By Alix Norman
While the current generation will go down in history for twerking to raucous pop, and my generation discoed to synth anthems and raved to house, earlier generations were slightly more refined. My parents – if my mother is to be believed – spent a great deal of time twisting to, well, anything really, sometimes there didn’t even have to be music I’m told. But it was my grandparents who really set the dance floor on fire. Because, back then, in the 40s and 50s, the dance was the jive, and the music… well, the music was the powerful, hypnotic boogie woogie.
You’ve all heard of it, and heard it rolling out of a piano – this dominant and expressive style with its infectious, undulating eight-to-the-bar rhythms firmly rooted in the Blues. Having emerged in the southern states of America around the turn of the 20th century, it’s a style that ignores most of the rules of conventional piano playing and yet has been wonderfully influential on all types of music (and even art, Mondrian claiming his paintings were highly influenced by the qualities of boogie woogie), from classical to rock n roll. And while boogie woogie may have sunk – briefly – into near obscurity, it’s back with a vengeance. Due in no small part to the King of Boogie Woogie, the aptly-named Axel Zwingenberger, who will be delighting audiences at the Shoe Factory this coming week.
Born in Hamburg, Germany in 1955, pianist Axel Zwingenberger has been travelling the globe as the ‘ambassador of Boogie Woogie’ since the age of 19, combining the diverse musical styles of his idols – Boogie pioneers Pete Johnson, Meade ‘Lux’ Lewis and Albert Ammons of the 1930s and 1940s – with his own inimitable ideas to create a distinctive, world-renowned style. From the1970s (and the First International Blues and Boogie Woogie Festival of the West German Radio Station in Cologne in 1974, and the annual Stars of Boogie Woogie Festival in Vienna where it all began) his rise has through the musical spheres has been meteoric.
Recording contracts came early to this boogie woogie prodigy, his discography including a staggering 30 albums and innumerable solo recordings, such as Boogie Woogie Breakdown, Power House Boogie, and Boogie Woogie Live. But despite his solo talent, Axel is certainly no stand alone diva: he’s also well known for lending his musical genius to recordings by such artists as Lionel Hampton, Big Joe Turner, Lloyd Glenn, Mama Yancey, Sammy Price, Charlie Watts, Bill Wyman and the Mojo Blues Band, among others.
In addition to his hectic recording schedule, Zwingenberger continues to tour all over the world, effectively attaching his personal mark to what is nowadays regarded as ‘classical Boogie Woogie’ defining, to a great degree, this particular style. Performing mostly as a piano soloist, he’s known for his enjoyment of playing un-amplified at a big concert grand piano, which enables him to demonstrate his outstanding musical prowess, tantalising audiences with everything from massive ostinato-bass clusters to lyrical pianissimo passages.
And, when he’s not performing, this master of the keys keeps himself busy authoring both books about boogie woogie music and musicians and publications documenting (through photography, story and music) his love of rail. Which may seem a strange departure from an otherwise all-consuming genre, but certainly adds an interesting dimension to his character. In fact, he’s even helped to establish a non-profit foundation within the
German Foundation for the Protection of Historical Monuments, which makes donations to the preservation of monuments on rails, including the world’s fastest operational steam locomotive, the German DR 18 201. Who’d have thought!
But, back to the music, because that’s what Thursday night is all about… It’s not often we get to hear such a dedicated and world-renowned master of such a genre live in Cyprus and, with his distinctive, widely copied style, it looks like the performance will certainly be a night to remember: his explorations and interpretations of authentic boogie woogie and blues piano bringing, no doubt, a delightful breath of musical difference to our capital. And with tickets for the evening priced at a mere €15, there’s no excuse for missing out on a musician whom critics have dubbed The Boogiemeister of the World.
An evening with Axel Zwingenberger
Presented by The Pharos Arts Foundation in collaboration with the Goethe institute. Thursday, January 29, 8.30pm at The Shoe Factory in Nicosia. Tickets: €15 or €10 for concessions and members of the Pharos Arts Foundation. Available from the Box Office on 96 669003 (Monday-Friday 10am – 3pm) and from the Foundation’s website www.pharosartsfoundation.org. For more details, visit the website or call 22 663871