Boogie-woogie virtuoso Henri Herbert began playing piano at 4 and pressing his own CDs at 12. Now, with over 100 million YouTube views and a solo album in the works, he’s one of the most sought-after piano men in the world. Whether performing on stage, on a St. Pancras public piano, or livestreaming from his home studio in Austin, Herbert brings an energy to this classic style of blues piano that’s pure exhilaration.
In anticipation of his upcoming Front Porch Sessions performance, presented by Perry Homes, we chatted with the boogie-woogie maestro about his upcoming album, the boons of livestreaming, and the unexpected gift he found as a musician during the pandemic.
Watch the live Front Porch Sessions performance Oct. 16 at 7 p.m.
You moved from the UK to Austin in 2019. What’s been the most interesting part of living in Texas for you, particularly as a musician?
For me it is the music — the variety of music of all genres: blues, country, soul, jazz, electronic music, hip hop, everything.
Since COVID began, you’ve played a mix of both in-person and livestreamed shows. What have you liked about this hybrid model of performing?
It’s enabled me to reach out and connect with audiences all over the world in places like Australia and Japan — very far out from where I could normally reach people. It’s also enabled me to share my knowledge of boogie-woogie with other piano players who want to learn more about it. I look forward to continuing livestreams, even as the world is opening up, and bringing my international audience into some of my Texas shows.
COVID-19 has made the past year and a half particularly difficult for touring musicians, but as they say, every dark cloud has a silver lining. What’s a silver lining you’ve found?
Prior to COVID, I was out playing every day — two or three shows a day around Austin. Then, I might go on a plane to Europe or somewhere in America, play and come back. When that all came to an end, I found a new focus of composing my own music that I didn’t have the space or time to do before.
I also got together every week with some players here in town, and we just jammed once, maybe twice a week and came up with loads of original stuff. It wasn’t by design. It was just what ended up happening. You just start something and see how it goes.
Before COVID, I’d been on the phone all the time booking and chasing up gigs or chasing up players to form a band. So I guess the gift of time was the main thing.
You’ve played quite a few more live shows in 2021. How does it feel to be back on the stage?
It feels great! It also feels a bit uncertain, because there’ve been several stops and starts, and we don’t know if it may all close down again. It’s a mixture of extreme happiness sort of tinged with uncertainty and a desire to experience it fully, because we don’t know when it can all be taken away again. I think that’s my approach to life as well.
You released Boogie Woogie Piano, Vol. 2 in April, and volume 3 is in the works. Do you have any other upcoming projects or shows fans should know about?
I’m flying to Hawaii just after Thanksgiving to record my first solo album, which will be out in 2022. Well, not really my first, but the first one where I actually have some money to promote it. For me, it’s my eighth or ninth album, if you count the CDs I pressed up when I was 12 years old [Laughs].
Boogie Woogie Piano, Volumes 1, 2, and 3 are occasional compilations: when I record a song here, a song there, appear on the radio or do things on TV. But this solo album is a different thing. It’s gonna be more about the piano and the different flavors of the blues and boogie piano. It’ll be on vinyl, CD, digital download and high-definition digital download for people in the audiophile community. I’ve never released anything in that format before, so I’m excited.
I’m also looking forward to doing Front Porch Sessions — the first ever time I’ve done a livestream show with a band. I’ll also be doing more shows around Austin, and I have some national shows coming up in New York City in November and a few shows around the East Coast.