Most people play an assortment of sports and musical instruments as children, but not many people end up turning these childhood hobbies into lifelong careers.
Arthur Migliazza, on the other hand, began playing the piano at age 9. By 13 he was performing to a live audience and he is still performing today, at 35.
“It was something that I kind of figured out as I went,” Migliazza said. “This is what I always wanted to do, I just didn’t think about it like that at the time. It’s where I feel the most comfortable.”
Migliazza is one of the few who has managed to make a life for himself playing and teaching blues and boogie woogie. Among his many achievements, he was a finalist in the International Blues Challenge in both 2010 and 2014. He also starred in the Off Broadway show BOOGIE STOMP! and was inducted into the Arizona Blues Hall of Fame.
Marty Kool, a founding member of the Southern Arizona Blues Heritage Foundation, explained that Migliazza’s dedication, and his mother’s support, played an important part in his early success.
“He also just understands boogie woogie. He takes it and messes around with it, incorporating other things into it, which is very unique,” Kool said.
Cathy Warner, co-owner of The Boondocks Lounge, added that his energy helps him stand out, making him a fun musician to watch.
The Boondocks Lounge, a long-time Tucson hangout, features live blues music, among other genres.
“He’s happy when he plays; he enjoys what he does and that permeates through an audience,” Warner said. “One of the most fun shows we’ve had at The Boondocks Lounge was when he played with Mr. Boogie Woogie. It was spectacular to watch them both play together on a single piano, they both just jammed.”
Warner also explained that it’s always fun to watch Migliazza play with others because “there’s always a mutual respect there.”
When not on tour, Migliazza resides in New York, He was born in Hyattsville, Maryland, and spent a large chunk of his childhood in Tucson, residing here from 1991-2010.
It was in Tucson that Migliazza really became immersed in blues and the culture that came with it.
Migliazza explained that even when he was younger, he was always very good at practicing on his own.
In addition to practicing, Migliazza was eager to learn from other well-known blues musicians.
“When I was 12, Mark Braun came to Tucson and played at the annual blues festival. After hearing him, my mom took me to his workshop where he talked about the history of blues and stuff of that nature,” Migliazza said. “I played for him that day and he gave me lessons over the phone after that. This all helped our friendship grow.”
It was through mentors like Braun taking Migliazza under his wing that he learned and ultimately stood out as a blues musician.
In addition to his dedication to blues music, Migliazza also loves what it stands for.
“I have to feel that I’m able to express myself in whatever I’m doing so blues music is definitely about the personal touch. Blues gives you freedom that other music genres don’t,” he said.
While blues music is considered to be “healing music,” Migliazza said a blues artist always finds ways to incorporate humor into the songs, no matter how sad the story they’re telling may be.
“Knowing that other people are going through the same thing you’re going through is a tremendous relief, you don’t feel so alone,” he said. “Blues music is uplifting because of the subtle humor and because you’re sharing the experience of life with other people.”
As the years went on, Migliazza became somewhat of a local celebrity within the Tucson blues community, coming back to play shows and appear in the Tucson Blues Festival.
The Southern Arizona Blues Heritage Foundation holds a one-day blues festival every October and Migliazza is one of the few who went from attending the festival to performing in it.
“One year I got to close the festival with my band and I remember the headliners were (John) Cephas and (Phil) Wiggins — two of my mentors since I was 10 years old. It was a real honor to be on stage with them again,” Migliazza said.
In addition to putting on the blues festival every year, the foundation does its best to spread the word about the blues to the public.
“A lot of folks say they don’t like the blues because it’s sad music but there is a little bit of blues in just about every type of popular music.”
Blues music continues to remain relevant.
“It’s stayed so relevant because it’s so honest and everyone can relate to it. I’ve always said that blues music brings people together,” Kool said.
Watch samples of Migliazza’s music below:
Lauren Ikenn is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.