Though it's not the only boogie woogie festival in the country, the San Francisco International Boogie Woogie Festival has proven itself one of the best.
So far, the Festival has drawn enthusiastic audiences, a full house, and a line-up of some of the world's best performers. This year's event, set to take place Sunday, November 15th, features five outstanding players -- Bob Seeley, Deanna Bogart, Jean-Pierre Bertrand, Balázs Dániel, and Wendy DeWitt.
The Festival, now in its third year, has settled into the intimate confines of the SFJAZZ Center in San Francisco. But this festival is not just for jazz fans. If you love jazz, swing, blues, rhythm 'n blues, or even early rock 'n roll - you will hear something familiar and infectious. Boogie woogie is at the heart and beginnings of each of these musical forms. This year's Festival presents an outstanding line-up, mixing legendary performers and a newcomer from around the world.
If Bob Seeley were the only performer at the festival, it would still be worth attending. Seeley is legendary, and at age 87, is widely regarded as one of the world's best boogie piano players. He knew Meade Lux Lewis, played with Art Tatum, and was a friend to the great Eubie Blake. Seeley has played Carnegie Hall several times, and toured Europe. An all-around pianist whose repertoire spans ragtime, stride, blues and boogie woogie, Seeley's roster of fans includes jazz pianist Dick Hyman, members of the Rolling Stones, and fellow Detroiter Kid Rock.
Deanna Bogart is a Detroit-born, award-winning bandleader and pianist/saxophone player who combines the best of boogie woogie, contemporary blues, country, and jazz into a blend she calls "blusion". Downbeat magazine said Bogart "... possesses a gift for approaching blues, soul and R&B material with warmth and firmness. Her originals .... sound as fresh as if she'd magically plucked them out of the air. " Her individual approach has garnered her three consecutive Blues Music Awards, and 22 Wammies (Washington D.C. music awards). Bogart has also played for U.S. troops as part of the "Blues on the Nile" tour, including an historic concert at the Great Pyramids.
Jean-Pierre Bertrand is organizer of Les Jazz et Boogie Woogie in Paris and one of France's top artists. Influenced by Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson and Meade Lux Lewis, Bertrand adds elements of swing and jazz and is comfortable solo or with his seven piece orchestra at festivals throughout Europe and Japan. He recorded 14 albums. This year's Festival marks a rare opportunity to appreciate his artistry on the West Coast.
Balázs Dániel, born in 1990 and the youngest performer at the Festival, is the "Boogie Woogie Ambassador of Hungary." He has released several CDs, and is a regular performer at international boogie woogie and blues festivals. Dániel brings a new color into the world of boogie woogie with his unique blending of blues, stride and New Orleans jazz.
San Francisco native Wendy DeWitt received the title "The Queen of Boogie Woogie" from the original Queen of the Boogie, Hadda Brooks. DeWitt organizes the annual Queens of Boogie Woogie concerts at Yoshi's in Oakland, which is now celebrating its 16th year. Tours take DeWitt throughout Europe and America performing with drummer Kirk Harwood.
When SFJAZZ opened in January 2013, it was said to be the "first free-standing building in America built for jazz performance and education." The Center's inclusion of this unique and underappreciated American form of music goes a long way toward fulfilling the latter.
The 3rd Annual SF International Boogie Woogie Festival takes place at 4 pm on Sunday, November 15th at the SFJAZZ Center in San Francisco. Tickets are available at SFJAZZ.org and www.SFBoogieWoogieFestival.com.
Born in Detroit, Thomas Gladysz is a Bay Area arts and entertainment writer with a love of music and music history. He is also the founding director of the Louise Brooks Society, an online archive and international fan club devoted to the legendary silent film star which went online 20 years ago. Recently, he contributed the audio commentary to the just released Kino Lorber DVD and Blu-ray of the Louise Brooks film Diary of a Lost Girl.