Introduction to Jazz Keyboard

In the last decades of this century XIX, poor, southern, rural African-American laborers entertained themselves in rough shacks known as barrelhouses. Here, unschooled singers accompanied themselves on the piano. Boogie woogie piano is derived of this barrelhouse music, dynamic, colorful music form with an equally colorful sound, became a national craze when Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson, and Meade Lux Lewis performed at Carnegie Hall in 1938. It has had a major influence on blues, rock and roll, rhythm and blues, jazz, and pop, yet it has been widely neglected in the history books and is frequently misunderstood.

In the decades between World Wars I and II, many African-Americans migrated to the cities of the North, such as Chicago and Kansas City. Many barrelhouse and boogie woogie player pianists made the move as well.They include Jimmy Blythe, Hersal Thomas, Cow-Cow Davenport, Little Brother Montgomery, Cripple Clarence Lofton, Jimmy Yancey, and Pinetop Smith. The last two deserve special mention among the giants because of their association with other three giants: Albert Ammons and Meade Lux Lewis and Pete Johnson). Despite the hierarchy of Ammons, Lux Lewis, and Pete Johnson is not discussed,  Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie, by Clarence “Pinetop” Smith is probably the single most influential boogie woogie composition of all time.  But this song is based in a recording of Jimmy Blythe called “Jimmy Blues” (see “Other great jazz keyboard d players” in our web).