Two brilliant, devoted musicians playing the music they love—what could
Variations Theatre Group at the Chain Theatre
R: BOB BALDORI and ARTHUR MIGLIAZZA in BOOGIE STOMP
By Joel Benjamin
Bob Baldori and Arthur Migliazza are two brilliant musicians with an
overwhelming jones for Boogie Woogie music and its many artistic descendants.
Their encyclopedic knowledge of popular musical forms over the last century is
breathtaking, but their playing of and dedication to their chosen repertoire is
even more amazing. Boogie Stomp! at the Chain Theatre takes the
audience on a fascinating tour of more than a century of American music beginning
with “Boogie Stomp” which was a classic of the form: steady, repeated bass
line in the left hand under a varied melody played by the right. Strangely
absent from the program was any representation of Ragtime, but, perhaps
including Ragtime would have been too much of a good thing.
Bob, the older and more experienced of the two, was the congenial host
and narrator of the evening, entertainingly revealing the lowdown origins of
this music in bordellos, juke joints and street corners. He spoke of many of
the Boogie and Blues legends, beginning with Earl Fatha Hines, Bob Seeley and
slightly more contemporary artists like Fats Waller and Chuck Berry all of whom
provided the chronological arc of the music these two played. Arthur’s “St.
Louis Blues” took the tune from lowdown blues to thumping boogie. Bob played
the harmonica and sang in a twangy voice on “Shake That Boogie” recalling the
memory of Sonny Boy Williamson while Arthur tickled the ivories. The squeaks
and squawks of the harmonica gave the tune a heft. Hersal Thomas’s “Suitcase
Blues” came with a colorful story of the institution of rent parties while
“Okemos Breakdown” celebrated Bob’s hometown (with photos of the young Bob
projected onto the cutout screens of the backdrop). The first part ended with
a rowdily improvised “Fourplay,” played four-hand on one piano leading to some
hilarious choreography involving entwined arms and legs.
“Tennessee Waltz,” made famous by Patti Page, was given a refreshing
interpretation by Bob, full of breathless hesitations and changes of tempo.
Arthur’s “Bumble Boogie” was astounding, his hands a blur as the notes tumbled
out in a torrent. Also brilliantly resuscitated was Benny Goodman’s “Sing Sing
Sing” in a tribute to the Big Bands. The two guys caught the pounding of Gene
Krupa and the whoop of Goodman’s clarinet. It was difficult to keep butts in
Bob’s son happened to show him how an electric keyboard could sound
like a human voice leading to “By Myself,” a bluesy, but lighthearted evocation
of deeply felt emotions. Stirring up images of the trains that helped
disseminate this music, “Honky Tonk Train”—backed up by appropriate show and
tell on the screens—certainly caught the sounds of pistons churning and wheels
pounding the tracks.
photos by Jim Randolph
The finale, “Mojo” came with stories of the legendary Muddy Waters and
the sad disappearance of the Boogie Woogie (except as it was absorbed into Rock
& Roll). “Mojo,” which also included more energetic harmonica playing, was
a fitting way to end the program with a bang.
Boogie Stomp! (through May 31, 2014)
Variations Theatre Group
The Chain Theatre
21-48 45th Rd. (between 21st & 23rd
Long Island City, NY
Tickets and Information: 866-811-4111 or www.variationstheatregroup.com