Keyboardist Lou Lippman has played in a variety of Whatcom County bands, including those that play jazz, blues, swing, pop and klezmer. On Sunday, Aug. 19, he plays with the Clearbrook Dixieland Band in the inaugural outdoors Bellwether Arts Festival on Tom Glenn Common near Hotel Bellwether.
He readily admits that "All this fun would not be possible if it weren't for Marcia, my supportive and tolerant wife who has not slapped any constraints on my musical indulgences."
Question: What bands do you currently play with?
Answer: I play solo background piano: I'm half of Travelin' Light (with Mary Michaelson, vocalist); I am one of The Prawns (jazz trio with John Flancher and Warren Palken); I am in What the Chelm (klezmer) and Millie and the Mentshn (world music); plus I play with the Clearbrook Dixieland Band and the Halleck Street Ramblers (New Orleans jazz).
Q: What's your musical history?
A: I started traditional/classical piano lessons when about 5 years old and continued until graduating from high school. Then I did little or nothing with music for about 30 years from the time I started college. But my son and daughter joined What the Chelm (playing clarinet and cello, respectively), brought home questions about chords and harmony, and then asked whether the band would want their old man on piano.
This led to two offshoots: Working with singer Laura Wyles on jazz standards, blues and torch songs; and with Jamie Shea, Chris Harris and Michael O'Neal in Chrome Dinette ('50s and '60s oldies). Laura moved away and Chrome Dinette played its last gig at the turn of the millennium.
By the way, I'd never experienced klezmer music in my life, so What the Chelm was a novel experience; and playing with your kids in a band is about the best thing you can do (and they were both excellent players). In fact, playing with such exceptional musicians in all these groups has been a true honor and privilege.
Q: And your musical training?
A: My musical training was purely traditional. But my dad acquired a couple then-illegal fake books, and I taught myself how to use them. He also bought the music for "12th Street Rag" and "Saint Louis Blues." (He'd played clarinet through college; my mother sang.)
That experience with chords and faking has been invaluable; plus working with Laura taught me a lot about accompanying. It should be noted that I have no interest in returning to formal, classical music where one must adhere to a fully written score; I find faking to be far more fun and creative.
Q: What's your day job?
A: I taught experimental psychology at Western Washington University; I took the job, sight unseen, right out of grad school (I'd never even been in Washington) and stayed with it for about 42 years.
Q: What do you like about what you play?
A: I think that my favorite material is what Laura and I did and what The Prawns do: Standards from the '30s through the '50s, ballads, swing and Latin. I most enjoy listening to Dixieland, and could listen to Ray Charles forever.
My folks had an album of 78s called "Kings and Queens of Boogie Woogie." That material just knocked my socks off. Pete Johnson and Meade "Lux" Lewis just floored me. Shortly after college graduation I attended a live performance by the Firehouse Five Plus Two; I was entranced.
Q: Any memorable gigs?
A: What first springs to mind are a couple "gigs from hell" that What the Chelm endured (due to rude and snotty people), plus one with Millie and the Mentshn where we were virtually dissolving in our own sweat in an unventilated building in Minnesota in the middle of summer.
But probably most unusual were the series of Millie and the Mentshn performances during our invited visit (at the International Klezmer Festival) in Buenos Aires. It was a fabulous week with a performance each day, each in a very different type of venue; excellent organization, nice people, enthusiastic audiences, plus exposure to exceptional musicians from a variety of countries.
It is also a joy when The Prawns play for Western's retirement banquet; very appreciative audience. Also memorable is the experience that Mary and I just had at the end of June, playing 14 performances in five days, each in a different town in Whitman County.
Chrome Dinette gigs were almost always a blast; loads of good energy. We had one job where we were flown, with our equipment, to one of the San Juan islands; plus a New Year's Eve gig on Orcas that had to be postponed a week due to snow.
Q: What are your other interests?
A: I've had a number of other activities, e.g., fishing, photography, reading. I've written quite a few science humor articles (first for Worm Runner's Digest; then for The Journal of Irreproducible Results), still have some in progress, and hope to organize a collection of pun fables into a book.
But now that my day job is history, I'm quite occupied trying to keep straight an oversupply of music ensembles.
Reach MARGARET BIKMAN at firstname.lastname@example.org or 715-2273.