Finn McLennan-Elliott: Jan Preston, Australia’s queen of boogie piano

Jan Preston is known as Australia’s queen of boogie piano. She is bringing her ‘88 pianos I have known’ show to Cafe One2one on Wednesday 7 August.

A visual display will augment the show, with extraordinary images of all 88 pianos she has known. She will have personal anecdotes and brand new songs including a new version of a tune called Nutrocker (a take on Tchaikovsky).

“I’ve been practising this a lot and my left hand is threatening to seize,” she speaks of the song, and its fast boogie style.

Winner of five awards, Jan Preston writes music for film and TV and is sister to Dame Gaylene Preston. She contributed music to the astounding film from Dame Gaylene ‘My Year with Helen’. She has a background in classical music but has developed her own style that incorporates her piano playing and her songwriting.

Her latest record ‘Play It Again Jan’ is 13 tracks of mostly original, poignant and humorous songs. She believes it to be one of her best.

Graham Reid had favourable words to say about it, “Although mostly an upbeat and entertaining collection, she touches a soulful place, and some swaggering Fever-like low blues. These songs, and her entertaining delivery, will be very well received.”

Jan was born in Greymouth. “Our family had little resources or opportunity, but I grew up in an era where people would gather around the piano and sing together. From when I was very young, I played piano while everybody sang along or played tea chest basses, eggbeaters, combs, violins and even an old saxophone.”

Jan had an aunt who played honky-tonk style piano and she heard Winifred Atwell and early rock and roll on their old Columbus radio. This was the start of her diversions into boogie and upbeat piano playing.

“I studied classical music very seriously, passing all my grades with distinction.” She was spurred on by older siblings who also played and began at a very young age. She gained a prestigious place as a student at Auckland University, studying a five-year classical piano degree. She finished this but was pretty adamant that teaching or being a concert pianist weren’t for her.

“So, I cut off my hair, and moved to Wellington where I experimented with different styles of music, working in an independent theatre group and then rock bands.”

She moved on to Sydney, played in bands and piano bars and began writing music for films.

It took her some time, but she found her voice as a songwriter and boogie piano player, influenced certainly by the music she heard on her kitchen radio. (FINN MCLENNAN-ELLIOTT)

She will take to the stage at Cafe One2one on Wednesday 7 August, tickets are $25, and you can purchase these from the cafe or online at