It started with a movie.
Local piano legend Bob Baldori, former keyboardist for the Woolies and go-to harmonica and piano player for Chuck Berry since the late ‘60s, made a documentary on the origins of American piano music. He also began performing duo shows with boogie-woogie pianist Bob Seeley, a Detroit-based musician and protégé of pianist composer Meade Lux Lewis. After winning several awards for the film, Baldori decided to turn the film into a live show for two pianists.
“I evolved the stage show out of the movie,” Baldori said. “We designed it to be a theater piece, about not just the origins of American piano music but also the roots of blues, jazz and more.”
The show comes to REO Town’s Robin Theatre for a three-night stand starting Thursday, including two shows on New Year’s Eve. Baldori is joined by his latest duo partner, pianist Arthur Migliazza.
In the production, Baldori and Migliazza hope to highlight some of the unknown figures who have played important roles in shaping the music.
“One of the subthemes of the show is the incredible genius of American piano players that are basically anonymous,” Baldori said. “We try to shine some light on that history and how it evolved from the end of the Civil War through the ‘20s and ‘30s.”
In the show, the duo talk about and play piano pieces from the late Civil War era, progressing from ragtime to boogie-woogie into blues, swing, jazz and big band. From there, the duo explores two branches of post-World War II piano music: modern jazz and rock ‘n’ roll.
“We bring it right through to Macklemore, showing where contemporary music really has its roots,” Baldori said.
Baldori and Migliazza have taken their show around the world. The duo just finished their fifth tour in Russia.
“We played all over,” Baldori said. “All the way to Vladivostok, which is closer to Seattle than to Moscow. But we always start in Moscow.”
In Russia, the two have found captivated audiences.
“They really appreciate American roots music,” Baldori said. “They sometimes get it better than some of our American audiences.”
Baldori and Migliazza, who met and became friends at a music festival they were both playing, plan to travel more in the near future. The duo has booked an off-Broadway run in New York shortly after their Lansing stop, and they have offers for international shows in the works.
“Arthur and I are lucky to be doing it,” said Baldori. “It’s a privilege in a lot of ways.”
New work is also on the horizon. “We’re still developing this whole idea of under-the-radar anonymous creators,” Baldori said. “We’re working on a sequel.”
The pianists hope to help Lansing ring in the new year by taking a step back into the past.
“This is a really fun show,” Baldori said. “We want to make people smile. We want to make them dance. If a show doesn’t make you dance, the musicians aren’t doing their jobs.”
December 29-31 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Friday; 7 and 9:30 p.m. Saturday
$35/$55 VIP Thursday-Friday; $45-55/$75 VIP Saturday early show; $85 Saturday late show
The Robin Theatre
1105 S. Washington Ave., Lansing