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Boogie Woogie 101 - Part Two

There are those who refer to the Detroit area pianist Bob Seeley as the foremost player in the world, the greatest boogie woogie pianist alive today. There are those, too, who will mistakenly call him low key, in spite of the mighty rumblings that emanate from his supremely talented digits. He doesn’t have a record contract, though he’ll happily sell you any or all of his three self-produced CDs at the gig or by mail. He doesn’t take the show on the road a heck of a lot -- but when he does, he doesn’t mess around. Though he has held down a steady Tuesday through Saturday 7pm to 11pm gig in the bar at Charley’s Crab, an upscale restaurant in suburban Troy, MI since it opened in 1972, he has also played solo at Carnegie Hall as well as at some of the most prestigious concert venues and festivals in Europe. His resume includes appearances at Les Nuits et Jazz et Boogie in Paris, as well as various other appearances in France, Austria, and Germany over the past dozen years. He’s played the Chicago Blues Festival and the Montreux Detroit International Jazz Festival. He’s played New York, New Orleans and other U.S. cities, but the best place to find the master in action is still at Charley’s Crab, where he never fails to dazzle. The faithful come in droves wherever he is. He’s been visited at Charley’s by musical royalty, from Tony Bennett to the Rolling Stones, but the show is never less than spectacular for white shirted executives, blue collar shop workers, youngsters, oldsters, the musically astute or those in the infancy of their education. Bob Seeley plays boogie woogie piano with equal doses of verve and enthusiasm for all who would listen. And generally those in attendance are spellbound and drop-jawed, so much so that there is a bit of a nightly shuffle to get the prized seats at the bar.

"Seeley is a force of nature the best boogie player on the planet." Dick Hyman, Jazz Hall of Fame pianist

A good boogie woogie player sounds like there are two pianists playing at once. The best recordings elicit a feeling of "it isn’t possible that this is only one person playing piano." On Seeley’s three recordings (Detroit Style Boogie & Blues, Classic Boogie Woogie & Blues, and especially Boogie Woogie & Blues Piano Industrial Strength, with it’s dazzling "Bumble Boogie," the hippest version ever of Rimsky-Korsakov’s "Flight of the Bumble Bee"), it often sounds like there are three pianists in pitched boogie battle. What’s most fascinating about the pianistic prowess of Bob Seeley is that he always sounds like this in person. Even at just a few feet away, with an unencumbered view of those amazing hands, it’s tempting to ask where the other players are hidden. Truth be told, very few pianists would want to share a stage with him for fear of looking weak by comparison. Yeah, he’s that good.

"I don’t like to play when Bob Seeley is around." Eubie Blake

Mr. Seeley is a classically trained pianist who was smitten early and hard with a love of boogie, stride and ragtime piano. While still a teenager studying at the Detroit Institute of Musical Arts, he would ride his bike to Baker’s Bar (pre Baker’s Keyboard Lounge) and listen in at the back door to Fat Waller protégé Pat Flowers. Perhaps his most conspicuous influence, however, was Meade Lux Lewis, the most renown of the boogie woogie pianists, and a great friend of Seeley’s. Seeley first met the maestro during a Detroit gig in the late 1940s and their friendship flourished. He also had a chance to chauffeur and play piano for none less than the legendary Art Tatum, who reportedly was duly impressed with the music of the relative youngster. Eubie Blake was also among Seeley’s circle of friends and mutual fans. These were the greats who inspired Bob Seeley, and certainly one can hear traces of their unique styles in his musical tapestry. His is not a strict adherence to anyone else’s charts, though. He learned from the best and he pays them the great compliment of utilizing the lessons learned to carry the language forward a bit further. Now, some say he’s the best.

Well versed in classic blues, Seeley worked for a while as accompanist to Sippie Wallace, the great blues vocalist who was re-discovered in the early 1980s and would eventually be nominated for a Grammy. It is the boogie that has his heart, though, and he admits, "I like to play it fast and loud and furious."

Over the course of his career, he’s shared the stage with everyone from the aforementioned Meade Lux Lewis and Eubie Blake to Henry Butler, Johnny Guarnieri, Axel Zwingenberger, the Five Blind Boys of Alabama, Carl Sonny Leyland, Martin Pyrker, Ruth Brown, Jay McShann, Ray Bryant and Al Copley among many, many others. When he breaks into any of the classic numbers from Pete Johnson, Albert Ammons or Lewis, he stops chatter and steals the show. This is no piano bar entertainer, but one of the foremost piano players in the world.

When Bob Seeley finishes whipping through "Chicago Flyer" or "Honky Tonk Train," it’s a joyous and rapturous feeling that comes over the listener who is attuned and in synch with the pianist. You just know the piano player is beat and ready for a rest. Instead, he has a sip of his drink, dips his head and tears into "Boogie Woogie Stomp" or "Swinging the Boogie." The piano man’s fingers fly and the listener falls back into ecstasy.

"Just an incredible player, My God." Chuck Leavell, pianist, Allman Brothers Band, Eric Clapton, Rolling Stones, etc.

To purchase CDs, contact Bob Seeley at 6287 N. Shore Drive. West Bloomfield, MI 48324-2146.

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