, Pete Johnson and Albert Ammons, along with Meade Lux Lewis are usually considered the major players in bringing Boogie Woogie to its high level of popularity during the years of World War 2– its golden years. For that matter, most of the well known white musicians of that period included at least one piece of it in their recordings.
A few white performers produced some truly good work. Freddie Slack and Will Bradley, for instance, produced a wonderful piece of music entitled “Down the Road a Piece” which I think is a masterpiece. However, the efforts of most of the major white musicians, who earned much more money, usually struck me as attempts to copycat the black musicians whom, I thought, produced more attractive and creative work while receiving much less money for doing it.
This opinion has stuck with me over the years as my accumulation of material increased steadily over time. Some of the original album covers have faded, some more than others. I’m told that high carbon content is causing their destruction although the recordings appear to be in fairly good condition. So! I’ve got a mission of a sort, a modest project which I hope will have at least modest success.
What prompts me to take this action is the thought that some great and delightful pieces in my collection will likely disappear from circulation- and future generations will never know that such creative and enjoyable music once existed.
Although my adult children suggest that I take up golf or do an ocean cruise, I intend to create a series of CDs on which I’ll include some pieces and offer them for sale at a modest price— with a money back guarantee.
I’ll risk a few bucks on a web page. Then I’ll put out a few more dollars for listing in Search Engines with high hopes of being discovered by lovers and potential lovers of the Boogie Woogie that I have enjoyed over the years.
This is the Special Interest of an aging admirer. It may earn or lose a few bucks, of course, but I like the idea because it might generate a renewed interest in this exciting music and gain a new generation of fans.
I often think of this earlier time in America when black piano players created their music and recorded it. It’s a sad and unfortunate history. They usually earned little more than a pittance for their work.
It is said that “Pinetop” Smith earned about a hundred bucks or so from his many recordings which included both issues from which this style of music got its name. That wasn’t much even in 1928 dollars.
Although I cannot change history, I hope my efforts might assist this exciting and dynamic style of music to greatly extend its existence into the future with greater popularity over many years yet to come.