AADL Productions Podcast: Mr. B
When: July 13, 2009
Local musician Mark Lincoln Braun, aka Mr. B, is celebrating his 30th year playing street boogie-woogie piano as part of the original Ann Arbor Street Art Fair. We talked with Mr. B about his memories of art fairs past; his musical influences; and his most recent venture, Mr. B's Joybox Express, a 125-mile bike ride charity, in which he rode a special bike designed to haul his piano.
AADL is also happy to help the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair celebrate another milestone with 50 Years of Originality: A History of the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair, a website of images, text, audio and video from the past half century of Ann Arbor's first fair.
- [00:00:08.37] ANDREW: Hi, this is Andrew.
- [00:00:11.25] AMY: And this is Amy. And this is the AADL production's podcast.
- [00:00:14.42] ANDREW: Recently Amy and I sat down with pianist Mark Lincoln Braun, better known to Ann Arbor as Mr. B, at his house on a busy morning. Mr. B let us pull him away from preparations for this year's Art Fair and his latest project, the Joybox Express, to tell us a little about his introduction to boogie woogie and blues piano and his 30 years playing on the street for Art Fair visitors.
- [00:00:34.74] Can you tell us how you got started playing the piano? When did first start playing piano?
- [00:00:41.63] MARK LINCOLN BRAUN: I started playing the piano when I was, maybe as early as 12 or 13 years, but for the first three or four years I hardly touched a piano at all. Just a few little pats here and there, every once in a while. I started to play when I was 15. And even until the age of about 18, I didn't make much improvement. I just went about it at my own pace, on my own and began to learn how to play.
- [00:01:10.33] AMY: One of your influences was Jimmy Yancey. Can you tell us about that?
- [00:01:14.55] MARK LINCOLN BRAUN: Well, Jimmy Yancey was one of the most profoundly gifted of the traditional blues pianists and many, many of whom who I listen to and in fact got to know. But Jimmy Yancey was recorded well and when I was about 17 years, old my father came back from a trip with a Jimmy Yancey record to give to me.
- [00:01:41.68] My dad has always been a music fan, a strong music fan but in the realm of the blues, and the blues piano in particular, I don't think he was too knowledgeable at all, so I don't know how it came to him to get that record for me. But from the moment I listened to it, you know it's one of those stories that is true in my case, just an epiphany, I just loved the music from the very moment I heard it and from then on I began to want to learn everything I could about the traditional blues piano styles.
- [00:02:15.60] AMY: Who are some of the other piano players who really influence you?
- [00:02:19.19] MARK LINCOLN BRAUN: Well, so many. Compared to a lot of my colleagues that are blues piano traditionalists, I've learned that my tastes are pretty broad as a listener and as a fan, but within the realm of people that are associated, known as blues and boogie-woogie pianists that really affected me or made me want to learn to play piano like that, amongst them would be, people that I knew directly and learned from, would be Sonnyland Slim, Little Brother Montgomery, Big Moose Walker, Blind John Davis, Boogie Woogie Red, and many others.
- [00:02:58.16] ANDREW: Is the piano what brought you to Ann Arbor?
- [00:03:01.20] MARK LINCOLN BRAUN: It is actually, yeah. I grew up in Flint, which of course, you know, is not so far away. And Boogie Woogie Red, whose given name was Vernon Harrison, was the house pianist at the old Blind Pig Cafe, which is still in business today, but it bears no resemblance to its original existence, other than its location and the name of the club.
- [00:03:26.82] Boogie Woogie Red played there for about 12 years, or 11 or 12 years, beginning in 1972, I think. And I would come down, when I was still in my high school years, I would hitch hike down here very regularly and go down in the basement and, there was a period when the drinking age was 18 in Michigan, and I'm exactly at the right age to have taken advantage of that because, I'd have to check to see if this is actually accurate, but I'm pretty sure, my recollection is, it more or less turned 18 when I did, then they repealed it when I turned 21.
- [00:03:58.76] So the point of telling you that, is I was able to get into the Blind Pig when I was about 16 without anybody causing too much of a fuss, as long as I just didn't abuse the privilege.
- [00:04:10.71] And so I would hang out and listen to Boogie Woogie Red play. And there was nothing like that in Flint, nobody like that in Flint and, at the same time, because of a very long and confusing story, I only had one semester of transcripts in high school that had grades attached to it. And in that one semester I decided to turn it on a little bit, I guess, and I got all As, so I got accepted to the University of Michigan, even though I was a truly terrible high school student.
- [00:04:43.03] And I got accepted to Ann Arbor, so the combination of being able to go to college here, and to be near Boogie Woogie Red was enough to bring me here to Ann Arbor.
- [00:04:54.07] AMY: Back in the 70's, I'm just curious about some of the other clubs that were here and whether you either played them or visited them. Joe's Star Lounge or Mr. Flood's Party or the Second Chance, can you tell us about that?
- [00:05:07.63] MARK LINCOLN BRAUN: Of course. I played at all those places. And probably my favorite to play at, aside from the Blind Pig, that I really loved to play at was Joe's Star Lounge, because Joe Tiboni just ran a real nice club. As far as I could tell he was the person around town that ran a club that had his heart most into it in the way that the musicians did, so his club was a real fun place to play.
- [00:05:33.74] I never played there under my own name, maybe on a couple little occasions, but I was a member of the Steve Nardella Band back then, and that's how I would play at Joe's. As a member of that band. And then, of course, I played at Mr. Flood's, and that was a ball, too. And all sorts of places around town back then. You know there were still other clubs around. The Golden Falcon, where I went mostly as a listener.
- [00:05:58.84] Michigan League, or Michigan Union, used to have a jazz club in it for a while.
- [00:06:03.88] There were a lot of great, low dollar places to hear music in Ann Arbor then. I don't know that there are any more. If there are, they've gone by my years, there maybe younger people hanging out at them, but it seemed to me that there were many more. The town didn't have quite an air of gentile wealth that it has now. There were a lot more funky fun places to go for young people, so I liked the town a whole lot back then. And I still do, not to give the wrong impression, but --
- [00:06:35.09] AMY: It was different.
- [00:06:35.68] MARK LINCOLN BRAUN: It was different, yeah.
- [00:06:39.60] ANDREW: Why did you first decide to you drag your piano down to the street and play at your first Art Fair 30 years ago?
- [00:06:48.99] MARK LINCOLN BRAUN: Wow. Different people have asked me that question in different ways, but the exact way that you asked it causes me to really kind of look inside. I don't know what the answer to that would be, other than, like a lot of performers, at that age I had a fearless approach. I just really wanted to play, I wanted to play in front of people, even though I really was not a very good pianist back then.
- [00:07:14.39] In hindsight, I know plenty of people that age now that are way, way, way ahead of where I was. But I wasn't shy about it. I really wanted to play, and I wanted to -- I've always had energy for unusual projects and ideas, I suppose. I'd have to say that was one of them, because it's not unheard of, there are other places in the world where you can see pianists playing on a street. But it's fairly unusual, for sure.
- [00:07:50.06] Why did I want to do it? I wanted to play the piano for people, and I wanted to play on my own. I was still in the Steve Nardella Band at that time, and I was just getting to the point where I could entertain people myself, somewhat, in limited stretches.
- [00:08:03.18] And so I went down, during an Art Fair, with John Mooney, who is an old friend of mine, used to live in Rochester, New York. Lives in New Orleans, somewhere in Louisiana now. He's a really great bluesman, he played national steel guitar.
- [00:08:21.13] And we went down there and along with Dick Segal, I think. And we went down and took the piano, I can't remember exactly how we did it, probably in John's van or in my van. And just threw it on the asphalt and just started to play. You know, got an immediate reaction from some people, and from then on I just kept doing it. Started taking the piano down by myself and playing, and over the years it quickly turned into a tradition that has had a lot of different phases. There are a lot of different points along the way that what I was doing down there has changed, significantly.
- [00:09:01.61] I remember them all quite well. And I'm just so happy that I decided to try to do that, because no one really imagines that you're going to do anything for 30 years. You're all younger than I am, but it's a little hard to imagine anything that you might do, a marriage, a job, maybe, for 30 years. But 30 years is a real long time to do something. And there aren't many things in my life that I've done for 30 years.
- [00:09:29.49] Just, from the reactions I've had from people over the years, some of my really, most satisfying moments playing the piano for people, doing what a musician can really do for somebody on it, and your best chances of really affecting somebody in a really meaningful way, a lot of those have happened at the Art Fair.
- [00:09:47.08] AMY: Can you tell about one? Anything stand out, a particular highlight over the 30 years.
- [00:09:51.88] MARK LINCOLN BRAUN: I really can think of a lot of highlights. One that I will tell you about, I don't know why it came first to my mind right now but, not way back in the early days, maybe six or seven years ago, some friends of mine, who had the well-known Detroit band The Sun Messengers, brought down their mother, Regina. Steiger brought down Regina, his mother. And she's African American woman, quite elderly. She's well into her 80's, I'm sure, and they would bring her down.
- [00:10:31.04] For people of her generation, if they were music fans in the African American community, what I'm doing is no mystery to them. It's not even exotic or something that they're at all unfamiliar with, it's like a natural language for her. And so, and I love, just deeply love the idea of being able to play music for people in unusual situations. Not in the normal confines of a concert hall, which of course I love to and hopefully I do well. But there's just something about offering your music for free, for a passer-by that just wants to spend the time to stop. The only thing they have to pay is with their own energy to stay there and enjoy it. And just seeing the look in her eye.
- [00:11:16.48] I also could tell that it wasn't just something she liked a little bit, it really, really meant something to her. And I can tell that right away. And so I would just play my guts out for hours if she would sit there.
- [00:11:32.06] I've had just so many people tell me over the years -- one of the things sometimes musicians struggle with, not all, but some, is whether or not what you do really has value. It's not brain surgery, it's not in that nature, but I have come to understand over the years, and much of it through experiences at the Art Fair, that what we can do can have real significant value for people.
- [00:11:59.57] And that's been -- to realize that, and know that it's true, and know that you can do that, is truly a blessing. It's something that I really appreciate, especially from the vantage point of having done this particular thing for 30 years now.
- [00:12:16.70] Because there have been a lot of experiences down there where I can just tell people are just goners for it. They really love it. And when you're a musician and you know your fans are like that, especially because what I do down there is so intimate, there's no amplification of any kind, you don't know how many pianists have told me, oh man, you'd just mop up if you got a keyboard and an amp so people could really hear you, and it wouldn't be so hard on you.
- [00:12:43.68] It's just totally against what I want to do. I just love the natural approach of, you have to be as close as you have to be to hear a piano to enjoy it. Get real close, watch. Little kids can touch the piano, sit right on the bench with me. Watch and see how much work it really is to play real good boogie woogie piano, especially for 11 hours a day if it's 94 degrees. Four days in a row.
- [00:13:09.30] AMY: That's hard on the left hand, isn't it?
- [00:13:09.95] MARK LINCOLN BRAUN: Oh you know it's hard on both hands. I've learned a lot of tricks on how to take care of my hands down there. I knew this picture will look good on our audio excursion here, that shows you how many people would gather around to watch me play. I have no idea even who sent me that, someone was kind enough to -- I think are probably 300 people there.
- [00:13:30.27] AMY: Is that from the roof? Is this South and East U?
- [00:13:32.38] MARK LINCOLN BRAUN: Yeah.
- [00:13:32.90] AMY: That's probably from the roof of the bank?
- [00:13:35.09] MARK LINCOLN BRAUN: Or above the bookstore, or the bank, one or the other day.
- [00:13:38.13] ANDREW: This is the bookstore, right here at that corner.
- [00:13:40.91] MARK LINCOLN BRAUN: So back then, as you can see, it would just be an upright piano right on the pavement. Nothing over it, nothing protecting me from rain or, in that heat, playing that much, sweat would pour off you. Pours off your hands onto the keyboard, and just accumulates as grime and sticky goo, and then when your fingers pass over the keys, the friction is increased dramatically.
- [00:14:06.50] So it's not the tendon or muscle pain that you would imagine it would be, it's the friction on your finger tips that is the tactile, that just tears your hands apart. So I would bleed all over the piano, I'd have to cover my hands in tape and gauze. And then that would be worse, because the goo would come off the gauze and would get on the keys and then they would stick more. It was gruesome. I would hurt myself down there playing the piano, and back in the old days the means to control pain on the street were different than they are now.
- [00:14:46.87] So I was all right, but now I've learned to be very careful. So now I soak my hands in ice after almost every set, ice water. Which just keeps the inflamation at bay and I wash my hands more in one day than I do in two months. I just wash them and pat them real dry, keep them super clean, and then put powder on my hands all day long so my hands are always dry and spray the keys with Armor-All so that they're real super slippery. And then keep my hands super dry so there's no friction.
- [00:15:21.23] You wouldn't want to play a concert like that, if someone else sits down to play, it really throws them off, the keys are super slippery. But it keeps the friction off my finger tips so I can play for that long. And it works, so that's what I do.
- [00:15:31.77] AMY: So you'll play all day?
- [00:15:34.03] MARK LINCOLN BRAUN: I do. Back in the old days, I had to -- one of the other more interesting facets of that it was that, slowly over time I wasn't the only person that wanted to play at that corner, because that was a very big intersection at the Art Fairs. People would come through the diag and funnel out into that space and lots of other folks wanted to play there, and I would have to compete with them, and/ or get along with them and make arrangements to determine who would play when, for how long.
- [00:16:04.17] There were a few years I was sharing the corner with a guy from Staten Island that would come out that was a full time street performer. He and I would share it, which was pretty nice because you have to rest. Then other people would come in the mix. I remember really well one time, and I've told the story many times, so somebody else was about to play and I heard a cop walk up to him, and saw it and heard it myself, and he said, no you can't play here. This is Mr. B's corner.
- [00:16:32.75] I thought, I really had, honestly, had really mixed feelings about that, because in one hand, I was really glad because I had to -- all the trouble of taking a piano down and you don't even know if you're going to be able to play or if you have to share with eight people or what's going to happen. I didn't just want to play for one hour a day, I wanted to be there the whole time if I was going to go all the trouble of have a piano there.
- [00:16:57.35] So when he said that, I was really super glad, on one hand, but on the other hand it kind of went against the very nature of what I had just managed to do myself, which is just go down there, throw your hat in the ring. But I had started a tradition, which had taken root then, and I was happy about that. But I did have mixed feelings about it, but not so mixed that I didn't gladly accept the situation.
- [00:17:27.23] And then, eventually, there were some unpleasant situations with other street performers down there for me, too. Nothing really dramatic or awful or anything like that, but there were people that would come down that would want to play that, there was a period of time when the Fair was trying to become more organized, and they would have performance times for people and they would share that space with me.
- [00:17:53.73] And they were people that you can just see, of course nothing personal against them, but people were just streaming by them by the thousands, nobody had any interest in what they were doing at all.
- [00:18:03.73] And I just thought, well this is a waste, I should be playing right now, because people would like it and I would like it. But I had to wait my time. So there were years when that was a schedule thing. And then slowly, over there, after probably, I don't even remember to be honest with you, but probably after maybe about my fifteenth year, somewhere in there, there was an arrangement, whether it was spoken or unspoken, I'm not sure, that I could play on that corner pretty much all day, and, with an occasional understanding that someone would come every once in awhile, give you a little break. Which was fine, anyway.
- [00:18:38.66] I've given you a real super long answer to your question. I'm there all day but you can't play all day. So on the old corner there used to be a lot more people than there are at my new location. That has been a change, an aspect of my change of venue, which I'm sure we'll talk about it, that is not, I'm not that happy about necessarily. There are a lot less people on that particular location, but I was really happy when I didn't have to anymore worry about it, and I knew that I could go there and play all day long.
- [00:19:10.78] So I get more and more involved. I went from having an upright with no cover of any kind, and really nobody even to help me move it that I could count on. I just have to grab strangers, and then the bank allowed me to put the piano in there over night. That was a big improvement for me, I wouldn't have to bring it every day. The hot dog store would let me store it in there at night. Then I started, I'd build a little four by four platform with a little small roof over it just to keep the rain off so that when it rained I could still play. Because with a real piano, of course, with even just a tiny amount of rain, if you care about the instrument at all, you've got to stop.
- [00:19:51.75] So that helped with that, and then that became a bigger platform. It became an eight by eight platform with rolling casters that I put my own small grand piano on, and it had a double roof. Almost like a clear story, you know what that is? I'm a carpenter, too. And that kept all the rain off. It enabled me to have my grand piano there, I could roll the whole rig down the street, they found a place for me to park it, at night, in between one of the booths in a row of booths. Then I'd roll it about 80 yards down the street in the morning, and I have to depend on strangers and people to just grab a post and push the whole thing, it was big and heavy, and we'd push it.
- [00:20:38.41] And then came the time that we moved. The change to the new location I owe my thanks to Ann Arbor Street Art Fair. They took me under their wing, they asked me to go with them during the change, and although we have less people there, they were responsive to my new needs as I was getting older. I couldn't be out under the street anymore like that. I'm still fit and healthy, but I couldn't do what I did when I was 25. I couldn't do that anymore.
- [00:21:09.05] Many of my fans, when I was younger playing on the old location, the kind of music I was playing wasn't that far removed from what other young people were listening to at that time. We're talking about the early 80's, when they were a lot of blues based rock bands. What I was doing didn't sound that different, a lot of young people would listen to me.
- [00:21:26.19] And a lot of younger people now are not so much listening to me in the new location. The new location is a little calmed down, it's less foot traffic, a lot less funky foot traffic, it's mostly the serious patrons of the arts that are looking through that part of the Fair. So the whole nature of how I can present myself has changed, people have gotten older, my audience has gotten older, I've gotten older.
- [00:21:51.45] I realized we needed a new way to do it, because people couldn't stand in the heat to listen to me play anymore. They couldn't even -- but I said all you have to invest is to be willing to stay there and stand and enjoy it. Well even that was becoming hard for people. If it's 95 degrees and there's no breeze, and the sun is pouring down on your head.
- [00:22:08.75] So the Art Fair realized that and I'm really grateful to them. They get me a tent now, each year, which is super nice of them, and chairs. And I'm free to play as much as or as little as I want. My fans now can pull up chairs, which we need now, we've gotten older. And they can sit and be in the shade. Some people come into the tent and don't listen to me play at all, and just get out of the sun. And that's all right, too.
- [00:22:40.08] I'm really happy I started doing it, I'm happy I'm still doing it, and I hope to keep doing it.
- [00:22:46.89] AMY: All the weather and all the moving, are you particularly concerned about the piano getting out of tune?
- [00:22:52.51] MARK LINCOLN BRAUN: Oh the piano gets out of tune pretty badly. As I've gotten older and played the piano more, that bothers me more than it used to. But as it relates to the Art Fair, it's just something I deal with. The piano is going to go out of tune each and every day, and I usually, if I feel I can afford it, I'll have a tuner come down sometime in the middle of the Fair and touch it up for me a little bit, so I can limp through the Fair.
- [00:23:18.60] I don't have the skill set to be able to tune the piano myself, but I'm able to repair really egregious violations, I can deal with myself and keep it in the realm of acceptability.
- [00:23:36.40] ANDREW: Since playing the Fair has gotten a little bit easier as you've become an institution, and you've found ways to deal with some of the physical things, you found a way to make it more difficult on yourself by creating the Joybox Express this year.
- [00:23:49.60] MARK LINCOLN BRAUN: That's true. That's true, I guess. And let me just say, right off the bat, I owe thanks to so many people that -- first of all, of course, Heidi. To have a little faith that it's going to have some value, turn out all right, because it is kind of a hair-brained idea.
- [00:24:10.56] It's a wonderful idea, and I know that it is. I don't mean to be coy about it, but it is a little bit of a stretch, too.
- [00:24:17.73] AMY: Can you tell us what it is, briefly.
- [00:24:22.19] MARK LINCOLN BRAUN: For the record, I've had this idea for a very long time, since my early 20's, and I finally just now at age 52, gotten it together so that we will launch our initial voyage in just a very few days, which will precede the Art Fair, which I think was maybe the nature of your question.
- [00:24:38.38] And what it is, it's a custom made three-wheel trike, which is based on something which is called a pedi-cab, that people might be familiar with, they've taken root in cities throughout the world, really. Three-wheeled carts that a bicyclist sits at the front and pedals. And typically two pedestrians are seated in the back, that's what they use it for tourists locations around the world.
- [00:25:03.76] We have adapted that. It was built by Mark Nobilette, who is a former Ann Arborite and he's a really, really accomplished custom bicycle frame maker. In fact, so much so that he has one cycle that he made was ridden to a world championship, so he has the right from here on to put world championship stripes on any bike that he makes. He was out of the stripes, of course, when I visited him, so I don't have it on my new bike, but I will have them on there someday.
- [00:25:31.00] And he's built cycles for U.S. cycling and for lots of pro teams, pro riders. So he's the real thing, and fortunately for me he helped Main Street Pedi-cab Company, which is one of the largest, I think the largest, pedi-cab company, he helped them with about their first 50 bikes, how to help them design them and actually manufacture them. So he was real familiar with the basic idea. He just adapted it to suit the needs of the piano, so he expanded on it quite a bit.
- [00:25:58.46] Our rig is 11 feet long and it's four feet wide, it has a double steel platform, one which is suspended above another one. They're rectangular, if you looked at them from a top view. And in between the two frames are four Cane Creek bicycle shocks.
- [00:26:14.75] And I think I already interrupted myself just to thank how many people who have helped me. You just cannot believe how many people are coming out of the wood work to do various things. Like the Cane Creek Company gave us a really good price on the shocks. Mark, the amount of work that went into making that frame, he's done tons of work for free. He was paid, but he wasn't paid nearly as much as he would normally be paid to do something like that.
- [00:26:38.24] A frame maker in Charlotte, I just went over to his place the other day, there was something we needed to do to correct, and he worked for seven hours straight on the thing, just stopped what he was doing, he'd never even met me before, and worked and fixed it. People are starting to come out of the woodwork that just want to help.
- [00:26:55.74] Mike Casey, the owner of Aberdeen cycle in Chelsea, he's been here to the house four or five times, he's going to come a couple more times. He's working 12 hour days in the summer at a bike shop, and he makes time to come over here and do it gratis.
- [00:27:08.26] So they're just a lot of people that are attracted to this project that want to help. and that's what it has to be, because I couldn't do it myself. There's a young man named Lance Wagner, who's a former student of mine, he's a sophomore at Michigan State, jazz studies department studying piano under Rick Roe. He called me six, eight weeks ago said, I've heard about your project, if there's anything I can do to help you, anything, I'll do it for you this summer.
- [00:27:32.50] And he has spent, 40, 50 hours, no, more than that already, helping me, preparing. He's going to ride the whole trip with me. So what it is is, this bicycle that we put a piano on, a real piano, 352 pound piano and we're going to peddle it from Flint to Lansing and then back to Ann Arbor, and we have eight gigs along the way.
- [00:27:55.68] A retirement home, a community college in Flint to benefit the athletic fund of the college. We're going to be at the Common Ground Festival in Lansing, which is an enormous music festival. We're going to be at an orphanage in Lansing, the St. Vincent Home for Children.
- [00:28:16.58] These are all gratis concerts. We're doing a benefit for a group that funds and performs cleft pallet surgeries in Mexico for kids. We're doing a benefit in a home down there. So the whole idea of the project, my initial idea when I was really young, was just to build the thing and ride around, play the piano and have fun. See who I met and see what happened.
- [00:28:39.71] As I've gotten older, I've realized that there's maybe something I can do with it, aside from just you know, scratch my own itch, and so the two things that I've always been interested in, when I look back on my life, is athletics, because I've played every sport there is, I still try to. And and the arts. My music.
- [00:29:01.34] In a very vague, general way I want to benefit those kids as it relates to those two projects, but I haven't figured it all out yet. So this trip is a dry run to see if people are interested in it, and see if I can do it. See how much I enjoy it, because it's an enormous amount of work. I'll be pulling, altogether, over 700 pounds, I'm sure, down the road. Well over that, well over that. We're going to go 120 miles.
- [00:29:32.93] So I've been getting a lot of attention from people for thinking it's a great idea, but now I have to actually do it. Just days away, it's a little daunting. I have to see if I can actually do it and I think, pretty sure that I can.
- [00:29:45.19] So that's the nature of the project, also I have to mention, especially as it relates to our local community, I never would have been able to do this project if it hadn't have been for other piano players in the area. I'm a perfect example of having the generosity of my colleagues spread around me, because I produced a record called Nine Pianists, Our Town, Our Time. And all those pianists, all the proceeds from our concert, where it was recorded, all the proceeds thus far from sale of the recordings have all gone to this project, with their understanding that eventually -- we're supposed to be a rolling ball of goodness.
- [00:30:21.87] I'm trying to attract anybody that wants to be involved with us that has a charity that they think has value. They're welcome to let me be their -- I'm the catalyst for their, if they have any charitable urges. I'd like to be that catalyst. And if they want to organize themselves, in the way that, for instance, the Wild Swan Theater has done on this trip. They are organizing their normal contributors that have to keep them afloat, to make a donation to them based on my per mile efforts. So that's kind of the template that we would like to create, if there are future trips of greater length or in different places.
- [00:31:02.90] It seems to be working, people are interested, people do think it's a cool project. I think we can really succeed with that. But it's going to take time, but nonetheless without those nine pianists, this wouldn't have happened. That's what fueled, met the financial needs that had to be met in order to build the bike and get the project going, so I'm so grateful to them.
- [00:31:28.90] AMY: What would you say is your signature style? What is the one thing you do when you play that's different from other boogie woogie pianists?
- [00:31:41.04] MARK LINCOLN BRAUN: In order to answer your question, you're really asking me to blow my own horn. Pat myself on the back. I have been given some compliments by people that I considered really meaningful to me at the time, and I can maybe just relay a couple of those, because I'm glad they told me and I'm proud that they told me.
- [00:32:00.03] One was a really unusual pianist named Dave Burrell, who's really known for his work in avant garde, playing with Ornette Coleman and all sorts of really far out guys back in the 60's and 70's. He loves the tradition, too.
- [00:32:13.26] And he told me that he thought, after I got done playing my set, he pulled me aside in a private space, and said, keep playing because you're a really good storyteller. And that -- I knew what he meant by that and it meant something to me.
- [00:32:32.31] And then there's a guy that's deceased, from Ann Arbor. William Albright, that was a super, super accomplished musician. We could talk about him for 30 minutes, easily. Just really accomplished pianist and composer, and music theorist. He one time, very nicely, called me the poet of the blues piano.
- [00:32:59.04] You asked, so I decided to tell you. Those were what they said, and those are nice compliments. It's important to me that even this kind of music, even the really up stuff and stuff that's really exciting and flashy has to sound like it's a walk in the park, and it has to have beauty to it, it can't just sound bombastic and bang bang bang. It has to have some depth to it. That takes a long time to develop, try to do that.
- [00:33:30.91] ANDREW: Where did you get the name Mr. B? MARK LINCOLN BRAUN: Steve Nardella called me that. And Steve Nardella opened the world to me about blues pianists outside of Boogie Woogie Red, that I was seeing with my own eyes here. And Steve was a huge music fan in general, of roots music. He plays piano himself. He doesn't study it hard, but he can play. And he was a big fan, he turned me on to lots of the great classic blues pianists. He had an enormous record collection.
- [00:34:02.13] He knew, well before I did, that a lot of the blues pianists, like as you saw by the names I mentioned to you, had these kind of funny monikers. And there are many names that are far funnier than anything I mentioned to you so far. He knew that I had to have something like that, and so he named me that, and it just caught on and when I went to make my first recording in 1984, under my own name, I had to decide if I would do it that way or not. And I thought, well at this point, that's how everyone knows me even, around our our little town here, and I just decided to do it, and it stuck.
- [00:34:36.64] ANDREW: You can learn more about Mr. B and his Joybox Express at mrbsjoyboxexpress.com
- [00:34:45.76] AMY: You've been listening to the AADL production's podcast from the Ann Arbor district library.
July 13, 2009
Copyright: Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike)
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