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Garrett returns with second boogie-woogie show

BY JULIA JESSEN | NOVEMBER 03, 2011 7:20 AM

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Chase Garrett's childhood dream was to play piano at the Mill — one of the town's cozy venues known for the quality of the musicians who play there. He remembered thinking that if he achieved that goal, his life would be complete, and he could die happy.

Well, Garrett did play the Mill, 120 E. Burlington St. And he didn't die. But his life was not complete; he set his sights on a bigger goal — playing at his first music festival.

And he didn't stop there.

After delivering crowd-pleasing performances at festivals around the country, his goals continued to grow.

 

Soon, the young Iowa City native, a Kirkwood graduate who is known for his sessions on the public pianos downtown, was invited to play in Europe. Then, last year, he decided to create a blues and boogie-woogie show at the Englert Theatre, 221 E. Washington St.

And now? Garrett's eyes are set on Carnegie Hall.

But before he conquers the entire world of boogie-woogie piano playing, he will present the second Blues and Boogie-Woogie Piano Stomp at 8 p.m. on Friday in the Englert.

"This is my baby, this show here," he said.

Bigger and better

Garrett, sitting on the weathered piano bench of the colorful piano near M.C. Ginsberg, 110 E. Washington St., said he plans to make this year's event more impressive than last year's.

The 22-year-old quickly learned the many aspects that go into creating a concert when he put together his first show in November 2010.

This time around, he said, the process unfolded a little more smoothly.

"Last year was an eye-opening experience," he said.

Garrett takes full responsibility for the show, including putting up more than $10,000 for the performance, recruiting musicians to join him at the event, and promoting the show months before the big day.

"I'm taking a huge risk here," he said. "My goal isn't to make a profit, but if I do, everything I make goes directly into the music."

Last year, he had to sell 350 tickets to break even. His mind was boggled when 605 people came to see the show. The best feeling he's ever had, he said, was looking out into the audience from the center of the Englert stage with the bright lights shining into his face and seeing almost the entire floor and top tier full.

"I was grinning ear to ear," he said. "I almost had like a Joker smile."

One of the best moments of the concert for Garrett was having mentor Ricky Nye, a blues, boogie-woogie, and New Orleans pianist, step into the theater before the show, look around in awe, and tell Garrett how proud he was.

"To have my mentor look at me with the same face that I looked at him when I first heard him play," he said, smiling and shaking his head. "I can't even tell you."

His goal for the show is to make it a tradition in Iowa City that boogie-woogie fans anticipate and attend year after year.

"I'm hoping that my show at the Englert Theatre can gain attention to the point of its becoming one of the main festivals in the U.S.," he said.

Garrett's professional growth extends beyond his success with the Blues and Boogie-Woogie Stomp.
The Kirkwood graduate and University of Iowa piano-performance major gained recognition from playing around Iowa City and using the unconventional practice space, the outdoor pianos downtown, to meet contacts. He also got a gig singing and playing in a commercial for local restaurant Givanni's, 109 E. College St.

One of Garrett's biggest supporters is local property developer Marc Moen. Last year, Moen helped Garrett spread the word about his début show, telling people it was an event not to miss.

"It's very unusual to have someone who not only believed in himself but also had a lot of support from other musicians," Moen said. "And then to put up his own money and promote the show — I was just very impressed with him."

The support Garrett found enables him to try new things and experiment with his art.

"Can I get away with more this year?" he said. "Yes I can, because I have more support, and I feel like that gives me some extra wiggle room."

As he spoke, a man with a bicycle walked by on the sidewalk. He recognized Garrett even though he wasn't playing and said he had heard about Garrett and his music from a friend.

"He said you're one of the best pianists he's ever met," the man with the bicycle said. Garrett thanked him graciously, and the man continued on his way.

The players

Garrett said this year's group of musicians will present a different style of boogie-woogie that demonstrates a broader range of music than last year's show.

"It will give you a really good example of what blues and boogie-woogie is in a more general sense," he said.

Garrett met Mark Braun, a fellow blues and boogie-woogie musician, also known as Mr. B, when he was 17, and two years ago, he traveled to Ann Arbor, Mich., for a summer to learn from Braun. Garrett worked at Braun's construction company for eight hours during the day and played piano with him for four hours at night.

"I told him I'll do anything, please, just teach me to play the piano," Garrett said.

Braun said that Garrett's age gives him a different perspective on the music — sometimes, not in a positive way. He explained that it can be harder for young people to grasp the full impact of the music when they haven't had the opportunity to learn from great older musicians.

"It's a double-edged sword," he said. "It's a disadvantage that he can't change and that he never will be able to change, but I would guess that it's probably an advantage for some reasons — like the fearlessness of youth."

Another performer who has played with Garrett is Carl Sonny Leyland, a musician from South Hampton, England. Garrett described Leyland's style as being more gritty blues. Leyland said Garrett plays with a style reminiscent of past musical masters.

"It's got a little bit of a Ray Charles kind of feel," Leyland said.

The final musician joining Garrett this year is Fabrice Eulry from Paris. When Garrett first played with the pianist, he was awestruck by Eulry's style.

"I ended up almost making a fool of myself because I almost tried to overdo what I could do," Garrett said. "I was just so in awe."

Eulry didn't seem to consider Garrett foolish, though, and he was struck by the way Garrett played.

"Chase Garrett is very talented, and what surprised me the first time I listened to him was not the fact that he was young — half my age — but the fact that you forget it when he plays," Eulry said.

The concert will also feature a surprise guest about whom Garrett would give little information. He hinted that she is only 16 years old.

"In my personal opinion, she's one of the best ragtime pianists I've ever heard," he said.

Garrett said the blues and boogie-woogie community of musicians is small and closely knit, all keeping the same goal in mind.

"It's almost like a family of boogie-woogie musicians," he said. "We all want to preserve it. We all think it's a fantastic artform that should be kept around."

Preservation and education

Garrett said his overarching goal is to make sure everyone knows that blues and boogie-woogie still has a place in today's musical world.

"My mission statement for what I want to do with my life is do my best to preserve boogie-woogie, keep it around, make it known, and be a complete pianist," he said. "I want to be able to play stride and boogie-woogie, jazz, and blues, and swing."

This goal includes a project that will première in 2014: a concert series traveling across the United States following the path of blues and boogie-woogie as it progressed in history, from New Orleans to St. Louis to Kansas City to Chicago, ending in New York City at Carnegie Hall.

Garrett said he expects the project to cost between $350,000 to $450,000. He plans to take advertising efforts to the next level, using giant banners on the sides of buildings, in subways, and on billboards.

"I'm telling people it will be on a Broadway-production scale," he said.

At the center of Garrett's goals and performances is the foot-stompin' music of boogie-woogie.

When he plays, his fingers fly. He looks up periodically from the black and white rectangles to see if his audience is smiling as widely as he is.

"It's what I live for," he said. "It's in my body; it just goes through me."

Although fame and recognition are a perk, he said, what he really wants is for people to be educated about the music that makes him tick.

"If people don't remember me, I want them to remember the music," Garrett said.


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