If you love music and films about music, the one screening not to miss at this year's Sonoma International Film Festival is Boogie Stomp.
It's an up-tempo documentary about boogie woogie, a style of piano-based blues that became popular in the 1930s and 1940s and would influence early rock 'n roll. This yet unreleased film frames the story of the genre's origins and history while profiling two of its arguably greatest living players, Bob Seeley and Bob Baldori. The latter, also the film's writer and director, will be in attendance at the Sonoma Festival.
Boogie Stomp may be the next Searching for Sugar Man. Though it doesn't have the emotional tug of that Oscar winner, it nevertheless shines a deserving light on a lesser known though still vital chapter in music history. Boogie Stomp, like Sugar Man, comes out of Detroit and attempts to raise not only an artist but an art form from obscurity.
Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson, Big Maceo, and Jim Yancey were some of the big names in boogie woogie, a style Seeley calls "America's forgotten music." Seeley, who is now in his early '80s, may be America's great forgotten performer.
As a young man, Seeley befriended Meade Lux Lewis, one of the giants in the field, and even inherited Lewis' piano stool after the musician's death. Seeley's playing was admired not only by Lewis, but also by Art Tatum and Eubie Blake and Sippie Wallace (whom he accompanied in the 1980s after her own rediscovery). Yet, Seeley remained a more or less obscure player. Only later in life did he get around to recording. For the last 30 years he has made a living playing piano in a suburban Detroit restaurant. As Boogie Stomp shows, he is an extraordinarily gifted pianist.
Baldori is no slouch either. Known as "Boogie Bob," Baldori is veteran rock and blues musician who founded the legendary 1960's garage band, The Woolies. The group had a regional hit in 1966 with a cover of Bo Diddley's "Who Do You Love." Over the years, Baldori has pursued a solo career, recording albums and performing alongside the likes of Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Luther Allison, John Hammond, and Hubert Sumlin. Since 1966, Baldori has backed-up Chuck Berry at hundreds of gigs around the Midwest while playing on a couple of the guitarist's albums, including San Francisco Dues (1971). In 1998, Berry took Baldori to the White House to play for President Clinton.
Part music lesson, part travelogue, part history lesson, part quest, Boogie Stomp is a toe-tapping, foot-stomping tribute to great music and great musicians. It is a film that makes you believe, and want to dance. Locals should note that the city of San Francisco, notably early local jazz musician Art Hickman and the old San Francisco Seals baseball team, are mentioned in Boogie Stomp for their part in the history of boogie woogie music.
Boogie Stomp screens as part of the Sonoma International Film Festival on April 11 and April 13 at 9:00 p.m. at Murphy's Pub in Sonoma, Calif.
Thomas Gladysz is a Bay Area arts and entertainment writer with a love of both music history and film history. He has been blogging for the Huffington Post for nearly three years.
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