Pianist, born 13 September 1928, Detroit, Michigan
Bob Seeley is arguably America's greatest living boogie woogie pianist. Until recently I knew very little about him. Peter Silvester's book on the history of boogie woogie, "A Left Hand Like God" (1988), mentions him extensively, but at the time that book was written, Seeley had not yet been recorded. Since then, Seeley has released five CD's on his own label (Bob Seeley Music), and I had the chance to buy them all when he performed at the Second International Boogie Woogie Festival in Noordwijk (Netherlands, on the North Sea Coast), on April 30, 2005, where he was the closing act, long after midnight.
Seeley's background was typical of that of many white boys raised in a comfortable city home in the 1940s. He began piano lessons at about the age of nine and was introduced to boogie-woogie in his teens when an older brother brought some sheet music home. While still a teenager studying at the Detroit Institute of Musical Arts, he would ride his bike to Baker's Bar and listen in at the back door to Fats Waller's protégé Pat Flowers. His most conspicuous influence, however, was Meade Lux Lewis, one of the three giants of boogie woogie (along with Albert Ammons and Pete Johnson), and a great friend of Seeley's. Bob first met the maestro during a Detroit gig in the late 1940s and a longstanding friendship in the 1950s and 1960s developed, which influenced Seeley's piano styling and has resulted in a very rhythmical form of boogie woogie. He also had a chance to chauffeur and play piano for none less than 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.
Well versed in classic blues, Seeley worked for a while as accompanist to Sippie Wallace, the great blues vocalist who was rediscovered in the 1980s and would eventually be nominated for a Grammy. Seeley is an all-round pianist whose interest and repertoire span piano music from the entire 20th century. It includes the music of Kern, Gershwin and Debussy as well as the standard works of ragtime, stride, blues and of course boogie woogie. Peter Silvester writes "His solos are notable for their coherence and logical progression, which propels them to a satisfying climax. Of all the contemporary pianists, Seeley reproduces the sound and spirit of Meade Lux Lewis with the most conviction and sometimes even surpasses the master" (p. 247-248).
Though Seeley has held down a steady Tuesday through Saturday (7-11 pm) nightclub spot in the bar at Charley's Crab, an upscale restaurant in Troy, Michigan (suburb of Detroit) 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.
Seeley made a deep impression on me in Noordwijk. His technique is amazing, especially his left hand. He played two of the famous Ammons- Johnson duets from 1941 and it really sounded as if there were two pianos playing at once. However, what really brought the house down was when Bob invented a 13-year old local Dutch kid, whom he had met the day before during rehearsals, to play with him. Tim van Beelen, if I caught his name correctly. A child prodigy. Boogie woogie is alive and well, especially on this side of the Atlantic.
More info: http://www.metrotimes.com/editorial/story.asp?id=4386
CD discography (all on Bob Seeley Music):
CD 101 Industrial Stength. Boogie Woogie and Blues Piano.
Also available from Bob (at 6287 N. Shore Drive, West Bloomfield, MI, 48324) : two cassettes, "Boogie and Blues, Vol. 1 and 2".
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