Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Boogie Woogie

Cover design by Alex Steinweiss
(restored by Peter Joelson)

Some more vintage jazz this week, with a 1941 anthology by Columbia of boogie-woogie music, reissued from recordings made up to five years earlier for Vocalion and Brunswick.  I must confess that when I first heard this album, my first impression was of overwhelming monotony!  After all, during the course of this set we go through the same chord progression 83 times (yes, I counted them!), and, as if that weren't enough, all the pieces except the first one are in the key of C major.  Small wonder, I thought, that Fats Waller was so famously dismissive of boogie-woogie.  Still, this music does grow on you, and as you get past the limitations of the style, you become aware of the variety of shadings that the different artists bring to it.  Also, there's a nice variety of sounds here, from Harry James' trumpet and Lester Young's sax, to piano solos and ensembles.  Here are the contents:

1. Boo-Woo
Harry James, Pete Johnson, Johnny Williams, Eddie Dougherty
2. Woo-Woo
Harry James, Albert Ammons, Johnny Williams, Eddie Dougherty
3. Roll 'Em Pete
Joe Turner, Pete Johnson
4. Boogie Woogie (Pinetop Smith)
Count Basie's Blue Five with Lester Young and James Rushing
5-6. Boogie Woogie Prayer (two takes)
Meade Lux Lewis, Pete Johnson, Albert Ammons
7. Shout For Joy
Albert Ammons
8. Bear Cat Crawl
Meade Lux Lewis
Recorded 1936-39
Columbia C-44, four ten-inch 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 77.1 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 35.23 MB)

For me, the finest sides here are Meade Lux Lewis's solo, and Count Basie's ensemble record (which, on its original Vocalion issue, didn't even credit Basie!).  On a personal note, I had the great pleasure of hearing Basie's big band play at my high school, Druid Hills, when I was a senior, way back in 1980-81.  The Count was already quite an old man, and the truth is, I don't remember him doing very much.  But his band!  He had a bass player who was simply incredible.  I was sitting up pretty close to the front, on the side where he was, and I was able to observe at close hand not only how skilled he was - he could really get up to some high notes on that thing! - but how much energy and joy he put into his playing; he never stopped grinning.  Truly a memorable occasion.


  1. That's a great album! Thanks a lot for sharing!

  2. That's a good - if odd - selection of boogie piano. Three points:
    1. Basie didn't get credited on the original issue of "Boogie Woogie" as he was already tied into a flat fee, no royalty deal with Dave Kapp of Decca. John Hammond - who discovered Basie's band in KC - was incensed and rushed Basie and four of his musicians into Columbia's Chicago studios. To side-step the contractual problem with Decca the original release was as "Jones-Smith Incorporated" so it was probably the original "Alias Smith and Jones"!
    2. You don't remember Basie "doing very much"! Throughout his career he'd pared down his playing so that by the time you heard him he was probably as minimalist as Glass, Reich or any of those other guys. If you want to hear him in full flow check out "Prince of Wails" from the last session he made with the Bennie Moten band in 1932 - think you'll be astonished! The other thing about the Basie band is that although the arrangements were credited to the likes of Buck Clayton, Neal Hefti or Quincy Jones they had already been submitted to a severe editing process by none other than Count Basie himself...
    3. "Bearcat Crawl" is great but the real Meade Lux Lewis classic is "Honky Tonk Train Blues", either the 1927 Paramount original or the 1935 Decca remake.

    Great blog, BTW.