A joyous boogie 'n' blues piano fest

Wednesday, 01 February 2012 12:00 AM Written by 
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That's boogieman Bob Seeley, at 83, making his move off the keyboard. (All photos by Jim White)

If I can be permitted to use the word that once got me in trouble with Candye Kane, it was a "raucous" night of piano blues and boogie Saturday night, as we ventured out from the BlueNotes Winter Headquarters for some fine music.

I know that some of you were on the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise and couldn't make it here -- but the rest of you? I'll just have to console myself where the sun does shine.

But I digress.

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Bob Seeley still going strong at 83. 
Blues and boogie woogie piano have always made the feet dance and the mind go happy, so this concert -- and the three previous ones I've seen -- have been a special pleasure. They are the brainchild of St. Petersburg boogie piano queen Liz Pennock (Ohio native), who keeps finding great piano talent for the show.

A feature of every concert has been Bob Seeley, one of the last (maybe the last) of the great boogie and stride piano masters such as Meade Lux Lewis (Seeley's mentor and inspiration), Pete Johnson, Joe Turner and Albert Ammons. He's a vigorous, elfin little dude at 83, always dapper with snappy headgear, and best of all, the piano styles of about 75 years in his fingertips. This year, in the concert finale, he seemed intent on showing off his dance moves.

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Craig Brenner, Indiana's finest.
Highlights of his playing included "St. Louis Blues" in a variety of dazzling styles, and an eloquent rendering of "Amazing Grace," using New Orleans funeral parade rhythms. It was truly amazing.

The first special guest of the show was Craig Brenner, out of Bloomington, Indiana, who rolled the ivories (and the black keys as well) with a fine version of "Goin' Down Slow."

He paid tribute to the late, great Big Joe Duskin who wound up in Cincinnatti, did a worthy version of "Pinetop's Boogie Woogie" and a wonderfully styled take on Professor Longhair's "Meet Me Tomorrow Night." He wound up with a rollicking tribute to his hometown -- "Bloomington Boogie."

The headliner for the night was young (35 is young, isn't it?) Michael Kaeshammer, a German native turned Canadian, eh, who obviously needs a blues nickname like Mike the Hammer.

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Michael Kaeshammer, playing the piano outside the box.

He started out with a nameless slow-rolling blues instrumental, using a foot stomp to highlight the beat, which turned into a startingly sensual mood piece that didn't require a single word to convey its raunchy blues message. Very impressive. And it was all uphill after that.

He offered a very distinctive take on Longhair's "Mardi Gra in New Orleans," complete with whistling and a few tricks that Fess hadn't thought of. He offered a strong semi-original, inspired by James Booker, the mad genius of New Orleans piano, which made me wish I'd saved the Booker albums I once had.

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Liz Pennock and Dr. Blues
He even tackled a silly but sly little blues from Joe Duskin, titled "My Little Kangaroo Girl" -- definitely worth a listen if you can find it. On one extended jam, Kaeshammer left the keyboard to beat out the ryythms on every surface he could find around the piano -- a fun and inventive touch.

And I don't want to ignore Ms. Pennock, who opened the night with a set in her own rocking style, and included an original, "Play My Piano," inspired by an encounter with Pinetop Perkins, who made that sly offer to Liz after she and husband Dr. Blues (guitarist Paul Shambarger) gave Pinetop a ride to a concert gig. The couple are regulars in St. Pete, and travel annually to Cincinnatti for that city's blues piano festival.

Yes, it was a fine night of piano music. Held at the Palladium Theater in St. Pete, a small but beautiful concert venue, it seems to get better every year. You should be here for the next one.

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