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Pianist Ricky Nye celebrates blues, boogie and woogie at the Palladium

Bill DeYoung

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Since he launched his career as a boogie woogie piano player a dozen or so years ago, Cincinnati’s Ricky Nye has developed a large fan base in Europe, where they’re just wild about the distinctly American music he plays. He even has a touring and recording band based in Paris.

Nye once approached his friend Bob Seeley, the legendary “godfather” of boogie piano: “I asked him ‘Man, what is it that Europeans are so nuts about traditional boogie woogie, and about swing?’” Nye recalls.

“And Bob said “It’s the sound of freedom.’ If you think about the end of World War II, among Europeans, there was just joy in the air. And that music, which was popular at the time, was celebratory music. Boogie and swing – it sounds like fun. It’s upbeat and it’s joyous. It harkens back to that time, and it’s just a fond feeling.”

Rollicking boogie piano music – don’t forget the woogie – is still a living, breathing source of joy in the States, too. Both Ricky Nye and Bob Seeley – members of the International Boogie Woogie Hall of Fame – will be at the Palladium Theater Saturday (March 23) for the 10th annual Boogie Woogie Blues Piano Stomp. Also performing: Nye’s longtime pals Liz Pennock and Dr. Blues, and piano singer/songwriter Eden Brent.

It’s a celebration of two different, although quite related, styles of piano music: Blues and boogie and/or woogie.

Nye, a graduate of the Berklee School of Music (“to me, there’s a common thread that runs through a lot of things, and so that’s what I’ve explored”) has been a pianist since his tot years. He played drums, and piano, in his family’s band (wedding receptions, dances and bar mitzvahs) as a teen.

The annual Cincinnati Blues Festival beckoned him in the mid 1990s. “I got invited to play the Arches Boogie Piano Stage,” Nye explains. “At the time, I was playing a lot of blues and a lot of New Orleans kind of stuff, and playing some rockin’ piano that had elements of boogie in it. That year I met people like Bob Seeley and Sonny Leyland, who really lit my fire. I already had elements of boogie, but they were specialists, in the traditional style. And it made me want to go there.

“I met a pianist from Brussels, Belgium, who invited me over, and I started meeting other European pianists who invited me to festivals. So I’ve had a career in Europe for about 20 years. And then I started putting on my own festival, the Blues and Boogie Piano Summit in Newport, Kentucky, right across the river from Cincinnati. I did that for 18 years.”

He considers every turn he’s made a turn of good fortune. “All just through happenstance, really,” he says. “If that piano stage wasn’t going on in my hometown, I wonder where I would have gone.”

Nye appeared at the Palladium’s first Boogie Woogie Blues Piano Stomp, but has usually been too busy to book a return appearance. At Saturday’s show, he’ll perform solo, and in duets with several of the other musicians.

Boogie (yes, and woogie too) is decidedly different from blues, which can of course be played slow, fast or in between, with lots of variables.

However, Nye points out, “You never hear a slow boogie. Boogie woogie’s uptempo. And it typically has a driving left hand, like an eighth-note pattern that’s constant throughout it. That’s a steady pulse, like a train headin’ down the tracks, you know? And it has a very specific right hand vocabulary. It’s uptempo, it’s that steady rhythm. It’s the beginnings of rock ‘n’ roll.”

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