Concerts & Events

Saturday, October 6, 2018  ·  7:00 PM

Erwin Helfer & Reginald Robinson

4545 N Lincoln Ave · The Myron R. Szold Music & Dance Hall · 773.728.6000

Two piano masters team up for a night of blues, boogie woogie, and ragtime

Erwin Helfer

Erwin Helfer, a Chicago boogie woogie innovator and master, has been forging his own piano music legacy in the city for decades. The sounds and personalities of past boogie woogie and blues pianists have nurtured Erwin's musical growth. For many years, Erwin accompanied Mama Yancey, the wife of Chicago blues piano patriarch Jimmy "Papa" Yancey, and later recorded one album with her. He was also mentored and influenced by Cripple Clarence Lofton, Speckled Red, and Sunnyland Slim. During the 60's and 0's, Erwin released two piano duet albums with his performing and recording partner of ten years, Jimmy Walker. On their first album, Peter J. Welding, one of the preeminent blues historians and scholars of all time, wrote that Helfer had "mastered the rhythmic and melodic subtleties" of the blues piano style. Other Helfer recordings include "Heavy Timbre", a compilation of Chicago blues pianists, several Lps for his own record label Red Beans, and two CDs for Austrian Label CMA. Erwin has the chops, the feel, and the drive of the masters but he also pushes the "classic" blues piano music forward in a totally new direction. His music is graceful, spirited, and at times beautifully dissonant. Erwin's classical music training allows him to hear and interpret the simple, percussive blues and boogie piano style like no one else.

Reginald Robinson

Twenty-five years after Reginald Robinson's emergence as a young, self-taught pianist and composer, he has become an internationally recognized pianist, recording artist and educator. His love for music started in 1984 with his brother Marlando playing big band jazz records at home. Robinson became interested in ragtime in 7th grade when a city funded arts program gave an assembly with a live jazz ensemble called from Bach to Bebop. In the middle of the assembly the group played a sample of Scott Joplin's The Entertainer. Robinson decided this was the kind of music he wanted to play. That year his parents purchased a small electronic keyboard and the following year a full size acoustic piano. With his parents not being able to afford him a music education, he began to teach himself how to read and write music. This involved self quizzing from music education books, creating his own piano exercises, studying published music scores and recordings. 1992 marked the year Robinson's professional music career started. He was introduced by fellow musicians to pianist Jon Weber who immediately funded Robinson's first demo entitled The Strong Man. The demo was later used as part of Robinson's 1993 Delmark Records debut release under the same title. In 1995 Robinson scored original music for a Goodman Theatre play “Each One As She May” and that year received a nomination for best original music at the Joseph Jefferson Awards. In 2003 Robinson's music was used for the play Intimate Apparel by Lynn Nottage and Robinson was nominated for best music director at the Beverly Hills/Hollywood Theatre Awards. In 2004, he was awarded the rare and distinguished John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Award for his innovation in ragtime. In 2000 Robinson composed music for Compensation an independent film by Zeinabu Irene Davis and served as a contributing historian to Barbara E. Allen's 2010 PBS documentary Chicago's Black Metropolis. In June of 2017, he worked with Illinois Humanities to present “An Evening at the Pekin Theatre” which recreated the first owned and operated African American music theatre in the world, located in Chicago's Bronzeville district. In 2018 Robinson was commissioned by Norman Malone and Kartemquin Films to compose the first ever piano ragtime work especially for the left hand only. In November of 2018 Robinson will be premiering a new commissioned work in tribute to the great early jazz bandleader James Reese Europe as part of Symphony Center Presents jazz series 25th anniversary. Robinson lectures at colleges across the United States and collects and preserves historical materials related to ragtime and African American classical music.