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It's a Living 

Tucson piano virtuoso Arthur Migliazza gets ready for Booginator IV

Virtuoso piano player Arthur Migliazza is a rarity among Tucson's vibrant community of musicians in that he can actually call music his livelihood. More simply put, it's his day job.

OK, it's his night job, really, as his day job is more about the never-ending music-related hustle that goes along with trying to make ends meet.

"It takes a great deal of patience and diplomacy," said Migliazza in a recent interview. "Most people don't realize between e-mails, phone calls and time for practice (three to four hours a day), how much of a full-time job this is."

While he's wistful about the notion of someday having an agent or personal assistant for these tasks, he adds, "I like the human interaction and getting to know the people I'll be playing for. When you stop that, you stop working."

While it takes a major leap of faith for some to move music from creative outlet to occupation, for Migliazza, there was never a doubt. "Ever since I was 13, I've been doing this professionally. It's the only thing I'm really cut out to do. Actually I think (music) is the only job I've ever really had."

In these times of financial downturns and recession, Migliazza's stock somehow continues to be on the rise. How can this be? Aside from his raw talent--the guy can flat-out play with anybody--he's developed an extremely diversified portfolio. A quick scan of his Web site will reveal a cornucopia of gigs, ranging from solo appearances for private parties to duos with blues harp player, guitarist and singer Tom Walbank, from backing jazz vocalist Joe Bourne to his regular gigs with veteran blues drummer and vocalist George Howard, from occasional out-of-town touring to his monthly gigs with the 17th Street Band. Once in a great while, he'll front his own band, New Town. In addition to performing, he also remains an in-demand session player for any number of recording projects.

An exciting new part of his portfolio is the collaboration he has been developing with Eric-Jan Overbeek, a Dutch piano phenom more popularly known as Mr. Boogie Woogie. Overbeek has made several visits to Tucson over the last few years and is a touring machine when he comes to Arizona. "Last March, I think I played 24 times in 30 days," said Overbeek in a phone interview. "One year, I came here four different times," he recalled. "That was too much." But even so, it speaks to the popularity of Overbeek's playing, along with his sense of style and showmanship.

"I first saw Eric when Lisa (Otey) started bringing him around," recalls Migliazza. "I'd see him every time I could. We first got to play together at one of Lisa's Boogie Woogie Blowouts at the Berger Center."

The next time Overbeek was in town, they decided to book a gig together out at Javalina's. "After that show, which was just the two of us," said Migliazza, "we decided we would do a show with bass and drums." Thus, the Booginator concept was born.

Booginators II and III, both held at Old Town Artisans Courtyard, included Steve Grams on bass and Doug Davis on drums and were fairly raucous events. "The fun factor is off the charts," said Migliazza. "It's so much fun to play with another piano player who has a lot of the same influences and who can really rock the house. Plus, we can joke around onstage because we're friends."

Overbeek is quick to agree. "He's fun and a great player with great technique. And he's different than what I do, which is not the case with most boogie-woogie piano players. And he's such a nice guy, a happy player."

Migliazza also appreciates how their dynamic styles of playing complement each other's. "We're definitely different. He does things that I don't do and vice versa. Sometimes, we'll be playing, and I'll be doing things with the left hand and he'll be doing something with the right--things that are different but somehow working together."

The format for the upcoming Booginator IV is designed to take maximum advantage of all of the possibilities. Part of the show will include solo pieces from each of them. Other parts will include some duets, a section in which each will individually lead the rhythm section, and both of them playing together with Grams and Davis as a four-piece. The grand finale will include a segment with four hands on one piano.

More by Jim Lipson

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