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Ben Waters Ben Waters. Photo: Judy Totton

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Ben Waters brings Boogie Woogie to London
Ben Waters' London International Festival of Boogie Woogie takes place at the Cadogan Hall, London on Friday September 14th, 7.30pm. Tickets for the show are priced £20, £25 and £35 and are on sale now from http://www.cadoganhall.com/event/ben-waters-180914/ and from the box office on 020 7730 4500.
Published on September 12, 2018

Thank you for speaking with us Ben! Boogie woogie is such a quintessentially American art form. How did you first get involved in the genre?

When I was 14 my Mum and Dad insisted on watching Fats Domino's 60th Birthday on TV. My brother and I were really fed up as there were only three channels on English TV at the time, we wanted to watch something else. How wrong could I be. The concert came live from Storyville, New Orleans. Ray Charles and Jerry Lee Lewis also played. The Moment that Fats got on the piano my life changed, suddenly in just a couple of minutes I knew what I wanted to do. It was such an amazing concert. At the end the three of them all played together on three different pianos, jamming boogie woogie. I still watch it now – brilliant!

Can you tell us a little about the genre's American background and connections?

Two of my favourite pianists were Albert Ammons and Meade Lux Lewis, born at the turn of the last century in Chicago and Kansas respectively who played at the Spirituals of Swing concert in Carnegie Hall in 1938 after which an unheard of million copies of their record were sold. This was the birth of boogie woogie as the world now knows it. Café Society brought boogie woogie to the US and the world and the rest is history.

How do you preserve those connections through the music you play today?

My whole professional life has centred around the genre and I have never stopped learning about its origins and those people, some of them still children, who gave birth to the music in the barrelhouses and rent parties in the Deep South. I never forget the sacrifices and struggle of those guys who in essence gave us the roots of rock 'n' roll and much of today’s new interpretations.

What about boogie woogie music makes it particularly special to play on stage?

There is no other form of music that gives so much happiness to young and old alike. It gives me real pleasure to see toddlers dancing in front of the stage with a real sense of rhythm while their Granny and Grandad are jiving nearby. It’s happy music.

You've performed in the UK and US, what's the state of boogie woogie on both sides of the pond?

I’ve performed all over the world and can honestly say that music lovers (of whatever genre) are the same the world over. They have no agenda other than that of the love of their music – and that brings nations as well as individuals together. Boogie woogie is alive and well on many sides of many ponds!

Are American audiences different to British ones?

Having performed at the age of 18 at St Louis Mardi Gras with Chris Jagger, on a float with the beads flying about our heads and then later on Broadway and at the Lincoln Centre with Charlie Watts, as well as touring over the years, all I see from the stage are people of all races who are enjoying themselves just as much as the guys who come to all the gigs in Britain.

You're performing at the Cadogan Hall as part of the first London International Festival of Boogie Woogie - how did the concert idea come about?

The legendary Carnegie Hall Concert of 1938 when Meade Luxe Lewis and Albert Ammons brought the then little known music to the attention of the world. They were joined later by the great Pete Johnson, and the world hasn’t stopped rockin' since! I guess this concert was never far from mind when I set up this event.

What do US audiences make of British players of boogie woogie, and musicians from other countries like those appearing with you at the Festival?

My gut feeling is that US audiences with their famously multi-cultural society, would welcome British and all other nationalities who after all are expressing their admiration of a form of music which has its birth in their own country, which is something they should be very proud of.

What do you hope visitors to the Festival will take away from the experience?

Happiness and the realisation that music crosses boundaries.

What's next for you and for boogie woogie?

Aaaahh! That’s a secret - although I can tell you that some great gigs are planned in London, as well as a return to Sydney Opera House with tours of Australia and New Zealand are happening next year. And who knows what else ...

Ben Waters' London International Festival of Boogie Woogie takes place at the Cadogan Hall, London on Friday September 14th, 7.30pm. Tickets for the show are priced £20, £25 and £35 and are on sale now from http://www.cadoganhall.com/event/ben-waters-180914 and from the box office on 020 7730 4500.

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