Boogie Woogie Piano Greats

Jimmy Yancey

Jimmy Yancey was born in Chicago in 1894 or 1898. His older brother, Alonzo was also a pianist, while their father was a vaudeville guitarist and singer. By age ten, Yancey had toured across the United States as a tap dancer and singer, and by twenty he had toured throughout Europe. He began teaching himself piano at 15, and by 1915 had become a noted pianist and was already influencing younger musicians, including Meade Lux Lewis and Albert Ammons.

While he played in a boogie-woogie style, with a strong-repeated figure in the left hand and melodic decoration in the right, his playing was delicate and subtle, rather than hard driving. He popularized the left-hand figure that became known as the "Yancey bass".

Although influential from a young age, Yancey did not record at all through his early career, performing only at house parties and clubs. His first recordings in 1939 created a considerable stir in blues and jazz circles. While most of his recordings were solo, later in his career he and his wife Estelle recorded together (she as a vocalist) under the name 'Jimmy and Mama Yancey'. They appeared in concert at Carnegie Hall in 1948, and recorded their first album in 1951—released by Atlantic Records the following year.

During World War I, Yancey played baseball for the Chicago All-Americans, a Negro league baseball team. Throughout his life, he held on to his job as a groundskeeper for the Chicago White Sox. He died of a stroke secondary to diabetes in Chicago on September 17, 1951. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.