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Fourth-annual Piano Stomp

BY EMMA MCCLATCHEY | NOVEMBER 14, 2013 5:00 AM

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In the summer of 2010, Chase Garrett spent two hours a day tickling the keys of downtown Iowa City's public pianos, promoting the first Blues and Boogie Woogie Piano Stomp.

"[The Piano Stomp] is something I felt like I had to do for me, but also there aren't events like this in Iowa City," said Garrett, who has been playing boogie-woogie since age 9 and was performing professionally by 17. "I wanted to make sure people know [blues and boogie-woogie] are still around."

Through his grass-roots efforts, Garrett hoped to attract around 300 people to what he was billing as the best blues show in town. In the end, more than 650 attended the concert, which ran from 8 p.m. to well past midnight.

Garrett hopes to recreate this success at the fourth incarnation of the Blues and Boogie Woogie Piano Stomp at 8 p.m. Friday at the Englert Theater, 221 E. Washington St. The concert will feature renowned boogie-woogie and blues musicians Robert Roth, Eric-Jan Overbeek, a.k.a. Mr. Boogie Woogie, and Garrett himself.

In addition to these high-profile performers, Garrett said the 2013 Piano Stomp will be "much crisper, cleaner, and organized" than past years, with a focus on swing tunes, horns, and Garett's new work. There will also be cameras set up to give audiences a closer look at the pianists' hands as they play.

Cincinnati-based pianist Ricky Nye — who performed at the first Piano Stomp and whose 14-year-old Blues and Boogie Piano Summit in Newport, Ky., inspired Garrett's show — said he has been impressed by Garrett's talent since the two met on Nye's first trip to Iowa.

"He was 15, but he looked about 9," Nye said. "He gets up to play, and I just said, 'Wow.' "

Nye was so floored by Garrett's piano and vocal skills that he invited Garrett to his festival — the first time Garrett played for a crowd larger than a few friends and family.

"He just destroyed the room," Nye said. "Everyone just went totally nuts. [Garrett] is very, very driven and has big ambitions."

After spending his late teens traveling the world as a blues, boogie-woogie, and swing performer, Garrett — who currently lives and studies in Boston — became more invested in this mid-century brand of music, and in bringing it back to his hometown.

"I always told myself I'd do a show like [Nye] but have never had the funds," Garrett said. "My Mom passed away a couple years ago and left me some life-insurance money. I thought, what better way to honor my Mom than to make people happy?"

Boogie-woogie has been provoking joy since the early 20th century, and later, the piano-heavy blues, swing, and boogie-woogie became the go-to dance tunes for Americans during the Great Depression and World War II. But since its heyday, traditional boogie-woogie has become harder and harder to find in America, and there are fewer than 200 active performers worldwide.

"This music was born in the United States, but it was kind of forgotten," Nye said. "So it's [Garrett's] motivation and mine to educate people. It's really, really fun, spirited music."

Despite the decline in American boogie-woogie performers, Nye said interest in the genre has reached "epidemic proportions" in Europe.

"It's a viable, living art form over there," he said. "Little babies in strollers are playing boogie-woogie."

Overbeek attested to this phenomenon. Originally from the Netherlands, Overbeek has been performing boogie-woogie for 30 years and found plenty of venues in Europe. Still, he said, he has encountered a good community of boogie-woogie and blues enthusiasts across the pond as well.

"Blues is a language really. If you 'speak' it, it won't be a problem playing great music with strangers, even from a totally different part of the world," he said. "It's a fun style of music and not just for the elderly. It's just a matter of getting it exposed to the new generation."

Nye shares this vision.

"I think the future is these young people getting interested in it and keeping it alive," he said. "The trick is to pay it respect and be true to the tradition, but also find your voice."

This is a mission to which Garrett has dedicated his musical career — and the Blues and Boogie Woogie Piano Stomp.

"At the end of the day, there's no better stress release for me than sitting down and playing piano," Garrett said. "It makes me happy to play and see people smile. I guess that's what I'm doing with this show: spreading the love and spreading the happiness."


MUSIC
Fourth-Annual Blues & Boogie Woogie Piano Stomp
When: 8 p.m. Friday
Where: Englert, 221 E. Washington
Admission: $30 to $45


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