Interview with boogie woogie piano man Arthur Migliazza - keeping it hip, real, fun and up to date

"The Blues is about self expression. Expressing how you feel about a certain subject, or expressing how you feel in the moment. The Blues is also about healing."

Arthur Migliazza: Fun With Real Music

Award winning Blues and Boogie Woogie pianist Arthur Migliazza began playing the piano at age 9. It was through his love of Blues music and his dedication to the piano that he came under the wing of such mentors/teachers as Henry Butler, Ann Rabson and Mr. B. Aside from these direct influences, Arthur spent many years listening to and studying the recordings of piano players such as Otis Spann, Champion Jack Dupree, Jimmy Yancey, Professor Longhair, James Booker, Jay McShann, Katie Webster, and many more.                                                   Photo by Sam Norry

Arthur has been inducted into the Arizona Blues Hall of Fame, was a finalist at the 2010 and 2014 International Blues Challenge in Memphis, TN, and has shared the stage with Albert Lee, John Mooney, Little Milton, Buckwheat Zydeco, Guitar Shorty, Saffire the Uppity Blues Women, Cephas and Wiggins, Robert Cray, Bob Margolin, Elvin Bishop, Tommy Castro, Bob Malone, Bruce Katz, Henry Butler and David Maxwell to name a few, in venues all over the US, Europe, Russia and Japan. In addition to being a performer, Arthur began teaching piano lessons at age 15. During the last 15 years he has frequently been a part of the staff at the internationally famous Augusta Blues Week in Elkins, WV and Centrum Blues Week in Port Townsend, WA. A common response to watching Arthur perform is "Wow, I didn't know it was possible to play the piano like that! Arthur Migliazza is a boogie woogie piano man and he's not afraid to add in his new album “Laying It Down” (Hobemian Records), a band, electronics and anything else he feels like to the mix to keep it hip and up to date. 

Interview by Michael Limnios

When was your first desire to become involved in music and what does “88 B/W keys” offered you?

I have always wanted to play music, even from a very young age when I was in my stroller. But, since there were no musicians in my immediate family, my parents didn’t think to get me music lessons. Finally I got piano lessons when I was 9 and when I saw the Jerry Lee Lewis movie “Great Balls of Fire” I knew I wanted to play blues. I was 10 years old when I started playing blues piano. The piano offers the chance to be the entire band at once when you play, with the rhythm section in the left hand and the harmonies and melodies in the right hand. It’s the best! Even when I was 10 years old, I was lucky to be able to meet and learn from some true masters of the style, who became my mentors as I grew up. People like Ann Rabson, Mr. B and Henry Butler.

What do you learn about yourself from the Blues culture and what does the Blues mean to you?

The Blues is about self expression. Expressing how you feel about a certain subject, or expressing how you feel in the moment. The Blues is also about healing. About taking something that was sorrowful and turning it into something that you can deal with, and maybe even something joyful or comical. Many people think the blues is about sadness, but it’s not. It’s primary function was dance music. Whether things happened that were sad or happy, it was a part of life. And being able to sing and dance about it was one way that the African Americans dealt with those experiences and those feelings. For me personally, I am primarily a happy person and so when I play the blues, it sounds joyful. But that’s the thing about Blues, it’s the music of the soul and therefore reflects the personality of the player. Even though you might be playing the same scales and chords as people have been for 100 years, it can be totally unique.

"I miss the organic quality of the old music. It was played by people who were talented musicians. Nothing sounds real to me anymore." Photo by Roz Powell

How do you describe Arthur Migliazza sound and progress, what characterize your music philosophy?

Having fun while you play is my philosophy. Bringing myself out in the music that comes through my fingers is the only way that I can feel satisfied with a performance. As I have gotten older I have understood better how to be a good entertainer and how to play more effectively (meaning: how to say the same thing with fewer notes). But those are things that you never stop learning how to do better, I suppose. It’s not about me, it’s about the music. Some people just want to play all the time and never want to listen. If you want to play with other musicians, being a good listener is essential. Luckily I had good role models and mentors when I was young that told me, “Don’t play so much! Listen to the person who is taking the lead and play under him!”

Which is the most interesting period in your life? Which was the best and highlight moment of your career?

I don’t really think in terms of a best moment or a most interesting period. I’m always working towards bettering myself as a person and a musician. I’m always looking forward to the future. So I feel like my best moments haven’t happened yet. That’s a question you should ask me as I’m on my death bed. Not now when I’m still 33. HAHAHA!

Why did you think that the Boogie Woogie music continues to generate such a devoted following?

Boogie Woogie music is infectious and irresistible (when it’s played correctly!) and no matter what age group or generation or nationality, it makes you want to get up and dance! Good music is good music, period. However, Boogie Woogie has a dwindling following here in the United States but that is largely because no one is doing anything new with it, there aren’t many young players of it, and younger generations of music fans are not exposed to it in the mainstream media. I hope to change all that.

"I am primarily a happy person and so when I play the blues, it sounds joyful. But that’s the thing about Blues, it’s the music of the soul and therefore reflects the personality of the player." Photo by Robert Hughes 

What’s the best jam you ever played in? What are some of the most memorable gigs you've had?

The best jams that I ever played in were in Elkins, West Virginia at the Blues Week workshop that I used to attend as a child, and later became one of the workshop’s instructors. They included people like John Cephas, Phil Wiggins, Gaye Adegbalola, Ann Rabson, Nat Reese, Howard Armstrong and John Jackson. By jamming with these guys I learned not only how to be a good piano player, but also how to be a good musician. One of my most memorable gigs was last December (2013) in Moscow, Russia. I was on tour with two other Boogie Woogie piano players and we were called “The Kings of Boogie Woogie.” We played to a sold-out Tchaikovsky Hall and even got to perform one number with the world famous Moiseyev Ballet dancers!

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What is the best advice ever given you?

From 1991 to 2001 I attended a Blues music workshop (one week every year) in Elkins, West Virginia. I was 10 years old when I first went as a student, although most of the students were adults. The instructors were well known, professional Blues musicians. When I was 16 years old I became Ann Rabson’s teaching assistant, and the next year I was given my own class. I still return as a teacher every now and then. I grew up (musically) at this week long workshop every year.  I would tape record enough material from the piano classes to work on for the year. This was probably the single most important experience for me musically because being around so many veterans of the Blues world helped me to mature and progress musically, and as a person, in profound ways which I didn’t realize until much later in life.

The best advice ever given to me was to listen to the other musicians as I played with them. Judy Luis taught me that. She was my first blues piano teacher.

"Having fun while you play is my philosophy. Bringing myself out in the music that comes through my fingers is the only way that I can feel satisfied with a performance." Photo by Suzu Igarashi

Are there any memories from recording time which you’d like to share with us?

Recording is completely different than performing. It took me a while to get the hang of it. I’m still getting the hang of it! I recorded my first album in 1996 when I was 16 years old. I had a duo back then called the “Blues Kats” and it was just piano and drums. I remember after we recorded all the songs we went back to mix them but the engineer had somehow separated and mixed up all the drum tracks from the piano tracks (this was before ProTools). So we had to go through and find each drum track and try to sync it up with the correct piano track! It was a nightmare.

This latest album, “Laying It Down” was a completely different process. I worked with nothing but professionals the entire time. It was the most fun I have ever had in the studio.

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

I miss the organic quality of the old music. It was played by people who were talented musicians. Nothing sounds real to me anymore. You don’t have to be talented or even a musician to make what people consider “music” these days. Everything can be fixed with a computer and the performance element is being somewhat neglected. I like REAL music by REAL people who could REALLY play and sing.

I hope that people can appreciate real musicianship once again. I fear that everyone is so overloaded with stimuli and music and the arts are so available, that people don’t understand how to value them anymore. Also, people’s fascination with the do-it-yourself mentality has many people thinking of themselves as photographers, or painters, or musicians, or studio engineers, or filmmakers. The average person cannot tell the difference sometimes between what’s good quality and what isn’t.

"Music is a powerful force and I believe it should be used to inspire people to think and better themselves."

Which memories from Elvin Bishop and Henry Butler makes you smile?

I remember when I first had a piano lesson with Henry Butler. I was 16 and we were both playing at a Blues festival in Cincinnati, Ohio. He taught me how to play my major scales on the piano. When I was 18 I met him for another lesson in Tucson, Arizona. He saw that I hadn’t practiced my scales and he really kicked my ass about it! I’ve practiced my scales every day since then! haha

Elvin Bishop and I met a couple years ago at a Blues festival and quickly realized that we both speak Japanese! As soon as we figured that out we became friends instantly. Every now and then we still email each other in Japanese.

What are the lines that connect the Blues, Rock with Barrelhouse and continue to Boogie Woogie and Jazz?

It’s ALL the same thing. Rhythm and improvisation over the blues. It’s music to dance to. That’s how they all started.

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

I would hope that the popular music was of a higher, more uplifting and intelligent quality. Music is a powerful force and I believe it should be used to inspire people to think and better themselves.

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

I would love to travel to Chess Records in Chicago in the mid 1950’s to witness some of those immortal sessions with Howlin’ Wolf or Muddy Waters. I feel I would learn a lot about how those musicians approached their music by watching them record and I would learn a lot about how the engineers and producers approached their jobs as well. I just think that would be so interesting!

Arthur Migliazza - official website

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