Wesley Wallace: Number 29

Beat Me Daddy, Six To The Bar! In addition to being one of the most descriptive of train pieces, this recording is one of the only (and certainly the earliest) versions of boogie woogie in 3/4 time! We may never know if Wesley Wallace knew that he was breaking all conventions with this piece, and since his discography amounts to a total of 4 sides (and 2 of those may not be Wallace at all), it’s hard to make any judgments on him as an artist. However, on his recording of “Number 29,” he maintains the 3/4 ostinato pattern in his left hand, only flubbing the pattern once. In an ongoing spoken commentary, Wallace describes how, as a hobo, he catches the freight train outside of Cairo, Illinois, and travels toward East St Louis. He tells about the whistle, the train’s speed, and how he eventually jumps off the train, all with descriptive music happening underneath. When Wallace breaks away from the 3/4 bass pattern to portray the sound of his fall from the train and his rolling on the grass next to the tracks, the music (while rubato) still falls into a waltz-time pattern!

March 15, 2009 · 0 comments

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Meade Lux Lewis: Honky Tonk Train Blues

With its insistent 8-to-the-bar rhythm, boogie-woogie piano is a natural match for a freight train. While there have been many train-inspired boogie compositions, none can match Meade “Lux” Lewis’s “Honky Tonk Train” for exuberance and energy. Lewis’s Paramount version from 1927 was one of the earliest boogie recordings, but the 1936 Victor version is probably the best of the many versions Lewis recorded in his lifetime. His left-hand work is astounding: using a simple dotted-eighth/sixteenth pattern, he holds the train rhythm rock-steady and never loses intensity, despite the immense physical challenge that such a limited pattern invokes. Meanwhile, his right hand sends forth a dazzling array of musical images: clanging bells as the train passes, the whistle blowing across the trestle and the rush of the cars as they pass on adjoining tracks. Like Jelly Roll Morton, Lewis’s approach to the piano was as a band in miniature, and it’s easy to imagine a big band’s brass section punching out the strong off-the-beat syncopations that Lewis plays with his right hand.

March 15, 2009 · 0 comments

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Pine Top Smith: Pine Top's Boogie Woogie

Mystery hangs like a dusty, fraying shroud upon pianist Clarence Smith. (As Dashiell Hammett observed, the cheaper the reviewer, the gaudier the patter.) Most sources agree that Smith was born in Alabama (1904) and died in Chicago—variously knifed (1928) in a barroom brawl, shot (1929) by a stray bullet during a dancehall fracas or crushed (1930) in a fraternal lodge melee. Poet Langston Hughes claims Smith popularized boogie woogie "about 1930," making an earlier demise unlikely but not altogether impossible. Even his nickname, derived from cranial resemblance to a pine tree, is sometimes one, sometimes two words. All that's certain is this track's everlasting enjoyment as a party record.

November 22, 2007 · 0 comments

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Jimmy Yancey: Yancey's Bugle Call (take 1)

Boogie-woogie's ragtime lineage is manifest in the evolution of "Bugle Call Rag" from Eubie Blake (1916) to Benny Goodman (1934) to "Yancey's Bugle Call" (1940). Jimmy Yancey spent most of his life as groundskeeper at Chicago's Comiskey Park, home of the White Sox. During the off-season, he sowed such perennials as this track, where boogie-woogie's driving 8-to-the-bar bass and bluesy frills mix masterfully with the tension-&-release excitement of stop-time choruses. In 1951, mercifully before his beloved grass infield was replaced by Astroturf, Yancey answered Gabriel's bugle call. Jimmy can rest in peace. "Yancey's Bugle Call" will never be replaced.

October 27, 2007 · 0 comments

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