Jimmy Yancey

Jimmy Yancey- piano, composer, recording artist (1898-1951)

Boogie Woogie can best be defined as solo piano music based on the twelve or eight bar patterns, characterized by the repeated use of the bass figures. The Boogie Woogie piano craze had a short run of popularity in the late ‘30’s and into the mid ‘40’s where then it slipped back into a more straight blues style. There were but a few real players of the form, although scores of pale imitators. There is a story of a recording session in 1938 where the pianist just finished a song, with a strange tango bass in eight to the bar, with unusual harmonies, delivered in a quiet thoughtful mood. The engineer asked the name of the song, the player said “Yancey Special”, leading right to “who’s Yancey”? The player on this date was boogie woogie champion Meade Lux Lewis, talking about his mentor Jimmy Yancey, a most reluctant piano hero if there ever was one.

It is told that in 1913 a young Jimmy Yancey began playing his self taught blues piano in the Chicago South Side, in the saloons, gin mills, rent parties or “skiffles”, as they were called, and anywhere locally where there was a piano. By this time he was a retired vaudevillian singer/dancer who had been a pro since the age of six, had toured from coast to coast, been in Europe for two years, and was by then playing baseball with the Chicago All-Americans in the Negro League. He was fifteen years old.

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