Jimmy Yancey was a veteran Blues and boogie pianist who was very influential on the younger Chicago players who started the boogie-woogie craze of the late thirties. Jimmy did not make a record until he was over 40 years old, but his elegant playing on the club and rent-party circuit in Chicago was legendary. Although he was not famous outside his hometown at this time, Jimmy’s distinctive repeating left-hand patterns wrote the book on boogie-style piano and he is remembered today as a true innovator of Blues piano.
In 1894, James Edwards Yancey was born in Chicago and was soon touring on the vaudeville circuit with his father and brother. Jimmy would sing and tap-dance while his brother Alonzo played ragtime piano. They toured the States and Europe before WWI, and when they returned to Chicago in 1915, Jimmy started to learn piano himself.
A couple of years later he married Estella Harris, who played guitar and sang in Church. They would play together as ‘Mama and Papa’ Yancey at informal events all over Chicago, and they would occasionally play club gigs. Young men like Pete Johnson, Meade ‘Lux’ Lewis and Albert Ammons, who would start the up-tempo boogie-woogie craze in 1939, would have been aware of Jimmy’s technique, although his medium paced style was never frantic and his rhythms often had a syncopated Latin feel.
Jim Piano Red’s animation of Yancey’s Stomp;
[weaver_youtube http://youtu.be/xUz54Y1XFNA id=videoid sd=0 percent=100 ratio=0.5625 center=1 rel=1 https=0 privacy=0]
Jimmy got a job as groundskeeper at the Chicago White Sox stadium in 1925, and he kept that position at Comiskey Park for twenty five years, when ill health forced him to retire. He was a pretty good baseball player himself, but not quite good enough to turn fully professional. [stextbox id=”custom” caption=”Jimmy Yancey Discography” float=”true” align=”left” width=”300″]Jimmy was not a prolific recording artist, but everything he did was of extremely good quality.
COMPLETE JIMMY YANCEY VOL. 3
[/stextbox]In 1936, Meade ‘Lux’ Lewis recorded ‘Yancey Special’ which brought some attention to Jimmy outside Chicago, and Jimmy’s own recording career began in 1939. He put down 17 tracks for the small Solo Art company, and over a twelve year span he recorded for at least six labels. Estella would often sing on Jimmy’s tracks, as he did not have a distinguished voice, and he also recorded some fantastic duets with another great Chicago pianist, ‘Cripple’ Clarence Lofton.
Jimmy’s command of timing and expert riffing on show here;
[weaver_youtube http://youtu.be/m3BSIckiKyM id=videoid sd=0 percent=100 ratio=0.5625 center=1 rel=1 https=0 privacy=0]
Jimmy and Estella played a concert at New York’s Carnegie Hall in 1948, and this led to them recording ‘Pure Blues’ for the new Atlantic label in 1951. Estella continued her career for another thirty years , but unfortunately Jimmy suffered from diabetes, and this contributed to a stroke that took his life in 1951.