Luca Sestak - Boogie woogie and blues
Jefferson recently has drawn attention to several boogie woogie and blues pianists. New in line is a young German: Luca Sestak, just turned 15. His talent is amazing, and brings to mind the thought of “wonder child”. In a very short period of time he has learned impressively much in these two styles, and is determined to continue on that path. In April he was in Sweden for a little boogie woogie tour. I had the pleasure of meeting him. It’s very stimulating with these talented, young ones!
Luca was born 10 January 1995, in the small town of Celle. The family moved to Karlsruhe shortly thereafter and Luca - who is the only child of the family – is still living there. He is still going to school. As for his parents, his mother plays no instrument, but his father used to play piano and guitar during Luca’s childhood. Luca himself began to play the piano at the age of 8.
- My father tried to teach me a little piano playing when I was 8, but I hated it. When I was nine and a half he sent me to a piano teacher. I didn’t like classical music at all. At eleven and a half, after two years of lessons, I was supposed to play a Beethoven sonata. It was after this point that playing the piano began to really give me pleasure. Today, however, my relating to classical music is diminishing again; to be honest, it isn’t easy to run on two tracks and my heart beats much louder for the blues.
At the age of 11 Luca came in touch with blues and boogie woogie as sort of a coincidence. He had an electric piano at home, which had a function called MIDI recordings. In Wikipedia you can read that MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) is "an industry-standard protocol defined in 1982 that enables electronic musical instruments such as keyboard controllers, computers and other electronic equipment to communicate, control, and synchronize with each other. --- MIDI does not transmit an audio signal or media - it transmits ‘event messages’ such as the pitch and intensity of musical notes to play, control signals for parameters such as volume, vibrato and panning, cues, and clock signals to set the tempo. As an electronic protocol, it is notable for its widespread adoption throughout the music industry". Luca had a disc that contained some demo songs for piano in MIDI performance. The point is, that when you start such a MIDI recording, a small lamp is turned on at the piano keys where to press, all in sequence. Convenient, don’t you think?
One of the demo songs was Solfeggietto by Carl Phillip Emanuel Bach. Luca was very fond of it because it contained a small jazzy part. He hardly knew at that time what jazz was, so he searched on YouTube for the word jazz. He then ran into a Jazz/Blues number and continued to search for "Piano Blues" instead. He found Boogie Woogie & Blues (piano solo). From there it was just a small step to the boogie woogie and once he was there, he could not stop listening to the boogie woogie. He was hooked up.
After a while he did not only want to listen, but also learn how to play it! Then came the MIDI technology in handy again. He googled the Internet for MIDI recordings and found Erik Vastenburg's Boogie Woogie Corner. From there, he down-loaded Colorado Boogie to a disc and put into his piano, and started training. It was not long until he could play it, and later it was a success when he performed it at school. A bit later he learned Pinetop's Boogie in the same manner.
Having learned various boogie woogies through MIDI technology, he now was ready for level 2: real notebooks. The first book he bought was “The Real Boogie Blues'n Buch". That was the best music book possible for him at that time. He learned a long list of songs in it, eg Go Str8 4 it, Boogie Woogie Stomp, and Just a Blues.
In 2007, when Luca was 12 years, he visited the famous, international Boogie Woogie Festival in Lugano in Switzerland, where many great pianists have performed. Silvan Zingg from Switzerland, one of Europe's most prominent boogie woogie pianists, arranges it since 2002. Luca knew that Axel Zwingenberger, Germany's well-known boogie-ace, was to be there, performing, and had loaded up with studies and practicing as much as he could ever find of this giant’s work in form of sheet music and CD's.
On his own
And since then it has just moved on. Luca has learned more and more, on his own. Nowadays, he learns not by notebooks, but plays merely by ear. He has also made an impressive series of own compositions.
- Too many actually. I’m actually being overwhelmed with my own ideas. I estimate my own compositions to about twenty pieces. But the direction is away from the classic boogie. My problem is, that vocals would go very well with too many of these ideas, I think. I recorded my first attempts at singing a few days ago. I would certainly like to sing in the future. But based on my recordings my voice is, alas, not really “suitable” for it. We’ll see how this will continue to develop.
When Luca was 13 years, he participated in a contest called "Young Musicians Regional Contest" in Karlsruhe. He won 1st prize, and hence got the opportunity to participate in the nationwide contest "Young Musicians State Contest” in Baden Württemberg, where he won 3rd prize. The same year he competed in "Boogie Woogie and Blues Session" in Münster, together with professional musicians such as Daniel Paterok, Gerd Gorke and Christian Bleiming. Paterok, having long time been an idol for Luca, was the one who invited him to Münster.
- When I first saw Daniel Paterok's video "Boogie Woogie & Blues Piano Solo #1”, I was
blown away by his piano playing. I really hadn't expected that he was the one who would invite me two years later to the “Boogie Woogie and Blues Session” in Münster. So it was a really strange and great feeling for me, when I arrived one day and played on Daniel's piano, which I had looked at for over two years everyday on his videos, seeing him play his boogie woogie piano solos.
Passion and goals
Luca explains his rapid development as a pianist with his love for blues and boogie woogie.
- I think what enhanced it was the love for this music. In addition the Blues are very different from the Classics from the aspect that everything is loose; you don’t have to adhere strictly to anything – except to what you feel - everything is permitted and one can invent so much that is new, even if it doesn’t seem that way.
Lucas big goal for the future is of course to be a professional artist, and have it for a living. His parents are not thrilled about that ...
- The ideal thing for me would be to travel around the world giving concerts. Most of all because I can’t imagine sitting in some office all day (without music!!) Of course, my parents are against it, but I think that they won’t be able to deter me!
Among other things he wants to perform at the various international boogie woogie festivals in Europe.
- I want to play them all! Until now I have only been in Switzerland at the boogie festival in Lugano, and just as a listener. Even that was wonderful and it would be a great honor for me to be able to play there.
Luca practices piano playing generally an hour a day, but devotes himself a lot more in just free playing. It easily reaches three hours. He also listens very much to CD’s, especially to his current number 1 idol, Vince Weber. Weber, born 1953, is a prominent German blues and boogie woogie pianist. He has released a series of CD’s, mostly solo albums, but also together with artists like Axel Zwingenberger. Weber sings too, and is a great inspiration for Luca to start as well.
Luca also likes a lot of other pianists:
- I also think that James Booker is real cool. I like Jo Bohnsack very much too and, of course, Axel Zwingenberger, who belongs to my very first idols. His style is simply unmistakable. But my favorites nowadays are numbers with vocals. That brings much more “fire” to the music, just as Vince is doing.
Luca agrees that the old "classical" masters Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson, Meade Lux Lewis and others belong to a class of its own, but his appreciation for them is somewhat less than it used to be.
- Obviously Ammons, Johnson, etc are the great masters, but maybe I’ve been somewhat overexposed to their style. However, I think that another of these old ones, Little Willie Littlefield, is top class! I heard him in Lugano and was enthusiastic about him. His wild style is unique.
As being a teenager, Luca of course is not completely unfamiliar with nowadays youth music:
- Well, there is a lot of bad music these days, but that’s a question of taste. However, I do like House, Techno and Trance very much. So my musical taste on the side matches exactly that of young people of my age. One is confronted with that type of music every day (on the radio, Television, and so son) which is why it would be strange if someone wouldn’t like any of it. When I say that my favorite music is boogie and blues, they all look at me strangely and my friends roll their eyes and say: “You and your boogie”!
As for the future Luca is among other things planning a CD recording:
- I have already inquired about recording studios in my vicinity. All that is a question of price too, because to record in a studio is very expensive. But I hope that I will produce my first CD sometime this year.
- And right now, here in Sweden, I am very curious about Arvid Hill and Toni Palmroth, and look forward to soon get to play together with them on this boogie woogie tour. It is my first performances abroad, and of course I feel very honored and excited about it!
Lucas website is http://www.piano99.de There you can hear him play brilliant boogie woogies and blues. Many videos from concerts and other occasions are available. You can also hear him play classical music, including a sensitive interpretation of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s famous Prelude in C-sharp minor Op. 3 No. 2.
Interview by Birgitta Larsson /Jefferson #164