Boogiewoogie pianist Dr. K makes the audience think he can’t play

If you ever see a man with dark glasses approach someone who is playing a public piano and he asks, ‘Can I have a try? Um, where’s the middle C?’, don’t be fooled.

It could be boogie woogie virtuoso ‘Dr K’ – real name Brendan Kavanagh – who has been entertaining passersby at train stations, airports and outdoor venues in London in recent years.

One of his favorite (foot) stomping grounds is St Pancras station, where he sits at a piano donated by Elton John.

The father of three, 54, from Norfolk, is often disguised and performed while dressed as Covid Marshal, workman, airplane pilot, doctor and even in a full hazmat suit.

He told MailOnline: “People are missing live ‘raw’ music in a world immersed in virtual reality and virtual music.”

‘Dr K’ – real name Brendan Kavanagh (seated) – is a boogie woogie virtuoso who has been entertaining passers-by at train stations, airports and outdoor venues in London for several years. He can be seen above at St Pancras station, where he fools a bystander into believing he is a novice

Spreading sunshine during the pandemic (Devonshire Sq, London)

Mamma Mia, there he goes again (He plays Abba in St Pancras station)

Although his passion is boogie woogie (a form of blues with a strong, uptempo beat), he is also adept at other styles, including classical and rock ‘n’ roll.

‘My musical inspiration was watching Jools Holland on Channel 4’s anarchic live pop program The Tube. That’s where I first heard boogie woogie.

‘Later I was taught by the late great boogie-woogie player’ [William] ‘Hammy’ Howell – he played with the doo-wop band Darts from the 1970s – who I became acquainted with when I was a teenager playing in pop bands in London. Hammy died in 1999 before the internet took off.

“I was also inspired by Holocaust survivor and concert pianist Professor Nelly Ben-Or, who taught me classical piano for about a year in my early twenties.

“It was also cool that Nelly didn’t mind me playing boogie woogie on her Steinway. That was cool, I thought, for a concert pianist.’

His standards include You Are My Sunshine, Swanee River, Fur Elise, Batman Boogie and music by Mary Poppins, along with classical and contemporary improvisations.

dr. Originally from North London, K has racked up over a billion views on social media, primarily on YouTube and Facebook.

After after after after after after after after? Yes. Batman Boogie (King’s Cross Tube)

Wait a minute… what’s that? (Canary Wharf tube station)

Hardly artisanal: a contemporary improvisation (St Pancras)

In some videos, he pranks unwitting passers-by. If he sees someone playing, he can claim to be a beginner and ask them to slowly teach him the piece.

He will then hesitantly tap the keys before revealing his true talent.

But a certain bystander was not kind to his energetic playing – a silver-haired, articulate woman who chided him for “beating the piano.”

‘The only heckler I’ve ever had’ [while performing] live was the “Don’t bash the piano” lady, which turned into a classic comedic moment and the birth of the Don’t Bash The Piano meme.

“I find Hecklers more trolling online than in real life. I’ve never had a bad experience live apart from a minor clash with security at Canary Wharf [when he turned up at the station dressed in police uniform].

Boogie woogie tends to cheer people up, not excite people. Comments are always nice. The worst part is that people ignore you because they are busy or having a bad day,” he adds.

Brendan Kavanagh first heard boogie woogie when he was around 17 when he saw Jools Holland perform on Channel 4's The Tube

'Dr K' worked as an English and Latin teacher for several years before becoming disillusioned with the 'increasing bureaucracy and pointless testing'

Brendan Kavanagh (pictured) first heard boogie woogie when he was 17 when he saw Jools Holland perform on Channel 4’s The Tube. ‘Dr K’ worked as an English and Latin teacher for several years before becoming disillusioned with the ‘increasing bureaucracy and pointless testing’

dr. K has been thinking about going to America, where he has a huge fan base, but the pandemic has made it difficult.

“I would consider going to the US, but the current global situation does not lend itself to going there,” he says.

“A lot of bands and musicians have had to cancel performances if someone tests positive for Covid, so I’m not making any plans to tour.”

He also lamented the decline in access to public pianos.

“Many public pianos in London have disappeared during the lockdown, especially those in Canary Wharf and Tottenham Court Road Tube, and they have not been put back.”

As for the nickname Dr. K, he really is a doctor of philosophy.

He obtained his PhD in English Literature from University College Cork, where his dissertation was on ‘WB Yeats and Eastern Mysticism’.

He worked as an English and Latin teacher for several years before becoming disillusioned with “increasing bureaucracy and pointless testing.”

But the loss of academia is the gain of music.

Man of Interest: Key Facts About Dr. k

  • Brendan Kavanagh’s late father was a plasterer from County Cork.
  • When Brendan was about seven, his father brought home an upright piano that had been abandoned at a construction site.
  • The budding musician received piano lessons as a child. In his twenties he studied with Nelly Ben-Or, an international concert pianist and Holocaust survivor.
  • Brendan first heard boogie woogie when he was 17 when he saw Jools Holland perform on Channel 4’s The Tube. Contrary to various ‘reports’ on the internet, he has never actually performed with Jools Holland, or Dexy’s Midnight Runners.
  • After playing with several bands in London, he became acquainted with legendary boogie woogie player Hammy Howell (1954-1999), who had played with the chart-topping band Darts.
  • Howell gave the teen four boogie-woogie lessons and taught him Hammy’s Boogie.
  • Brendan’s increasingly frustrating stint as an English and Latin teacher led him to write a book called Toxic Teaching.
  • Today, he describes himself as a “teacher, performer and entrepreneur” with a series of piano study guides entitled Badass Boogie Bundles.

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