Posts Tagged ‘Boogie Woogie’

I thought I’d replay this post from back in 2011 about a little piece that is one of my personal favorites.

I came across this little piece that I had painted long ago, before I ever showed my work to anyone.  It’s a tiny little thing, barely 2″ by 3″ in size, but it’s a painting that I consider one of my favorites.  It’s not because of anything in the painting itself, although I do like the way it works visually with its simple forms and tones.  Actually, it’s because I see an entire narrative in this piece and it always comes back as soon as I see it, even after many years.

I call this Guenther Hears the Boogaloo Softly.  The story I see here is a German soldier on patrol in the second World War, in a wintry forest,  perhaps in the Ardennes during the Battle of the Bulge.  He is separated from his group and as he is alone in the forest he suddenly hears a sound from deep in the woods, echoing softly through the frozen trees.  It is a piano and it is like nothing he has heard before.  It has a loping bassline that churns and pops and over it is a tap dance of notes that bounce and roll on the rhythm.  It’s American boogie woogie.  Somewhere unseen in the forest a piano is rolling out that boogie woogie beat.

Guenther is transfixed and holds his breath to better hear the music that enchants him. A siren’s song.  He loses all thought of his mission and his duty.  He is engrossed by the music.

I don’t go any further with this scenario in my mind.  There are obvious directions the story could take.  Guenther might allow the music to transfix him to the point he doesn’t hear the American patrol coming upon him.  Or he might throw down his weapon and flee.  But most likely, he would return to his patrol and  if he were lucky enough to survive the war, the memory of that music would haunt him for years, sending him on a search to recapture the sound of that moment in the forest.

I see it simply as a being about the transformative power of music and art, about how they unify humans despite our differences.  When we hear or see something, we don’t do so as a German or an American, as a democrat or a republican, as a Christian or a Muslim.  We react as a human to our individual perceptions.  Sometimes we cannot shake these other labels we carry with us but there are moments when our reaction is pure.  Which is what I see in this little bit of paint and paper, in Guenther’s reaction to the piano.

Such a little bit of paint yet such a lot to say…

Afternote: There is a certain irony that the boogie woogie sound is largely kept alive by Europeans now with people such as Axel Zwingenberger and Silvan Zingg, a  pianist known as the Ambassador of Boogie Woogie  who hosts a boogie woogie festival in his native Switzerland each year. But here’s a little taste of boogie woogie from the late pianist Dorothy Donegan (1922-1998) as she performs Hallelujah Boogie Woogie. In her 70’s, she’s having a good time and putting on a real show.

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In my post yesterday I wrote of a small painting with a scenario where boogie woogie music transforms the life of a WWII German soldier.  I had a piece at the end by boogie woogie pianist Albert Ammons that showcased  the style.  But afterward I wondered about the legacy of that musical style, this boogie woogie, and had to do some research.  After doing a little digging, I was going to write about the irony that  the boogie woogie sound is largely kept alive by Europeans now with people such as Axel Zwingenberger and Silvan Zingg, a  pianist known as the Ambassador of Boogie Woogie  who hosts a boogie woogie festival in his native Switzerland each year.

But in doing my search I came across a name that was my first real intro to boogie woogie many years back.  It was George Frayne, who is better known as Commander Cody of Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen fame who emerged in 1971 with the hit Hot Rod Lincoln.  Their first album, Lost in the Ozone, was classic that mixed country and rock and the counter-culture of the time into a meaty syew that was sometimes funny and always enagaging.  It had songs with titles like Down to Seeds and Stems Again and Wine Do Yer Stuff, all great numbers, but my favorite was and is their cover of the Andrews Sisters’ Beat Me Daddy Eight to the Bar.  I have been singing along to it for nearly forty years now and still gett revved up by Frayne’s rumbling left hand on the keyboard every time.

Unfortunately, the band’s followup albums never reached the promise of  Lost in the Ozone.  But the Commander has always been entertaining throughout the years and that’s enough.

Frayne is an interesting guy.  Despite his somewhat haggard appearance through the years, he is a pretty accomplished painter, having graduated as an art major from the Univ. of Michigan.  He has a real distinct style, often painting musical legends  such as the portrait of Billie Holliday shown here.  He shows some of his work on sites that art painted by rock stars but his best work is much better than that.

Anyway, he was one of the keepers of boogie woogie’s flame and my first introduction to the swinging sound.  Here’s his Beat Me Daddy:

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