With this year's sixth annual Blues and Boogie Piano Summit, Cincinnati native Ricky Nye is seeing that audiences have a chance to hear the real deal at Xavier University's Gallagher Center on Saturday.
Nye is affable and quick-witted and, behind his signature retro, thick-framed glasses, there's a gleam of playful mischief in his eyes. To look at him, you might not peg him as a Boogie Woogie/blues musician -- but a darned fine one he is.
Speaking of outstanding musicians, Nye has succeeded again in assembling a truly stellar lineup. He wants each year's Summit to have its own "personality" -- this year will have a European slant. From Holland, there's Martijn Schok, who's reputed to be a "real proper" Boogie player, with Greta Holtrop providing sultry vocals.
Tim Deelan, also from Holland, is a 12-year-old prodigy fit to carry the tradition into the next generation. Nye recounts a story of the young upstart "burnin' up the piano" at 4:30 a.m. following a concert in Holland.
Summit favorite Renaud Patigny (aka the "Boogie Woogie demon") from Belgium will be banging out some unbelievably energetic rhythms and melodies. He plays as if possessed by powerful, otherworldly forces.
Rounding out the lineup will be a special guest appearance by a local patriarch of the blues, Big Joe Duskin. Topnotch accompaniment will come from Nye cohorts Nick Lloyd on upright bass and Tony Franklin on drums.
One burning question on the minds of previous Summit attendees: Why the venue change from the Southgate House in Newport to Xavier? Nye says he feels this year's largely European lineup would be better suited for a more formal, concert-like setting. "It'll be reminiscent of how it is for me when I go over (to Europe) and play there," he says.
Equally important is Nye's desire to open up the demographic with a non-smoking show for all ages, providing increased accessibility for older folks. He adds, "Hopefully the people who came to the Southgate House will come to the show, too. There's a lobby bar and everything, so it's not too libraryish." Reportedly, the Gallagher Center's acoustics are excellent and it's a not-a-bad-seat-in-the-house auditorium.
Still, he speaks fondly of the former venue. "I've had it at the Southgate House for the last five years, and I love that juke joint atmosphere," Nye says. He mentions that he'd consider returning there next year.
Boogie Woogie's colorful origins can be traced back to impoverished rural areas of the American South in the early decades of the 20th century. African-American Blues pianists played up-tempo music for dancing in barrelhouses.
Around 1912, particular left-handed patterns emerged that represent a key ingredient of Boogie Woogie: the division of four beats into eight pulses ("eight to the bar"). This provides the style's distinctive driving rhythm. Add a Blues structure, varied melodic right-hand figures and embellishments and you begin to recognize the style. It sounds familiar because it's had so many revivals. Nye wsa introduced to traditional Boogie Woogie in 1996 at the local Queen City Blues Festival.
Unlike piano playing, putting on a festival is not a solo undertaking. Nye struggled to manage the first Piano Summit with minimal outside help -- at the risk of being unable to concentrate on his own playing and, as he put it, "I really almost had an aneurysm." Fortunately, his brother Ken Neiheisel stepped in the second year and, ever since, has played an integral role in making the Summits happen.
Nye's greatest satisfaction came during the fourth Summit, when people started pouring into the room and he didn't recognize one face. "The second year," he adds, "there was so much energy in that room that it was buzzin'. I'm just so excited when I see people that are that excited about it."
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