He continued playing piano up until his death, composing most of his own tunes, continually advancing his style, but still maintaining a link to blues and boogie-woogie.
Although a fairly shy musician, Don did make the occasional public performance which was usually very well received. However I am the only person that I know of who recorded his playing which at some point in the future I hope to publish.
His work in this music has to be heard to be appreciated, but I personally rate him as one of the best English boogie-woogie musicians who have lived in the UK.
Among the most interesting things that Don did was to compose some tunes in non-standard keys. For example he would compose some boogie-woogie tunes in the keys of A, E and D Major and Minor as well as the more common keys of C, F and G. I think he decided to do this for the common reason that he found it easier to sing in those keys.
I, personally, found it difficult enough to play in the more common keys with some of the repetitive left-hand boogie patterns being required to be played throughout any tune, never mind playing in those other keys.
Don and I had many a long hour playing duets and playing each other's solo pieces, bouncing ideas off each other. One major benefit for me was to hone my ability to listen to what was being played at the same time as adding to it to get a great combined sound.
I miss Don very much.
Boogie-woogie has a long history dating back to the 1870's and the days when African Americans used to entertain themselves making basic instruments, playing and singing music. Derived from the standard 8 or 12-Bar Blues Pattern, it has been suggested that it started with piano playing in the lumber and turpentine camps where there was usually a piano available. However, as can be heard from many a well-known guitar blues player, a similar style was being used on that instrument at the same time. Who influenced who, is open to debate.
To play boogie-woogie well has the same demands as for playing any instrument – practice, practice and more practice! It is also very useful to learn all the correct fingering positions, the scales, arpeggios (as taught by piano teachers) and boogie patterns. Added to this it is absolutely imperative to maintain a steady rhythm, unless there is an intended change made which can be heard as being 'intended'.
Once a steady bass rhythm is mastered, the player can then develop the right hand using the 12-bar Blues as a basis for tune, then improvisation on the chords. This can be a variety of Blues patterns ranging from 8 to 12 Bars or even 11 or 13 Bars. There are also many recordings of standard boogie-woogie accompaniment given to pop tunes of the day.
Using sheet music as an aid for playing most forms of jazz, but boogie-woogie in particular, shows up the deficiencies of the scored music, which is usually accepted to be only a 'guide' and is open to the performer's interpretation. This is (in my view) a very serious drawback for the novice who has to rely on the recordings which nowadays can be accessed from the internet as there are very few teachers around for this genre.
I was lucky enough in my early years of learning to play boogie-woogie to come across the books shown above and also sheet music for the Mead Lux Lewis's 'Honky Tonk Train Blues' and Clarence 'Pine Top' Smith's 'Jump Steady Blues' as shown below:-
- The Introduction
- The Ending
- Choice of Key
- Change of Key (not common in this style of Jazz)
- Vocal (if valued)
I offer this information based on my experience only and if others choose to differ from this, I quite understand. I am open to any suggestions which could improve this article which can be addressed to me (care of this Blog).
score representation can only result in a mass of notes and rests unless, one follows the maxim that “Written Music should only be followed as a guide”.
I hope the reader might find this information useful, but should anyone have other ideas regarding this subject, please do not hesitate to contact either me (care of this Blog).
The information given here and previously in this Blog is referred to on the Boogie Woogie Facebook Page:- https://www.facebook.com/groups/218161208197534/