Our directors ALSO have a double life: Nicolas Wolff

31 July 2020

Share a part of the life of our collaborators by discovering their hobbies! This month, let's talk about Nicolas Wolff, the director of the d²X West agency, and his passion for piano and especially Boogie & Blues. 


What's your double life?

I am a Pianist for Boogie & Blues.

I've always had a soft spot for rockn'roll, rhythm and blues, soul, gospel. I was impressed by a Ray Charles concert in 1979 at Juan Les Pins and the 60s, a time that I would not have disliked to live (with the convertible cars, mini skirts and Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, Fat Domino, Elvis Presley. Post-war carefree!).

Boogie Woogie is a pianistic way of interpreting the blues supported by a left hand that tirelessly repeats a rhythm while the right hand embroiders improvised variations on the harmonic frame of the blues.


When and how did you start?

Like many, I started to play piano in my childhood with lessons that gave me some basics. I never stopped playing piano and then one day I saw a Boogie Woogie pianist playing during the Nantes music festival, in 2001 I think. And that was the trigger, I told myself it was this style of music that I liked and I was going to work to get there. So I started rehearsing, looking for records, looking for scores, working, working... Every rhythm I acquired, every figure played in time, every sequence and every song was just fun! It was less fun for my family to put up with repeated hours of boogie rhythm!


What do you like about this style of music?

Everything! Its history is at the origin of all our modern music. Born in the Barrels Houses (popular blues cabaret) in America at the beginning of the 20th century, a rhythmic coming from Africa, pianists who played on ramshackle pianos, out of tune with the humidity of the Louisiana bayous, and who sometimes died of a stray bullet.

Clarence "Pinetop" Smith recorded "Pinetop's Boogie Woogie" in 1928. The first time the term "Boogie-Woogie" was recorded it most likely came from an image referring to the very characteristic rhythm of trains (tadam...tadam...tadam...). The term can also refer to an African dance.

The surrounding areas of Chicago and Kansas City were scoured by Cowcow Davenport, Jimmy Yancey, Cripple Clarence Lofton, Charles Avery, Charlie Spand, Montana Taylor and especially Clarence «Pinetop» Smith, Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson and Meade Lux Lewis.

Quickly followed by Professor Longhair, the incredible Fat Domino and James Booker (all three have strongly marked the "News Orleans" style), Memphis Slim, Sammy Price, Champion Jack Dupree, even Count Basie and Duck Ellington got into it, Amos Milburn, Katie Webster, the magnificient Ray Charles (with a more blues/Gospel colour), Jerry Lee Lewis, and especially the biblical Dr John, followed by the modern Germans Axel Zwingenberger, Vince Weber, Silvann Zingg, the Englishman Carl Sony Leyland and some Frenchmen with a wiser style Claude Bolling, Jean-Pierre Bertrand or Jean-Paul Amouroux.

The spontaneous, frenzied rhythm and the freedom of improvisation appeal to me. Whether we're talking about Boogie or Rockn'roll, it's all blues. So there's a rather simple harmony that can be quite formidable and leaves a lot of room for freedom on the keyboard. It's also a style that allows you to work and play alone, without the constraints of group rehearsals which are time-consuming...listen to Vince Weber to measure the evolution of this music in a century https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G5t34FC2TEE.

I was quoting above the News Orleans style, which is inspired by songs played in the street by brass bands (Mardi Gras), taking popular tunes on boogie rhythms that get lost with other styles such as Rhumba, Gumbo, or European Jazz on more complex harmonies and syncopations. I invite you to listen to Professor Longhair, James Booker, and especially Dr John (deceased in 2020) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SCRrXZP8b0I.


And in your daily life, how does your passion fit in?

The moments of work on the keyboard are also moments of pleasure and disconnection with reality, I resource myself there. I chase after old pianists' records, forums, scores, tutorials and sometimes I go back to some great pianists for some good advice.

It's a little bit this rhythm that I give to my professional life! It needs to be boosted!


What kind of bands do you play in ?

I host from time to time musical evenings with friends, in piano bars as a soloist, or in a duo with a friend, a professional drummer, the Boogies Brothers : https://www.facebook.com/nicolaspaul44/videos/164078970849317

A little improvisation recorded for this newsletter...Boogie has the power to transform some tracks in a fun and unpretentious way https://youtu.be/w_2V1FjGCR4


Thank you Nico for his wonderful testimony!