According to The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz boogie woogie is a percussive style of piano blues, favoured, for its volume and momentum, by bar-room, honky-tonk, and rent-party pianists. The term appears to have been applied originally to a dance performed to piano accompaniment, and its widespread use stems from the instructions for performing the dance on the recording "Pine Top's Boogie Woogie" (1928, Vocalion 1245) by Pine Top Smith. The boogie style is characterized by the use of blues chord progressions combined with a forceful, repetitive left-hand bass-figure; many bass patterns exist, but the most familiar are the "doubling" of the simple blues bass and the walking bass in broken octaves.
Click on picture or link to hear "Pinetop's Boogie Woogie" in RealAudio
The first generation of boogie-woogie pianists - blues pianists who prominently featured walking bass and "eight-to-the bar" rhythms - recorded some notable examples, among them Romeo Nelson "Head Rag Hop" (1929, Vocalion 1447), Arthur Montana Taylor "Indiana Avenue Stomp" (1929, Vocalion 1419) and Charles Avery "Dearborn Street Breakdown" (1929, Paramount 12896). However, these were rent-party pianists who were forgotten in the Depression years.
In 1938 a revival of boogie woogie was initiated by John Hammond through his "From Spirituals To Swing" concerts at New York's Carnegie Hall. Hammond sought out pianists Albert Ammons, Meade "Lux" Lewis and Pete Johnson, whom he put together for a performance by three pianos as the Boogie Woogie Trio blowing up a craze for the boogie woogie idiom for some time. From around this time there was made several soundies, filmed short presentations of these former taxi-drivers and bar-room pianists, together, each alone or teaming up with blues-shouter Joe Turner. An example of a soundie by Meade "Lux" Lewis is available by clicking here
Combined with the Swing craze of the late 30'ies and early 40'ies boogie woogie enjoyed a brief vogue and several recordings were made. The connection with swing is exemplified in such recordings as "Boogie Woogie" by Tommy Dorsey and his orchestra (1938, Victor 26054) and Count Basie's "Basie Boogie" (1941, Okeh 6330). Some recordings by lesser known swing orchestras also had the boogie woogie incorporated in their performance, often combined with vocal. An example of this may be viewed on a soundie featuring Johnny Long & His Orchestra performing "The Boogie Man", click here
By the 1950s boogie-woogie had reverted to the blues, becomming a standard element in the performances of every blues pianist. The style's relevance to jazz declined, however, it survived and was the foundation of much of the Chicago, urban blues idiom. Further it has belonged to the roots of rockablilly, early rock'n'roll and Western Swing. Among guitarists, even today, the boogie woogie pattern has been a constantly imitated device applied on numerous recordings since Arthur Smith introduced his "Guitar Boogie" in 1944. An example of a contemporary performance of this popular guitar piece by the boogie monster guitar player, Tommy Emmanuel, may be experienced by clicking here