Bloomington pianist Craig Brenner has recorded four albums under his own name, including Backstage Boogie, a piano-drum duo with Dan Hostetler. Now comes his first album with a band he formed in 1985, Craig Brenner & The Crawdads.
"If you look at my other albums, you'll see some names on this new album," Brenner says of the new release, entitled Live to Love. "They're pretty much the same group of people."
The album is, in part, a family affair, featuring wife Lori on vocals, son Nathaniel on bass/vocals and daughter Antonya on vibes/vocals.
"I'm pretty fortunate my wife is a really good vocalist and great pianist in public. I know I'm the piano guy, but she looks better and sings better. Me sitting at a piano, it's more difficult," he says, laughing.
Live to Love features blues for the Hoosier state, "Hey Anna, Come Back to Indiana!" and "The Bloomington Breakdown," as well as out-of-state tunes like "Homage to New Orleans" and "Loading the Boats to America."
Brenner wasn't always interested in the blues.
"I was going to the School of Music in Bloomington, studying classical piano and improvisation. Somebody told me about the New Orleans Jazz Festival. This was '79, '80. I got to see Professor Longhair, James Booker, Fats Domino and Dr. John. I realized that this is a type of music I wasn't learning at school but I still dig," he says.
Brenner's New Orleans experience turned him on to boogie woogie and stride piano. He began to research the roots of the music, exploring the work of Albert "Pinetop" Smith and other early 20th century pianists. A grant from the Indiana Arts Commission allowed him to study with a couple Midwestern boogie woogie pianists, Bob Seeley and the late Big Joe Duskin.
"It's great if there's someone who is willing to share with you like Bob Seeley and Big Joe Duskin. Younger musicians should learn what they can give you and pass it on. I was fortunate to hang out with these guys," he said.
Brenner now plays in New Orleans at least once a year during the city's Jazz & Heritage Festival.
"There's this park in the Quarter with equipment. It seats about 125. For the last five years, I've been fortunate to be a part of the city and the festival."
Matthew Socey is host of THE BLUES HOUSE PARTY for WFYI 90.1 FM.