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Boogie Woogie was heard for the first time in barrelhouses and juke joints halfway the 19th century. First respected and adored, then banished and almost forgotten but currently back alive and kicking due to a number of passionate pianists. Mostly boogie woogie is linked to the pop music of the fifties and fifties means rock’n roll, Elvis Presley, jukeboxes, petticoats, bubblegum and Jerry Lee Lewis who wrote “Great Balls Of Fire” and by doing so must unquestionably be the inventor of this unique form of virtuosic piano playing. Very wrong because boogie boogie is much older and was originally afro-american dance music from the southern states of the US. Initially with only a guitar or a piano at their disposal, black afro-american musicians from those early days are considered to be the ancestors of jazz and other popular music styles.

The style requires a very strong left hand technique and is characterized by a cascade of bass notes in repetitive rhythmic patterns. This technique occurred according to traditions in a very bizarre way. During the prehistory of jazz when country blues and ragtime was omnipresent, ragtime piano players used a rhythmic pattern by which the left hand moved constantly from the bas section to the middle of the keyboard. A ragtime pianist named William Turk was no longer able to do so because his belly got in the way due to excessive eating and drinking. After a while he just stayed with his left hand in the bass part of the piano without jumping towards the middle and boogie boogie was born.

Whatever the case, the genre has evolved, has been perfected and became very popular, especially in the city of New York just before the Second World War with a series of concerts named “FROM SPIRITUALS TO SWING”. At these concerts, the power of boogie boogie was demonstrated with spectacular duets on two pianos, with the best piano players behind the keys. The success was enormous but at the same time boogie boogie was dragged into the world of commercial music.

By the time almost half the world’s population became familiar with Jerry Lee’s “Great Balls Of Fire” radio stations turned out to be everywhere and the rise of record industry was a fact. What had happened decades earlier disappeared almost entirely from collective memory but without it, our contemporary pop music as we know it today would probably have sounded completely different.

Boogie Phil