Q&A with pianist The Boogie Woogie Kid (Matthew Ball) -- a range of sounds from the Swingin' era of 20’s - 40’s

"Music from the Swing ear continues to captivate people, because it has a special quality of appeal to the widest demographic of music lovers. For example, when I perform in family settings, it is just as likely to see a 2 or 3 year old dance to boogie-woogie as it is to a 70 year old person do it."

Matthew Ball: The Boogie Woogie Kid

The Boogie Woogie Kid is Matthew Ball, an attorney turned boogie-woogie pianist who left the practice of law to pursue a blues and boogie woogie performance career after attending a hometown boogie woogie festival. Today Matthew is a signed performing artist who tours and teaches internationally, and one of the nation's leading performers of the classic blues & boogie-woogie traditions from the turn of the American 20th century. He holds degrees in Music, History and Law. He trained classically at Oakland University with classical pianist Flavio Varani, a graduate of The Paris Conservatory and Manhattan School of Music, who traced his own pedigree of study back to Chopin himself! Matthew performs classic Ragtime, Boogie-woogie & Blues piano favorites from the Swingin' era of the 20’s - 40’s, with arrangements of American favorites like Swanee River, Waltzing Matilda, Over the Rainbow, In the Mood, Bumble Boogie, and many more.

Remarkably Ball's start in Jazz only began in 2001! A former attorney, Matthew left the practice after he attended a hometown boogie-woogie festival. He was so awestruck by the performances he saw that night, he left his career as an attorney to become a blues & boogie-woogie performing artist. With a lot of time, work, and effort over the next few years Ball would reach a breakthrough in 2005 with a career launching performance at the exclusive Arches Piano Stage in Cincinnati where he shared the stage with some of the same musicians that first inspired him to play back in 2001. Now with more than a decade in the field along with over 3.5 million YOUTUBE views of past performance footage he has distinguished himself as a leading practitioner of these treasured American art-forms.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the Jazz & Blues music and culture? What does the blues mean to you?

What I’ve learned about myself, and what the genres I play mean to me is that Music remains in my life a continuing source of fun, inspiration, reflection, and study.  

What were the reasons that you started the Jazz/Blues researches? What characterize your music philosophy?

I was never very interested in modern Jazz, but always wanted to learn blues & boogie, and so when I came across the chance to really learn it I took it up immediately. My philosophy has been to become steward of a range of sounds from the pioneer generation of blues, boogie, and early Jazz piano artists, which to me include not just an “Albert Ammons” sound, but also a “Professor Longhair” sound, or an “Otis Spann” sound, and several other artists whose sound I believe to be representative of a singular unique pocket of the broader blues/boogie traditions.

Why did you think that the Swingin' era music of the 20’s - 40’s continues to generate such a devoted following?

Music from the Swing ear continues to captivate people, because it has a special quality of appeal to the widest demographic of music lovers. For example, when I perform in family settings, it is just as likely to see a 2 or 3 year old dance to boogie-woogie as it is to a 70 year old person do it.

"Today at least in my area, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of blues and boogie piano as the basis or driving force in modern Popular or Jazz music – I miss that."

Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you? 

International Boogie-woogie and stride pianist Bob Seeley, with whom I studied piano, has been the important influence on me. He gave me the advice that ‘everybody has got something, and nobody has it all’ which allowed me to appreciate my own individual stylistic approach and contribution to these classic piano-playing styles.

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, masterclass and children’s performances which you’d like to share with us?

I have so many moments of memorable inspiration over the years now it would be hard to pinpoint one as a favorite, but I continued to be inspired by performances I see not just in person but also on Youtube which is where I look these days to find some of the best piano blues and boogie performances out there.

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

Today at least in my area, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of blues and boogie piano as the basis or driving force in modern Popular or Jazz music – I miss that. I fear that fact remaining a trend, but I hope that a new generation will welcome this feature in the future.

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

I wish that music popularity was more grass roots driven, rather than driven by corporate design. I think the corporate strategies lead to more and more homogeny, and less creativity, individuality, and variety.

"Good Music... I think has always been able to deflate social, political, and racial barriers. At least in the experience of the performance, people from all walks of life can find a comradery, and that can always be a starting point for good relations with one another thereafter."

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues with Boogie Woogie, Barrelhouse, Jazz, Ragtime …and Chopin?

I received wonderful benefits from my classical training. With my own teacher tracing his pedigree back to Chopin, I believe I received some of the best advice about how to play the piano effectively – meaning how to utilize armweight, manipulate key attacks, and generally produce keyboard athletics with a greater ease of effort. All of this applies to how I perform and play blues and boogie-woogie today.

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you from the children’s performances?

Performing for children is always fun, because you never know what they will do, and their reactions often surprise and entertain you. They always respond to boogie-woogie in an animated way which I think reveals a great magic about that music that should be instructive to us all.

What is the impact of Blues and Jazz music and culture to the racial, political and socio-cultural implications?

Good Music... I think has always been able to deflate social, political, and racial barriers. At least in the experience of the performance, people from all walks of life can find a comradery, and that can always be a starting point for good relations with one another thereafter.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

If I had a time machine, I would go back to a time before TV and the obsessive sports culture we live in today. Those two leisure activities today seem to be so pervasive in people’s life that they come often at the expense of appreciating live music, the artists who create it, and the arts more generally.

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