As a teenager, Eric-Jan Overbeek suspected he’d get more girls strumming a guitar than playing piano.
But when the young Dutchman heard Fats Domino perform the “Swanee River Hop” on the radio, he turned his back on the shiny guitar and claimed his lot as a boogie woogie pianist.
“It was love at first sight,” he said. “That’s the music I wanted to play.”
Overbeek, who now goes by Mr. Boogie Woogie, visits Tucson regularly to perform his variety of this rocking American genre.
He will perform at 2:45 p.m. Sunday, March 15, at the Southern Arizona Arts and Cultural Festival at the Pima Community College Northwest Campus.
Overbeek started studying classical piano at age 8 and took to the instrument enthusiastically.
“When I came home from school I would go straight to the piano and play for half an hour,” he said. “Classical music really wasn’t my thing, but I didn’t know it, because nobody told me there were other kinds of music you could play on the piano.”
Soon after his eye-opening experience of listening to Fats Domino, Overbeek’s aunt gave him an equally eye-opening Christmas present.
“She came up with a record of a Dutch guy who played boogie woogie,” Overbeek said. “I didn’t know there were such musicians in the Netherlands.”
For Overbeek’s 19th birthday, friends arranged for top Dutch boogie woogie player Andre Valkering to be a surprise guest at his party. After that, Valkering and Overbeek collaborated on a CD.
“The left hand was rocking, just going on and on, and with the right hand, you can play anything you want — just improvise,” Overbeek said.
In 1990, Overbeek formed Mr. Boogie Woogie and the Firesweep Bleusband and started singing and touring England, France, Germany, Belgium, Spain and Corsica.
About eight years ago, he made his U.S. debut in Tucson.
Tucson musician Lisa Otey had made contact with Overbeek, as well as with musicians across Europe, in hopes of booking performances overseas.
When Overbeek heard her sound, he invited her to perform in Holland, and later she paved the way for him to perform in Tucson. These days, Overbeek spends about two months a year in the Old Pueblo performing at clubs, restaurants and festivals and for retirement communities.
“I really have to say which day I want to be off, otherwise, I will be playing every night of the month,” he said.
Overbeek has recorded 10 albums and singles, and has won the title of Best European Blues Pianist, bestowed by Les Trophees France Blues.
By all accounts, Tucson suits the musician well.
“I like small towns, and Tucson is a big city, but it has a small-town mentality, I think,” he said. “That’s what I like — and the steaks.”
Arts fair focuses on culture
The Southern Arizona Arts and Cultural Festival, put on by the Greater Oro Valley Arts Council, will combine art, music and children’s activities.
The free festival, set for 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, March 14, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, March 15, will feature about 100 artists, children’s activities and a lineup of culturally diverse live music from 10 musical groups.
Last year’s festival attracted about 17,000 people, according to arts council officials.
Art items for sale will include everything from garden fountains to jewelry and wood carvings. Children will have a chance to make jewelry and jump in jumping castles, and families can buy a range of festival foods.
A free film, titled “Music from the Inside Out,” will play at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. The film is billed as a cinematic exploration of the magic and mystery of music, as told through the music and stories of members of the Philadelphia orchestra.
Two raffles will benefit educational programs in the community.
The festival will take place at Pima Community College Northwest Campus, 7600 N. Shannon Road.
For more information, call 797-4384 or visit www.govac.org.