As the St. Louis Piano Festival enters its fourth year, organizer Ethan Leinwand says the event is hitting its stride.
“This is a piano town, and people love their blues and boogie-woogie piano,” he says. “St. Louis is a rare town with so many concert-caliber piano players.”
The festival is also a showcase for pianists from across the country, featuring Carl Sonny Leyland (New Cuyama, Calif.), Tom McDermott (New Orleans), Ptah Williams (St. Louis), Virginia Tichenor (Oakland, Calif.), Ben Levin (Cincinnati), Chase Garrett (St. Louis), Marty Eggers (Oakland), Christopher Parrish (St. Louis), along with Leinwand.
“We get to mix these out-of-town people with local people,” says Leinwald, who also performs in Miss Jubilee’s band. He and Miss Jubilee have a side project titled St. Louis Steady Grinder.
Q • How has the event evolved?
A • The first year was small. It was just four of us. It was a nice event thrown together at the last second. The year after that I tried something different. We went to two nights: a ragtime night and more of a blues night. I love the different styles, but to me, (separating them) weakens the whole thing. The third year was one night only, and I wanted as many pianists as I could get all under one banner for a celebration of piano.
Q • Can you talk about your portion of the show?
A • I’ll do the old St. Louis style, and things from Texas and the Deep South. I like to talk about the history, where the music comes from, put it in context, especially as a white guy talking about it. That’s what my passion is. None of this music is popular music, and barrelhouse style really isn’t played often. Barrelhouse is the music that connects ragtime to boogie-woogie. It’s somewhere in the middle.
Q • What’s it like having Ptah Williams on board for the first time?
A • I’m excited to have Ptah. His style is hard to describe. He covers a wide breadth of sounds within one song. It took me a while to finally see Ptah, and as soon as I heard him, I said, “This is something I have to have.” He should have been there all three years, but you make up for your mistakes.
Q • What’s the plan for your next solo album?
A • I’d just made a recording, but I decided it’s not what I wanted. When I cut my last record, there was a certain tune I really loved, but I wasn’t able to do it. I had work to do to develop the skill set to do that song and I’ve really been working on that the last couple of years. I said, “When I can do that song, that’s when I’ll make another record.” I think I’m about ready.
What St. Louis Piano Festival • When 7 p.m. Monday • Where BB’s Jazz, Blues & Soups, 700 South Broadway • How much $20 • More info eventbrite.com