If you are a YouTube user, and chances are great that you are, you may have come across videos of The Boogie Woogie Kid. This is the stage name of Matthew Ball, a pianist from Detroit. It was at the city’s famous boogie woogie festival (the 2001 edition) that Matthew really fell in love with this musical genre.
At what age did you start to play the piano?
I began playing boogie-woogie and blues piano at age 30, but I had played piano all my life beforehand through formal classical study.
What did you think when you discoverd boogie woogie at the 2001 Motor City Boogie Woogie Festival?
I was impressed by the performances at the 2001 boogie-woogie festival because I saw there a crowd-pleasing jazz-form that could hold the concert stage, rather than a jazz-form that would be inevitably relegated to the role of background music at a martini bar or cocktail lounge. In my twenties I held a job as a seasonal mall-pianist at a nearby shopping center, and I was constantly discouraged at the either disrespectful or apathetic response I received. I was often in fact asked to play softer. The last day I worked the job, I played as loud as I could then quit. I guess I’ve never really thought the role of “wallpaper musician” was a good use of any musician’s talent.
How did you transform from an attorney to a boogie woogie pianist?
The formula I followed in transitioning from attorney to boogie woogie performing artist involved first modeling or imitating the players I most admired, and then trying to improve upon their own efforts.
Which sheet music books can you recommend?
The learning material I found most helpful was the literature from Hal-Leonard, and the video tutorials from Homespun. But I took, and paid for, boogie woogie piano lessons for two full years. I couldn’t have learned to play the art-form without those years of lessons – first from a gentleman named Michael Przybylski, and then from Bob Seeley.
What have you learned from Bob Seeley?
Bob refused to teach me for about a year. It wasn’t until I had already learned a great deal of how to play boogie woogie from Mike that Bob finally accepted me as a pupil. We met twice a month at Bob’s house for the lessons. Some of the least important things I learned from Bob were the specific notes, but rather more broadly how to live, exist, and conduct myself as a professional musician. He remains an inspiration to me today, as he is for so many others.
Which other boogie woogie pianists have inspired you?
I think Rob Rio is an amazing player and entertainer. Dr. John and Professor Longhair will always be a favorite source of inspiration for me. I’m often riveted with Eeco’s exceptional recreation of Albert Ammons on Youtube or Jorg Hegemann’s swingin’ boogie woogie energy. But I am, or have been, inspired by so many more performers.
What is your favourite boogie woogie tune?
My favorite boogie woogie tune is Boogie Woogie Stomp, i.e. Albert Ammons’ retake on Pinetops Boogie Woogie.
When will you perform outside the US?
Outside of performing in neighboring Canada, I haven’t yet been invited to perform overseas, but I’d be glad to do it.