Jan Preston has built her life around Boogie Woogie music, toured the world with her piano and performed to thousands of Blues fans in Australia and New Zealand.
You are playing at Ca Marche Restaurant. Have you been to Port Macquarie before?
Yes, I have been to Port Macquarie lots of times and I have played on Port Macquarie ABC many times. It’s fantastic! Clearly the water and the coastline is wonderful.
When I go touring through centres such as Port Macquarie, and then come back to the inner west of Sydney, I think, “Why am I living here again … I can’t quite recall.”
Northern NSW has beautiful beaches. Living by the water is a great comfort for people. I come from New Zealand, and being two small islands, we are surrounded by that water. I grew up writing by the beach, so I think my Blues soul is always trying to return to the water!
> You have been hailed Australia’s “Queen of the Boogie Woogie piano”! Can you describe that style of music to us?
It’s very uplifting, high energy, repetitive. It’s fun; it was originally a dance music. The boogie piano is for when the pianists go wild – like a driving force.
> How did your childhood in New Zealand influence your musical passion?
I had an auntyon my father’s side and she would play the Boogie and the Stride, and the Ragtime and the Honky Tonk piano … always with a cigarette sort of perched out the side of her mouth!
I was just intrigued by Aunty Mag and this great music from a very early age. I had always studied classical music, which you can work out from the notes on a score. But this music was great! We were part of the piano culture of the 1950s and 1960s, as I think all Australasians were.
It was time where one in four homes had a piano and we would regularly sing around the piano for fun. There was always somebody who could play, but today pianos don’t suit our contemporary lives at all; they are a pain to move around and tune and so on.
I wouldn’t lament the death of the piano, and I don’t think piano music will ever die. But certainly the piano culture has died and been overtaken by the guitar, which is a much more portable instrument.
> Who are some of your favourite performers and great music idols?
I could reel off a whole list of people, but I am not sure if you would know them, because they are relatively obscure. People like Julia Lee and Hedda Brooks! Then there are musicians like Dr. John and Katie Webster.
A woman I am a huge fan of is Winifred Atwell. She is very well known in Australia, because she lived here in the last twenty years of life. Her black and white Ragtime and Boogie Woogie style greatly influenced me again as a child growing up. She was a West Indian woman playing this vibrant and fun music. She is probably at the top of my list for favourite players.
> You have been performing in Europe over the last three years. How has your music been received overseas?
Yes, very well actually. I had to claw my way up from the bottom! This year I am booked into some very profiled shows … like a 800,000 seater conference! The Boogie Woogie and swing is huge in Europe, but particularly in Germany and in France. Some of the best players in the whole world, without a doubt, are German and French.
Having said that, there are no females over there doing it, so I guess I have a sort of novelty aspect about me. I am booked into quite a few festivals over there this year, so I am very excited!
> When you are not touring through Australia and New Zealand, or even overseas, what do you like to do?
Well, I’m really not good at anything other than music. I am really focused on music and I have never had any other talent – for instance, cooking. I do my housework, and a little bit of gardening, which keeps me happy. When I’m not touring, the thing that I most like to do is write songs and write new piano material.
I have lots of pianos in my house; a grand piano, an upright piano and two other keyboards set up! I just love days when I don’t have to do a lot of other things, except play the piano.
> What can people expect to see at your show?
People should expect to be entertained! It’s going to be a toe tapping event and an engaging experience. It’s vibrant; it’s fun. It’s not heavy going or deep and meaningful. That’s not the Blues Boogie tradition that I am coming from. People will hear great tunes from people like Winifred Atwell, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ray Charles and the great Dr. John. You should expect to hear the great Blues Boogie piano Rhythm and Blues!
> Thank you for your time Jan.