As a child in Germany, Michael Kaeshammer grew up listening to and playing classical music and jazz, comfortable in both. During his years of classical training, the music around the house was his father playing boogie woogie piano and recordings of early jazz.
He started playing boogie woogie piano at age 13 after being captivated by the music of the Americans Meade Lux Lewis, Albert Ammons, and Pete Johnson as well as the German pianist Vince Weber. Within a few years he was playing concerts and clubs.
“My father is the reason I do this,” Kaeshammer told the Star. “It was his passion. He does not play much any more, but always loved to play and people loved to come over. There was always a house party going on. He loved it so much that for me to see it was infectious.
“I was the one he took to a Dixieland band or a jazz show, or we watched them on TV together. He made that kind of jazz second nature for me.”
Kaeshammer’s family moved to the west coast of Canada in 1996. Since then he has been nominated for seven Juno awards and won two. Kaeshammer will be performing at the Capitol Theatre on Feb. 17 with his quartet. He’s been to Nelson once before and has performed at the Kaslo Jazz Festival twice.
“I am really looking forward to coming to Nelson, and I don’t say that about every town,” he says.
He describes boogie woogie as “a ‘30s and ‘40s piano style that came about because lot of people wouldn’t hire big bands. Boogie woogie and stride piano have a lot things going on the left hand, when most most modern styles don’t. It’s a repetitive left hand and on top of it is a fast blues.
“I think that is the thing that grabbed me when I first listened when I was young: the rhythm, and you can’t help but move. Good music, no matter what style, does not have to have a drum kit, but it has to have rhythm, not just free flowing.”
Kaeshammer says he is a jazz singer-songwriter with elements of boogie woogie and other early jazz incorporated into his songs.
“I am always associated with boogie woogie because not many people play it,” he says.
He says he and his band members decide in advance on the first two songs, “but after that we don’t have a set list. We pay attention to the audience. All audiences react differently. We start with something upbeat to set a vibe: some rock ‘n’ roll or New Orleans or boogie woogie.
“It is about the music and the audience coming together in the room — are we having a good time, are we connecting. It is not so much, ‘Look what I can do, look how much I’ve practised.’”
Kaeshammer says his mission is to win people over to his style of jazz by putting on a really engaging performance. He says he knows he has succeeded when he hears an audience member say, “I usually don’t really like jazz but this was a great show.”