Ethan Leinwand is a barrelhouse blues pianist and preservationist based in St. Louis, MO. A student of the music’s rich history and varied regional styles, Ethan presents personal interpretations of many of the great (and forgotten) old-time masters. Though rarely championed and little remembered today, barrelhouse piano is an important and impressive piece of the blues story. Combining elements of ragtime, boogie-woogie, and early jazz - all with a low down blues feeling - barrelhouse blues is a two-handed piano style built to keep ‘em dancing. Ethan shares his passion for this forgotten genre through story-telling and performance, shedding light on the music, the players, and the environments whence they came.
Background information From http://www.ethanleinwand.com/
Originally from Middletown, CT, Ethan has spent time living in New Orleans and Brooklyn. He moved to St. Louis, MO in 2014 and performs regularly in his adopted home city. In addition to his solo work, Ethan is a part of multiple projects, including Miss Jubilee and the Yas Yas Boys, The Bottlesnakes (picture), and The St. Louis Steady Grinders.
Ethan performs throughout the United States and Europe, and is gaining recognition as one of the country’s leading exponents of barrelhouse blues piano. He has taught and performed at The Port Townsend Acoustic Blues Workshop (WA) and The West Coast Ragtime Festival (Sacramento, CA). Other notable appearances include The UK Boogie Festival, The Brooklyn Folk Festival (NY), The LaRoquebrou International Boogie-Woogie Festival (France), The University of Chicago Folk Fest (IL), The Arches Boogie-Woogie Stage (Cincinnati, OH), and Pianissimo Piano Festival (Nuremberg, Germany).
Born and raised in Middletown, CT , Ethan began taking piano lessons when he was 8 years old. Far from a rigorous classical education, his teacher provided a well-rounded selection of piano music that ran the gamut for a beginning and intermediate pianist.
Ethan began composing his own music around the age of 12 or 13. It was here that his passion for piano truly took root. Though he quit formal lessons at 14, he had formed a personal relationship with the piano that was only gaining strength. As a teenager, Ethan steadily composed piano music, writing thematic pieces and dreaming of being a film composer.
He attended Wesleyan University (‘05) - a liberal arts college in his home town - where he majored in music. Piano and composition remained constant, but mostly private pursuits. Getting good at the piano was never the goal. Top priorities were always self-expression and proving to himself that he was an artist. Ethan’s major musical breakthrough in college came as he gained the confidence to improvise original music, developing into something of a minimalist composer….. For academics, Ethan focused much of his learning on ethnomusicology and European classical music history. It was here that Ethan discovered his love of music history, which would later drive his passion for studying barrelhouse blues.
In college, Ethan first heard blues piano being played by a close friend, Joaquin Cotler. To a young pianist with little chops and no ability to improvise, it was magic. Though he didn’t attempt to play it yet, the seed was placed. The seed sprouted in 2007, when Ethan moved from Connecticut to New Orleans, LA. Ethan took a job at Arden Cahill Academy, teaching music to children in pre-K - 2nd grade. Every class ended with “Freeze Dance,” and so Ethan began developing his blues playing. With these dancing children as his muse, the precious and private act of playing piano was finally turned outward. He mixed the sounds he was hearing in New Orleans with what he had seen from his friend, Joaquin. He didn’t know it at the time, but he was learning to play boogie woogie.
After a year in New Orleans, Ethan moved to Brooklyn, where he could be closer to family and friends. After much soul searching, at the ripe age of 26, Ethan decided that he should focus his energy on piano, and actually try to get good. A fateful night on YouTube led to the “discovery” of boogie-woogie, and Ethan was hooked. In this music, he found the sound he had been searching for: a left hand focused purely on rhythm and a pianistic music that, like a Chopin Nocturne or a Schubert Impromptu, was a complete statement for solo piano. Thus began Ethan’s journey of learning this music. The obsession grew as it mixed with his love of history. Ethan began to track the music backwards, studying every pianist he could discover, determined to get inside their grooves, and always searching for a deeper and more complete understanding of the music. Over a dozen years later, the journey continues….
Back to 2009, Ethan was at a party. There was a piano, and working up the courage for the first time in his life to “be that guy”, he sat down and played. It was a decision that changed his life.
The folks seemed to love it. Smiles and joy all around, and he was in heaven. He learned that night that this was what he wanted to do with his life. Little did he know that there was a woman at that party who was planning on opening a piano bar! A few months later he was contacted by her. He played their soft-opening, and the next thing he knew, was working 4 nights a week at “The Manhattan Inn” in Greenpoint, Brooklyn (pictjure). It was his “break”, and he’s been a working musician ever since.
Ethan visited St. Louis, MO in the spring of 2014. It was love at first sight. The city’s rich blues history was everywhere. The knowledge of piano blues was deeper than he’d ever encountered. The legacies of Henry Townsend, Roosevelt Sykes, Johnnie Johnson and James Crutchfield shined bright across the city. He found a community of like-minded traditionalists, and at last, people who he could talk to about the music he loved. He quickly packed up his belongings and moved to St. Louis Embraced by his adopted city, he has been given a platform, and the confidence, to share his passion for this amazing piano music.