By the early 1940s, “boogie-woogie,” a genuine African American piano style, had been fully integrated into American popular music. Songs like “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and “Beat Me Daddy (Eight to the Bar)” referenced the name and style, yet paid little attention to the eight-to-the-bar rhythmic foundation. Still, there were many pianists, both black and white, who played the music in an authentic manner. Meade Lux Lewis was one of the best.
Boogie-woogie developed in the 1920s as a one particular approach to instrumental blues. This piano music was played for dancing, as well as ambient music in any variety of dives, barrooms and houses of ill repute. While there were recordings of the music during this period and into the 1930s, boogie-woogie gained significant exposure when Meade Lux Lewis and a number of other like-minded pianists were featured in a pair of concerts in Carnegie Hall (1939) called “Spirituals to Swing.”
The boogie-woogie fad commenced, and the music was played more and more by big bands, both sweet and hot. It was an important element of Louis Jordan’s music who, in turn, passed the baton to such rock pioneers as Fats Domino and Little Richard. And the early purveyors of the music, Meade Lux Lewis, Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson and Jimmy Yancy, kept the original style alive.
Meade Lux Lewis was working in Los Angeles in 1944 and was called to Radio Recorders in Hollywood to wax three soundtracks in January 1944. He returned to the Gordon Street Studios four days later, along with a number of other black performers (identified on screen), for sideline photography. Boogie Woogie is a piano solo, start to finish, and a wonderful musical tour-de-force. (The brief flourishes that are edited in at the beginning and end of the film were recorded by bandleader Billy McDonald.)