In celebration of his life, his upcoming 85th birthday, and as an excuse to make fun music, pianist Erwin Helfer recorded a jam session with some of his favorite musical friends, calling the group the Chicago Boogie Ensemble. A veteran boogie-woogie and swing pianist, Helfer met such greats as Baby Dodds, Cripple Clarence Lofton, and Mama Yancey as a youth in the early 1950s, working extensively with Yancey. He has been busy ever since, both as a musician and as a blues record producer.
Celebrate The Journey, Helfer’s tenth recording for his The Sirens label, is filled with good-time jams played by the pianist, both John Brumbach and Skinny Williams on tenors, bassist Lou Marini, and drummer Davide Ilardi. On such numbers as “Doxy” (Sonny Rollins’ line based on “Ja Da”), “Down By The Riverside,” and “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” the musicians stretch out in infectious fashion.
The swinging music never quite explodes but it will put a smile on listeners’ faces. Helfer, who is introspective on his closing solo piece “Day Dreaming,” plays inventive ideas throughout the set and is the star of his birthday bash. It is a perfect way to celebrate one’s birth.