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Ezra Charles

Great story about a local music legend.

The Ezra Charles Band was playing tighter than ever in its decades-spanning history when its leader decided to pull the plug. Charles – a remarkable pianist from Beaumont – received a lifetime achievement award from the blues society in San Antonio, and enjoyed a huge response to the band’s shows at an Italian jazz festival.

“The band came together in a way that had never happened before,” Charles, 70, says. “One reviewer called the band ‘a dream team.’ But while we were doing it, I could feel the dream team being pulled in different directions. It was so great, I just didn’t want to preside over a decline.”

So Charles put the band on hold. Not a break up, per se: The Ezra Charles Band will continue to play private events, but its touring days are over. When Charles talks about “this whole retirement thing,” he’s referring to one of the busiest times in his half-century career. His most recent project is “The Story of Boogie Woogie,” a stage show with just Charles and his son and drummer Jakob Charles, during which Charles mixes up the history of a favored form of music with some history about it.

[…]

The history is particularly important because Charles believes most listeners have an affinity for boogie woogie but don’t know much about its origins.

“I tell people it was invented in Texas, and that’s a stunner,” he says. “But the truth of the matter is boogie woogie started in the lumber camps in the 1880s. It was the entertainment. It’s also the answer to the question of what’s the most music one man and one piano can make? … And I get into the relationship of African music and the experience of Africans trying to continue their music traditions with a system of instrumentation that didn’t make the right notes. African music has notes that are not in our scales, and the piano is all black and white.”

Charles also introduces a concept in which he calls boogie woogie “an antidote to the blues.”

“There’s this perception that blues music is played by people who were depressed – that it gave them a chance to vent,” he said. “Boogie woogie relieves the blues with the same structure, but a more happy universal appeal.

Charles is referring to microtonal music above, in case you were wondering. I’ve seen the Ezra Charles Band perform several times over the years, most recently at a charity event about ten years ago. Olivia, who was just a baby, was with us. We got to meet Ezra between sets; he was as friendly and charming as could be, and was very sweet to Olivia. As was his mom, who was also at the event and to whom he introduced us. Hard to imagine the Houston music scene without his band performing somewhere, but his new gig looks like it’s worth checking out. Here he is performing one of his signature tunes, which tells a bit of the history of boogie woogie music and the Southeast Texas influence on it:

Go check out his catalog if you liked what you heard. Keep on rocking out, Ezra Charles.

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