Born 7 May 1955, Hamburg, Germany
Though the piano has always been my favourite instrument, with a preference for the fast boogie-type material, I didn't become seriously interested in boogie woogie until the publication of Peter Sylvester's book "A Left Hand Like God : A History Of Boogie-Woogie Piano" (1988, revised edition 2009). It was there that I first encountered the name Axel Zwingenberger and what I read made me want to collect his music, which wasn't easy at the time, as the Vagabond label had poor distribution outside the German-speaking countries. Zwingenberger is probably the best known of the contemporary boogie woogie pianists and, according to many, also the best. After receiving eleven years of formal piano tuition, Axel was becoming disenchanted with playing the classics and was on the point of giving up his studies when he discovered boogie-woogie by accident. This happened in 1973 after listening to some old 78 recordings of Pete Johnson which belonged to the father of one of his friends. With his interest in the piano once again stimulated, he started to finger out some of the numbers for himself. Soon Axel set himself the task of becoming an authentic boogie woogie pianist in the tradition of Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson and Meade Lux Lewis. Real progress in mastering the style came after he made contact with fellow pianists Hans-Georg Möller and Vince Weber, and, a little later, Martin Pyrker from Vienna. Word about the abilities of the four friends, who called themselves the Boogie Woogie Rhythm Kings, began to spread. The 1974 "First International Blues and Boogie Woogie Festival" of a West German Radio Station in Cologne turned out to be their first presentation to a greater audience.
In 1975, Axel signed a recording contract with Frank Dostal's Vagabond label and their cooperation (Dostal also acts as his producer) continues successfully until today. His first solo LP was "Boogie Woogie Breakdown" (1976), with a fantastic version of "Boogie Woogie Dream", originally done by Albert Ammons and Pete Johnson on two pianos. In May 1978, Axel went to Los Angeles to record an album with Joe Turner, whose last record with Pete Johnson on boogie piano had been released in 1947. The resulting LP, "Let's Boogie Woogie All Night Long", was engineered by Johnny Otis and won Axel an award equivalent to a German Grammy. Highlight was "Rock the Joint Boogie", jointly composed by Turner and Zwingenberger. Axel's younger brother Torsten Zwingenberger played drums on the album. A second collaboration with Joe Turner followed in 1981, on the occasion of Joe's 70th birthday. This time all tracks were recorded live at Turner's home in Los Angeles, with a guest appearance by Roy Milton on drums. "Boogie Woogie Jubilee" is the title of both the album and the longest track on it, which clocks in at 14:47!
Zwingenberger has always interspersed his own solo work with a series of LP's and CD's by what he calls "The Friends Of Boogie Woogie". There are 10 albums in this series, collaborations with Jay McShann, Champion Jack Dupree, Sippie Wallace, Lloyd Glenn, Big Joe Duskin and others. These recordings were essential in shaping his personal style and helpful in building his international reputation. Axel has performed in more than 50 countries.
Several other CD's were duets with other German pianists, like Vince Weber ("The Boogiemeisters", 1999) and Gottfried Boettger ("Groovology", 2004). Axel's most recent CD (his 30th) is a collaboration with Ben Waters (piano), Charlie Watts (drums) and Dave Green (bass), called "The Magic Of Boogie Woogie" (2010). The foursome call themselves the A B C and D of Boogie Woogie (after their respective initials) and they have been touring extensively since April 2009, in the UK and Japan.
There are people who say that all boogie woogie music sounds the same. This can be true if it is played in a mechanical, predictable way by people who have no real feeling for the music. Anyone who fears that the same style must be boring over a CD, let alone a career, should try Zwingenberger's music and will be proved wrong by his sheer skill, dexterity, power, taste and musicality. He chooses to vary his repertoire with songs (often his own compositions) of the wildest possible diversity. Not just uptempo boogie, but he's a master at piano blues as well. Axel has served as an example for many young pianists in Europe and he is responsible, more than anyone else, for the fact that the centre of boogie woogie has shifted from the USA to Europe, especially the German-speaking countries, and that the music has come to the attention of a whole new generation of young fans.
More info :
Acknowledgements : Peter Sylvester, Pete Bowen, Wikipedia.
CD recommendations : His first two solo albums, "Boogie Woogie Breakdown" (1976) and "Power House Boogie" (1979) are still the best, IMO. The two CD's with Joe Turner are also warmly recommended, as are the collaborations with his drumming brother Torsten, "Boogie Woogie Bros." (1989) and "Brothers In Boogie" (1997). All on the Vagabond label. Available from German Amazon.
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