- “Boogie Rocks” rocks on Big Screen
Chris Reitz - Elderly Instruments - April 17, 2012
“Boogie Rocks” rocks on Big Screen
Review By: Chris Reitz
April 17, 2012
The first image to appear in Bob Baldori’s feature-length documentary “Boogie Stomp!” is that most potent symbol of the grand American mythology: a train. There’s nothing to match it in our national imagination: the romance, the possibility, the know-how, the sheer unstoppable power—and we haven’t even mentioned its potency as a sexual metaphor.
But the fact is that nothing in America’s rich musical history suggests that hard-driving exuberance like boogie-woogie piano, an irresistible musical genre that still makes people shout with joy. And when the train hits full throttle and the image resolves into an overhead shot of two opposing keyboards, four hands launching into that eight-to-the-bar boogie beat, there’s no missing the connection—to the music and to a deeper past.
“Boogie Stomp”—Baldori’s directorial debut—is the story of 80-year-old Detroit native Bob Seeley, a showstopping grandmaster of boogie piano, and by extension the story of the genre itself and its context in American musical history. Those in the know claim that the miraculously well-preserved Seeley is the best in the world, and it’s no hype; indeed, there’d be no movie if it weren’t true.
As if to establish Seeley’s cred for good with the audience, there’s a point about a third of the way through the film at which Baldori’s very active camera suddenly comes to a halt over Seeley’s left shoulder, as “St. Louis Blues,” one of his stock showpieces, unfolds. His left hand is a blur, yet thundering like God’s hammer, while his right spins out variations with such dizzying fluency you think he can’t possibly ramp it up any higher—except he’s just getting started. At the end this heart-stopping version of the old chestnut, he does nothing but look into the camera and nod firmly—as if to say “so there.”
“Boogie Stomp” is an ambitious project in that it’s not just about one great player but about his context in the music, and the music’s context in our national narrative—and it’s to Baldori’s great credit that he resists taking the Ken Burns talking-head approach to this story. Oh, there are a few—armchair bluesologist John Sinclair, jazz nobleman Rodney Whitaker and a handful of others—but Baldori keeps a tight rein on them, and largely lets the music itself—and his and Seeley’s struggles to bring it to a wider audience—tell the story.
In the end, “Boogie Stomp” is a winner because, despite that it’s a many-tiered narrative with a number of strands that would fly loose in a lesser movie, the music is never far from the screen. One of the many unexpected delights is the appearance of William Mauvais and Maeva Truntzer, an utterly sensational “Lindy Hop” dancing duo from France; an extended sequence—licensed from YouTube, of all places—is so kinetic and thrilling, viewers may suspect the film was speeded up (it wasn’t).
Another one of “Boogie Stomp’s” delights is the way in which Baldori, himself a great player, becomes part of the broader story. To complement an archetypally self-contained style like Seeley’s and emulate the classic, brilliant two piano style created by Ammons, Johnson and Lewis takes a musician of unusual deftness and ability. To take a character as impassively Buddha-like as Seeley out of a 32-year-long gig at a suburban Detroit restaurant and present him to the world (or try to, as the film details at length) takes a musical partner who’s persistent and who can deliver the goods himself.
Word is that “Boogie Stomp” was halfway though filming before it became clear that Baldori himself should be the narrator—and it was the right choice. When in numerous preview screenings you have that rarest of phenomena—audiences bursting into applause at a movie screen—you know you’ve done something right. Indeed, for a musician whose career bullet points include a hit record in the `60s and a decades-long gig as de facto musical director for Chuck Berry roadshows, Bob Baldori’s stint, later in life, with Bob Seeley may be among the most satisfying—and musically important—things he’s ever done. And it’s a hell of an auspicious start to his filmmaking career.
CHRIS RIETZ has worked at Elderly Instruments for 32-plus years, mostly as the chief guy in records (and of course, now CDs). His writing about music has appeared in Visible Ink Press’s “Music Hound Folk: The Essential Album Guide” and “Music Hound: World,” as well as the Capital Times, Lansing City Pulse and, from 2003-2010, a biweekly series of CD reviews focusing on local artists.
- The Screening Room
James Sanford - Lansing City Pulse - July 20, 2011
The Screening Room
Review By: James Sanford
Lansing City Pulse
July 20, 2011
Bob Baldori found the keys to a rocking documentary
That Bob Baldori is a phenomenal pianist is no secret: He’s been performing sizzling boogie-woogie around the world for decades. But his documentary “Boogie Stomp” demonstrates he’s an accomplished filmmaker as well.
The movie has been screened a few times in the past year as a work-in-progress. It’s in the process of its final fine-tuning, and it’s well on its way to bezing a real attention-grabber.
No one can accuse Baldori of playing it safe on his first directorial project. “Boogie Stomp” ambitiously weaves together three plotlines: Baldori’s working relationship and friendship with his partner, Bob Seeley; Seeley’s background in the Detroit music scene; and the rise of the boogie-woogie form in American music. Any one of the stories would probably have made a compelling movie, but Baldori wants to illuminate how they tie together, forming a more substantial picture.
It’s a risky choice that pays off remarkably well. Through careful scripting and smooth editing, “Stomp” seems to move effortlessly — even elegantly — from fascinating history lessons and helpful explanations of musical terms to the material that charts Seeley’s long career before he teamed up with Baldori (including more than 30 years of performances at a Charley’s Crab restaurant in the Detroit suburb of Troy — the man admits he loves seafood).
There’s a palpable sense of the bond between the two Bobs, even though their personalities are almost completely dissimilar. Baldori is the take-charge, assertive half of the team, setting up prestigious bookings and negotiating with agents. Seeley is more reserved — not exactly reticent, but generally laid back and less goal-oriented. One of the film’s biggest laughs comes when Seeley finally speaks his mind about a subject that really irritates him: the mysteries of Canadian breakfast foods.
The partnership is not always harmonious, as we see when Baldori tries to capitalize on a successful gig in Moscow by arranging another trip to Russia — only to find Seeley would rather spend the winter in Florida.
To those who don’t know them, the men seem to be a mismatched team. Once they get behind their pianos, however, the combination is genuinely combustible. Alternately dueling playfully and supporting each other’s melody lines, Seeley and Baldori regularly raise the roof and bring audiences to their feet at concert dates. The musical segments in “Stomp” practically dare you not to dance in your seat: Number after number rocks, rolls and roars.
I watched the movie on a computer monitor; I can’t wait to experience it in a theater with a great sound system. “Stomp” tells us that boogie-woogie rhythms were drawn from the rumble of the railroads, and the one-two punch of Baldori and Seeley certainly does feel like being hit by an express train from Funkytown.
- Boogie Stomp to Rock Sonoma International Film Festival
Thomas Gladysz - Huffington Post - April 11, 2013
Boogie Stomp to Rock Sonoma International Film Festival
Review By: Thomas Gladysz
April 11, 2013
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.
- Read Viewer Comments from Screenings
Fabulous buddy movie with mystery, tension and boogie. Wow!
Great story! Great historical perspective of a chapter of American music.
Wow! Love, love, love the music! Great movie!
Loved the balance of the history of the music and the tension of “making it.”
Great perspective on age and performance.
Next best thing to being there!
I expect to see you at the Academy Awards next year!
Remembered that I had a smile on my face throughout the entire movie. NATURALLY. I just loved it.
I had four generations with me. We all love it.
Musical soulmates. Loved it!!
I want to see Bob Seeley’s billboard in Time Square.
You boys can Boogie!
- Survey Summaries
- Gig Harbor Film Fest
- Gig Harbor Film Fest
- Chain 2013
- Chain 2013
- Chain 2013
- The Indie Fest
- Sonoma Film Fest
- Carmel Art & Film Fest
- San Luis Obispo Film Fest
- Santa Fe 2014
- Hell’s Half Mile 2013
- Kansas Int Film Fest
- Louisville Int Film Fest
- Northern California International Film Fest