PLAYLIST #1 ~ TRACK 34

Jimmy Yancey: ‘Mournful blues’ [3’09”]

Jimmy Yancey, piano

33 Jimmy Yancey 1946

Jimmy Yancey, poet of boogie-woogie, 1946


One of our big themes, making its farewell here, has been the use sophisticated art composers like Tippett have made of folk music.  In Chicagoan Jimmy Yancey (born 1894, or 1898, or 1901, depending who you believe) we encounter a man who simply made folk music – for what else but Afro-American folk music was the boogie-woogie he purveyed so individually and with such poise?  Yancey never sold many records, never had a brilliant technique like some other boogie-woogie and stride players, and unlike them never sought to dazzle.  He simply made his music, which after all has considerable sophistication of its own, as well as swinging, as Miles Davis would have said, “like a motherfucker”.  In the last 30 years of his life he made it in his spare time from the day job, which was as groundskeeper at Comiskey Park, home of the Chicago White Sox, though Wiki’s description of these as that baseball team’s lean years suggests he wasn’t exactly a lucky mascot for them.

Mournful blues – a title that could sum up his approach – is one of the tracks from a marvellous album, the first ever on the Atlantic label, recorded just two months before his death in 1951 from a diabetic stroke.  If the ending seems throwaway, or tacked on, that’s because it’s the same one he always uses, no matter what has gone before: it’s just Jimmy’s way of saying “that’s it now”.

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Fair warning: From this point these entries will tend to be longer than hitherto.  This is because their composers’ stories are often less well known and – a corollary of this – so as to accommodate links to less familiar concepts and to online resources.  If you want to know more about Mozart or Rachmaninov, the only problem is choosing which biography.  In the case of Henry Cowell or John White a little digging is needed, and much of what is to be found is available only online.