Born: January 21, 1936 Primary Instrument: Piano
Erwin Helfer, a Chicago boogie woogie innovator and master, has been forging his own piano music legacy. Born in 1936, Erwin has been playing and performing for over forty years. The sounds and personalities of past boogie woogie and blues pianists have nurtured Erwin's musical growth. Erwin celebrated his seventieth birthday, but his way of playing the piano is not 70 years old it is timeless with its power and impertinence of youth paired with the expertise and humorous wisdom of age, mellowed and ripened not in barrels but in blues joints, jazz clubs and concert halls in the States, Europe and Asia.
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 70'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. Yet, his classical training is not overbearing on his own piano approach; that is, his playing is fluid and carefree, not stiff.
Chicago has long recognized its musical treasure, Erwin Helfer. He performs regularly at Chicago clubs and annually at the Chicago Blues Festival garnering rave reviews from publications such as The Reader and Chicago Magazine. His local gigs and frequent European tours have created a strong and loyal following in Chicago and overseas.
Erwin Helfer follows up his 2003 W.C. Handy nominated solo recording “I’m Not Hungry But I Like To Eat - Blues!” with his latest release “Careless Love,” on The Sirens label. Featuring the Chicago boogie veteran with John Whitfield on bass and Avreeayl Ra on drums. Helfer and The Sirens dedicated this recording to the memory of their friend Emery “Detroit Junior” Williams jr.
Helfer’s creative authenticity, displayed by adding surprising twists and turns to familiar songs, stamping them with his very own unmistakable trademark of gutsy grinds polished and refined by urban elegance. Thus Helfer's music stands rooted firmly with both legs in the old tradition of stride piano and barrelhouse, pounding the bass keys with the power of the Yellow Dog to back up the artistic, eloquent right hand that ventures into jazz and ballads deriving some of its beauty from classical piano techniques. This recording is an inspiration for the blues lover with an open approach to jazz and beyond.
Source: James Nadal