Jimmy Yancey

Jimmy Yancey, a Chicago native, learned piano from Alonzo, his older brother and Ragtime picker. Yancey’s father, Alonzo, was a buck-and-wing dancer and his children were part of the act. The Yanceys first appeared at Buckingham Palace in 1915 before the English Royalty. During World War I, Jimmy Yancey was a baseball player for the Chicago All-Americans, a Negro league team. It is commonly believed that Yancey “invented boogie-woogie”. This is impossible given the style’s rural Midwestern roots. However, traces of the style can be found in sources that date back to late 1870s. However, Yancey is believed to have played boogie-woogie in Chicago before 1920. Jimmy Yancey, a regular player on Chicago’s rent-party circuit, was a frequent visitor in the 1920s. He also helped to create a number of boogie pianos such as Albert Ammons, Meade “Lux”, and Clarence “Pinetop”. Yancey was made a full-time groundskeeper at Comiskey Park in Chicago in 1925. He then cut down on his rent party appearances. Meade “Lux” Lewis recorded his first piece Yancey Special in 1936. It was a boogie-woogie solo that was partly inspired by Yancey’s economic playing style. Yancey’s identity was soon discovered by critics and record producers. Jimmy Yancey, 41 years old, finally was able to record his maiden voyage for Solo Art in April 1939. Yancey quickly made up the lost time and recorded 17 pieces on 18 sides during this first session. The first two pieces made it to 78s and the rest didn’t appear until after Yancey’s passing. Yancey was able to get things moving after this, and he recorded his first session for Bluebird later that year. The next year, Yancey recorded sessions for Vocalion and Bluebird. Although Yancey’s boogie woogie approach was praised by critics who praised them for their purity and originality, the discs did not sell well. This chapter of Yancey’s recorded work ended with just 15 titles. In the decade that followed, Yancey only returned to the studio three more times. In 1943, the tiny Sessions label in Chicago recorded 16 more titles with Yancey. These featured Estella “Mama”, Jimmy’s wife. They were married in 1917. Mama had a beautiful, soulful blues voice which matched Jimmy’s pianism perfectly. Only three sides of Yancey’s recordings feature Jimmy’s vocals. These prove that Mama Yancey was the best person to perform vocal duties on Jimmy’s records. Yancey was gone until December 1950, when John Steiner recorded six sides of Yancey for the Paramount label. Jimmy Yancey recorded his final session for fledgling independent Atlantic Records. It was spread over two days, July 1951. He produced 17 masters, just like in his first session. Mama Yancey was present on five of these sessions. Jimmy Yancey, who was only 53 years old, died two months later from a diabetic stroke. Mama Yancey continued to record on Atlantic and other labels long after Jimmy Yancey’s death. Although much has been written about Yancey’s influence on the younger boogie players from the south, little is known about his personal life. Yancey rarely used walking bass patterns or octaves. In fast pieces, he preferred a falling triadic figure and a slower wandering version of the same figure. His right hand was always exploratory and would go to new and unimagined places. Yancey has limited chops and he doesn’t show off his skills in the same way as Lux or Pete Johnson. Yancey’s genius lies in his unpredictability, and in the way he weaves together sometimes bizarre ideas. Yancey was famous for a stylistic quirk. He would always return to the same E-flat tag at the end of each piece, regardless of what he had been doing prior to that. Louis Andriessen, a Dutch minimalist composer, was inspired by Yancey’s theoretical and formal implications to create a piece for wind ensemble titled “On Jimmy Yancey”. (1973). Except for vocal numbers, Yancey rarely repeated pieces and it isn’t known if he ever recorded more than two takes of any of his studio recordings. Jimmy Yancey was elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on January 23, 1986. This was mainly due to his contributions in the development of Boogie Woogie. Mama Yancey was there at the ceremony, but she would pass away a few months later. We have the opportunity to experience Jimmy Yancey beyond his studio recordings. There are no radio broadcasts of him playing, but there are two types of home recordings of Yancey’s family music making: one is instantaneous-cut lacquers from 1943 and the other is wire recordings made of Yancey’s family music making in 1951. These recordings offer a glimpse into Jimmy Yancey’s inner world, despite the fact that their sound quality is variable. Despite his influence on boogie woogie, which dominated popular music in the 1930s and 1940s, Jimmy Yancey made music that was meant to be enjoyed, relaxed, and fun. from http://www.redhotjazz.com

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