Bickford Audience Boogie Woogies With Bob Milne
August 21st, 2010 No Comments »
“Why do I play everything by ear? Because the audience listens by ear,” explained ragtime and boogie-woogie pianist Bob Milne during a Q&A session following his August 16th performance at The BickFord Theatre.
The self-taught musician left an indelible mark on the Jazz SummerFest series that’s been taking place in Morristown these last few weeks. His low-key, unassuming manner allowed the music to take center stage that night. Milne’s storytelling took audience members on a journey through time as he described the cultural and musical background behind each piece he performed. Through the course of the evening, we traveled from New Orleans to Michigan and everywhere in between, getting a feel for how jazz evolved from the late 1800s to the early part of the twentieth century.
Milne played a variety of blues and rags including “Canal Street Blues,” “The Sleepy Hollow Rag,” “The Black and White Rag” and “Louisiana Blues” among others. He showed no preference for either style, giving his all in every number. His passion for the more spirited tunes was obvious – his upper body shimmied every which way with the melody. He had to physically restrain his foot from drowning out the piano as he tapped to the beat. But there was no less emotion displayed during ballads or otherwise slower pieces. The tenderness with which he caressed the keys or nodded his head conveyed a sense of beauty and vulnerability that was truly touching.
The evening’s highlights were the difficult and lively stride, boogie-woogie and ragtime compositions that Milne made look and sound easy. “The Steeple Chase Rag” and “Honky Tonk Train Blues” were definitely crowd favorites, but it was the barrel house type blues number that brought the house down.
Towards the end of the evening, Milne asked the engineer in the sound booth to turn the house lights up so he could take some questions from the audience. In a moment that made everyone’s jaw hit the floor, an audience member in the front row asked, “Do you always play with your eyes closed?” to which Milne humbly responded, “Oh yes. That’s probably something you folks in the back couldn’t see. I play with my eyes closed so I can better hear the music.”
After Q&A, Milne closed out the set with two more tunes. Milne humbly bowed as the audience rose to their feet in a standing ovation. Considering this man is regarded as the best pianist in the world when it comes to this genre, his bashful exit from the stage made the moment all that more surreal.
To learn more about this living legend, check out his website for tour dates and other information.
45-second clip of Bob Milne doing Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag”:
45-second clip of Bob Milne doing James P. Johnson’s “Steeplechase Rag”: