(Video link here.) Frank ‘Sugar Chile’ Robinson was eight years old when he performed Caldonia in the 1946 MGM Film No Leave No Love. His pure boogie-woogie is notable not only because he is so young, but because of his unique playing style, where he uses fists and slams to create his fabulous sound. Neither of his parents were musicians and by age two he was playing the piano by ear, formulating his own style based on “what worked”.
Soon after we found it, we happened to be watching a video of the great jazz pianist Thelonius Monk playing the piano in the 50’s. (Video link here). He, too, plays in a unique, very personal style, bundled fingers seeming to slam the keys to make stunningly clear sounds, and often playing with one hand crossed over the other instead of following the usual divided down the middle piano style: left plays left of middle, right plays right of middle. He started playing the piano when he was six years old and was said to be self-taught.
These guys just PLAY; they figured it out themselves. The message to us: formal schooling and traditional methods are NOT necessarily the best route to creating something true. Nor necessarily essential.
With thanks to Asher Landesman who got the video of Ssugar Chile” Robinson from his cousin and oldest friend, Lainie Beim.