It is often been said (rather too simplistically in many cases) that jazz is a combination of European and African practices. I am interested particularly in classical piano techniques that have been adapted to, or at least have a counterpart in, jazz piano. The "striding" motion that characterizes stride piano as played by James P. Johnson, Fats Waller, et al., for example, can easily be found in the music of Chopin.

Is there anything in the pre-20th century classical canon that resembles the boogie-woogie bass line used by Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson, et al.? Clearly the blues and swing elements of boogie are a uniquely African-American development, but are the ostinato eight-to-the-bar figurations they use also unique to this genre?

  • I suppose you could draw a comparison with the Alberti Bass. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alberti_bass
    – Laurence
    Commented Apr 18, 2016 at 21:08
  • 1
    Regarding swing, you may be interested in the well-attested French Baroque practice of notes inegales Commented Apr 19, 2016 at 1:03
  • Not boogie-woogie, but there are a lot of spots in Bach pieces (e.g. Intro to First Cello Suite) that sound suspiciously like rebop. Commented Apr 19, 2016 at 11:37

3 Answers 3


Beethoven got close in the final movement of his last piano sonata (the relevant part is from 0:30 to the end of the video)


I don't know how much the boogie players were classically trained on average, but to answer the question "Is there anything in the pre-20th century classical canon that resembles the boogie-woogie bass line" the Alberti Bass, as pointed out by Laurance Payne, sure comes to mind. But I would add a number of pieces by Bach. Take for example the second prelude from the well tempered clavier, and just imagine it played with a shuffle. Now this may seem similar to an Alberti bass, but it's different (besides being antecedent), as Bach uses a lot of non chord tones, which makes it much more similar to a boogie bass line. I find that some of these bars could be used directly in a boogie!

Any way if this is relevant and not just a coincidence, it would have been only one factor among many others, namely, as has been stated, the African tradition. One has only to hear a traditional didley bow played check this example to understand what the boogie patterns are trying to imitate.


Ragtime can be considered as one of the precursors to boogie woogie. Ragtime itself came initially from rearranging marches by the likes of Sousa (considered part of the classical tradition) for piano whilst adding in polyrhythms. The rhythmic changes are in some part down to the limitations of piano orchestration as opposed to marching band orchestration and some part stylistic preferences.

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