Monday, November 24, 2008

Happy Birthday, Scott Joplin

Appropriately enough, the west coast promotional tour for The King
of Ragtime concluded this past weekend at the 3-day West Coast Ragtime
Festival in Sacramento. The Festival is nonstop music from 9am to 11pm,
seminars (this year including a terrific talk by ragtime historian Ed
Berlin on new material that's come to light about Scott Joplin), dances,
reunions with friends, and CDs - and books - for sale. In short, a
three-day high.
The performers in the photos are 4 of my favorites. Guitarist
Craig Ventresco has long been a standout artist in early 20th Century
popular songs, ragtime and gutbucket-jug band music - he was featured on
the soundtrack for the movie "Crumb." For the past few years, Craig has
teamed with lovely rhythm guitarist-singer Meredith Axelrod, and I can
only hope this will be a longlasting relationship.
Frederick Hodges, at the piano to the left, specializes in novelty
ragtime (think Zez Confrey, Roy Bargy, etc.) and popular tunes of a
century ago, and when he teams up with Adam Swanson, to the right, the
place really rocks. Adam is a prodigiously-talented ragtime player,
researcher, and historian...and he's all of 16 years old. Whatever he
does when he grows up, I want to be around to hear it. If you think
"Take Me Out To The Ball Game" is a stodgy old tune, you haven't heard
Frederick and Adam rag it. Halfway home, it's still running through my
And I just realized: today is Scott Joplin's birthday, Nov 24,
either 1868 or 1867. Pause a moment to give a nod to one of the very
greatest of American composers, who died in 1917, thinking he'd failed
to achieve his goal of making ragtime a respected form of classical
music. Take a bow, Mr. Joplin, before you blow out the candles.

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