Performing Arts: Music, Performing Arts
Pianist and composer Craig Brenner explores the jazzy side of blues and boogie woogie piano. Called “a fine and funky pianist” by Living Blues, Craig has received multiple Indiana Arts Commission grants. A graduate of Florida Southern College who grew up in North Miami Beach, FL, Craig attended the Indiana University School of Music from 1976 through 1980, studying with composer John Eaton, pianists Joseph Rezits and Enrica Cavallo Gulli, and jazz educator David Baker, among others. Prior to moving to Indiana, Craig studied in Miami with jazz pianist Wally Cirillo and classical pianist Elizabeth Fishbein. Craig has also studied with and performed multiple times with boogie woogie and stride master Bob Seeley and with the late Big Joe Duskin.
Craig performs solo and with his groups at blues, boogie woogie and jazz festivals and venues around the world. He has performed with Bo Didley and opened shows for B. B. King, C. J. Chenier, Queen Ida, Buckwheat Zydeco, Gary Burton, Richard Thompson, Wayne Toups, Honeyboy Edwards, Matt “Guitar” Murphy, the Radiators, Duke Robillard, Jimmy Rogers, and Terrance Simien, and many others.
Backstage Boogie (1990), Craig’s first recording, is all instrumental, with Craig on piano and Dan Hostetler on drums. Play it Again, Professor! (1995), includes conguero and Professor Longhair collaborator “Uganda” Roberts, members of Craig’s band, Craig & The Crawdads, and guests, including drummer and former bandmate Kenny Aronoff, guitarist Stuart Norton, bassists Brian Lappin and John Huber, tenor sax-man Dennis Riggins, and trombonists Tim Riggins and Dave Pavolka. The jazzy recording Man At the Piano (1997) features Craig & The Crawdads with guest vocalist Lauren Robert. Window On the Soul (2002) includes ten original compositions, with Craig’s sons Eli and Nate Brenner, Gordon Bonham, Norton, Tim Brookshire, Pavolka, clarinetist James Campbell, drummers Jeff Chapin and Pete Wilhoit, sax player Joe Donnelly, percussionist Bob Dubinski, trumpeter Pat Harbison, French horn player Jerry Morris, vocalists Janiece Jaffe, Jane McLeod, Sonja Rasmussen, Sue Swaney and others. Live to Love (2009) by Craig & The Crawdads consists of all original music, with the first appearance on record of expressive vocalist Lori Brenner.
Live At The Old Mint: Blues and Boogie Woogie Piano (2014), includes solo tracks by Craig and duos with “Uganda” Roberts recorded at the Old U.S. Mint in New Orleans, and tracks recorded at the Indianapolis Artsgarden with Lori Brenner on rubboard.
Craig is featured on the Cooler Kings’ album, Looks Like Trouble, on Cathi Norton’s Various Stages of Undress, on Piney Woods’ Big Blues Party, Sonny Carter’s Wings of Time, on CDs by Andy Ruff and the Dew Daddies and Red Eye Max, and on Music for Memory, produced by Mark Butterfield to benefit the Alzheimer’s Association of Indiana.
In 2015, Craig began producing Bloomington Boogies: The Bloomington Blues & Boogie Woogie Piano Festival, with performances by Bob Seeley, Sonny Leyland, Marcia Ball, Sunpie Barnes, Liz Pennock & Dr. Blues and others in Bloomington, IN. Subsequent festivals have featured Seeley and Sunpie, Henry Butler, C. J. Chenier, Mark Braun – aka Mr. B, Judy Carmichael, Uganda Roberts, Eden Brent, Daryl Davis, Bill Sims, Jr., Cynthia Girtley, Rob Rio, Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne, Mitch Woods, Jean-Pierre Bertrand, Ben Toury, Stephanie Trick, Paolo Alderighi, Ricky Nye, David Barry, Henri Herbert, Cassidy Gephart, Mike Lucas, Ross Martinie Eiler, Michele Brentano, Craig, and more, with a rhythm section and dancers. The next festival is in August of 2020.