The Music of Meade Lux Lewis

a developing article by John Tennison, MD        March 12, 2012

    I have a lot of thoughts about Meade Lux Lewis that I would eventually like to incorporate into this article.

    For now, I simple want to quote two people:  Axel Zwingenberger, Boogie Woogie artist and historian; and John Edward Hasse, Smithsonian Curator, Division of Culture and the Arts, NMAH.

    At the Ascona Jazz Festival in Switzerland, Judy Carmichael interviewed Axel Zwingenberger and Lila Ammons for Carmichael's public radio program, "Jazz Inspired."

    When speaking about Albert Ammons, Meade Lux Lewis, and Pete Johnson, Zwingenberger stated the following during beginning in the 40th minute of the interview:

    "And Albert Ammons, out of the three, as I said, had a very rich and full tone. And Meade Lux Lewis also had a rich and full tone, but he liked to play more dissonant clusters to it. He had a whole harmonic conception of his own, very chromatically done. He had the most aggressive sound of the three of them, first of all, due to these kind of dissonances that he played, but also in his way of attacking the keyboard. Pete Johnson, who was from Kansas City, had the most splendid tone of them, very sharp in a way. And he like to have a lot of transparency in his playing."

    In his YouTube video titled "Let's Boogie: History of Boogie-Woogie Music," John Edward Hasse said the following about Boogie Woogie and Mead Lux Lewis:

    "It's so improvisational and so virtuosic -- difficult to play -- that jazz has claimed it as its own as well.  You can hear Boogie figures in Rock and Roll. You can hear it in some country music.  It's influenced a number of other kinds of American Music.  The greatest master of this style, the most complex of all the pianists, was named Meade Lux Lewis. And he could go on for 40 minutes on one number -- say his trademark piece, "Honky Tonk Train Blues."  This piece imitated a freight train rumbling by some dive or barrelhouse or juke joint, and just mesmerized everybody within earshot.  What made Boogie distinctive and what made it work was the tension between the two different roles of the right and left hand. You had the rolling figure in the left hand.  And you had various figures going on in the right that were completely different.  And the contrast and the discord made Boogie exciting."