And so we begin!  Boogie-woogie is at least two things  — a style of early jazz music (often solo piano) and a slang term for secondary syphilis.

Actually, besides giving these definitions, the Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang1 also tells us that it means “raise sand; fuss; quarrel violently”. (When used in this way, it’s often coupled with “pitch”, as in “he pitched a boogie-woogie”.) Then they give yet another definition:  “Boogy-woogy.  To enjoy oneself to the limit.”

But the most common modern meaning is probably that associated with early jazz.  The Dictionary of American Slang2 has a finely drawn write-up:

In jazz, a fast blues with an iterative bass figure played in double time, i.e., eight beats to the measure, associated with the Kansas City mode of jazz.
1928: “Pine Top’s Boogie Woogie.” Title of a jazz song composed by “Pine Top” Smith, one of the earliest boogie woogie pianists.
1956: “Jimmy Yancy as much as created the boogie-woogie blues, and his followers — Meade Lux Lewis, Pine Top Smith, Albert Ammons and others — carried on the job.”  S. Longstreet, The Real Jazz Old and New, 37.

Pine Top’s Boogie Woogie is perhaps the most famous of the type. Recorded in 1928, it went on to greatly influence blues, stride, and barrelhouse pianists. Pine Top never knew his fame, dying in 1929 at age 24.

1 Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, J.E. Lighter, ed.  Random House, 1994. REF PE2846 H57
2 Dictionary of American Slang, Harold Wentworth and Stuart Berg Flexner, eds. 2nd suppl. ed. Thomas Y. Crowell, 1975.  REF PE 2846 W4 1975


One Comment to “boogie-woogie”

  1. Thanks for sharing this. I love boogie woogie music and I’m happy that young generations keep learning this piano style and even turning into professional boogie woogie pianists!

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