Friday, October 03, 2008

Boogie Woogie Makes The Piano Dance!

Boogie woogie is a genre of piano-heavy music particular to America in the 1940s and 50s. It's characteristic walking bass is familiar to many as a harkening back to rock and roll, even though the form is based strongly on the blues (in fact, it's often been called an upbeat version of the blues). Boogie originally started as a strictly piano form; the most familiar versions are still based solely around the instrument. But as boogie became more and more popular, so too did the idea of including a whole band. Before long, the once solo genre adapted itself to accommodate an entire band. The latest versions of boogie often include guitar and other instruments, but the piano and drums remain the focal point.
The most familiar pattern in boogie woogie is the left hand bass part that starts on the root of any key, then the 3rd, 5th, 6th, flat 7th, 6th, 5th, 3rd, and root, then repeats. It is usually played in offset octaves, meaning that the lower note is played with the little finger followed by the same not an octave higher with the thumb throughout the entire patterns. In terms of form, it almost always follows the 12-bar blues form, discussed elsewhere on this blog.

Boogie is often credited as the originator of rock and roll, but that idea isn't necessarily valid. While boogie definitely played some role in rock and roll's early days, it was really rhythm and blues that started the form. Boogie, on the other hand, remained an off-shoot of blues and an entity in its own right. It also may have indirectly spawned a dance of the same name, a dance that led largely to boogie being credited as rock and roll's most dominant predecessor.

The boogie woogie dance, an upbeat and energetic social dance with small roots in swing, was danced mostly to rock and roll. It spread through teenage social circles like wildfire and became almost synonymous with rock and roll. As boogie (the dance) continued to grow through the 50s, boogie (the music) began to disappear from the limelight. And as it grew further and further from the mainstream, boogie's captivating hold on audiences became understood as a product of the dance, not the music. The way in which the two forms of boogie were interchanged often led to confusion about where and when the form originated and how it related to the dance and the inception of rock and roll.
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