Sunday, February 21, 2010

Solo Art's Prime Boogie Woogie & Blues Piano

At the tail end of 2009, I posted a review of a Delmark collection “Boogie Woogie Kings,” that was anthology collecting some vintage blues and boogie woogie piano. More recently I purchased from a variety of traditional jazz CDs along with one devoted to boogie woogie and blues piano, “The Solo Art Story -— Vol. 1 Piano Blues & Boogie Woogie 1938-1939” (Solo Art). This compilation brings together recordings that were made for the Solo Art label in the late 1930s when a Brooklyn bartender and record collector, Don Qualey, started the label devoted to piano solos. Right after John Hammond had presented the legendary “Spirituals to Swing” concert at Carnegie Hall, Qualey took the legendary Boogie Woogie Trio, Pete Johnson, Albert Ammons and Meade Lux Lewis into the studio. Furthermore, through Lewis Qualey located Jimmy Yancey and, after being located, Yancey made his initial recordings for Solo Art. Qualey would also record two other artists, Cripple Clarence Lofton, and the Russian born Art Hodes, George Buck acquired the rights to the original Solo Art label and its recordings. Buck reactivated Solo Art as a label to primarily reissue solo piano jazz and blues, as part of the labels he operates through the George H. Buck Jr. Jazz Foundation.

The Solo Art Story - Vol. 1 Piano Blues & Boogie Woogie 1938-1939” has some overlap of artists with the Delmark release “Boogie Woogie Kings,” with performances by Johnson, Ammons, Lewis and Lofton along with performances by Hides and Yancey. It opens with five performances from Johnson with the opening “Climbin’ and Screamin’,” being a typical Johnson boogie woogie full of his driving left hand and right hand embellishments, while “Pete’s Blues,” is a marvelous late night blues followed by “B&O Blues,” a middle tempo rolling boogie. Two tracks from Hodes follow including the evocative “South Side Shuffle.” “Mecca Flat Blues” by Albert Ammons features his left hand bass and strutting right hand while “Boogie Woogie,” is a reworking of “Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie,” with a bit less of the ragtime flavor but certainly one of the best later renditions of this boogie standard. The three selections from Lewis include a relaxed “Messin’ Around,” along with the jaunty “Deep Fives,” which exhibits some stride roots in Lewis. The two solos built upon “How Long Blues,” by Jimmy Yancey are the Mount Everest on a collection of piano blues and boogie woogie that is like visiting the Himalayan Mountainss of this form. Yancey’s blues and boogie piano is musical poetry. And this is followed by six stunning solos from Cripple Clarence Lofton including a fully instrumental rendition of “Streamline Train,” his own take on “Cow Cow Blues.”

There is a Volume 2 that contains more by these artists and a disc devoted to Jimmy Yancey that the modern Solo Art label has reissued. This is one of those boogie woogie and blues piano collections that merits being called essential. It is available from, and also the Louisiana Music factory (

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