By Chris Varias
Ricky Nye knows how to throw an all-night piano party.
Nye, Cincinnati's ambassador of boogie-woogie, hosted his fifth Blues & Boogie Piano Summit Saturday at the Southgate House for a turnout of more than 300 people.
Piano players from as far as Europe have come to Newport to participate in the annual event. This year's bill featured four Americans and had more of a bluesy feel than the straight boogie-woogie the European players favor. Charlie Booty, Barrelhouse Chuck and Ann Rabson rounded out the lineup.
Each performer did his (or her) own set before a free-for-all finale of all four players on two baby grands.
Booty kicked off the four-hour event. The 75-year-old resident of Milan, Tenn., proved the most faithful of the foursome to the boogie-woogie tradition, rolling through a set of solo instrumentals. He never strayed far from the melody on a tried-and-true version of "Deep Elem Blues" and played it equally cool on the boogie tribute to Big Maceo, "Maceo Stomp," and Booty's own piano-roll blues composition, "Euro Blues."
Nye came next. Who in town consistently puts on more entertaining performances than Ricky? And, of course, it was Ricky who rocked the hardest on this night.
Backed by a Cincinnati rhythm section of bassist Nick Lloyd and drummer Tony Franklin, Nye ran through Hersal Thomas' "Suitcase Blues," eased through a nice-and-slow "C.C. Rider," and finished things off with the piano jump-blues standard "Roll 'em Pete" and his own "Creole Blues."
Barrelhouse Chuck is a Columbus native who went to Chicago to learn from and live among legends. He set incorporated lessons taught in the Windy City clubs: licks from the likes of Little Brother Montgomery, Otis Spann, Sunnyland Slim and Pinetop Perkins, with songs ranging from the lesser known Floyd Jones's "Any Old Lonesome Day" to Howlin' Wolf's larger-than-life "Sitting on Top of the World."
Rabson, one-third of the blues-revivalist group Saffire - the Uppity Blues Women, was the most successful of the performers at pounding a unique personality out of piano blues. She likes to have fun, as her penchant for Huey "Piano" Smith and her gender-flipped take on "Three Hundred Pounds of Joy" proved.
In fact, she tackled the problem blues singers with good lives have in a song she wrote called "He Really Makes It Hard for Me to Sing the Blues."
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IN CASE YOU MISSED IT...
Sunday's tempo report