Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Ragtime Kid Comes To San Marino

S. Brun Campbell

Down in St. Louis, on Chestnut and Market Streets,
That was the home of that old two-four beat.
It was there Tom Turpin wrote "Harlem Rag,"
While over at Sedalia, Mo., Scott Joplin wrote "The Original Rags."
But when he wrote "The Maple Leaf Rag,"
He put the two-four beat right in the bag.
Louis Chauvin played piano on Chestnut Street
And was the best of them all on the two-four beat.
That beat spread to Memphis down to old Beale Street,
And then down to New Orleans, to Rampart, Franklin and Basin Streets.
When Buddy Bolden heard it he blew out a loud jazz call
That rocked Lulu White's "Mahogany Hall."
It put New Orleans jazz right on the ball,
And made it the music of the Mardi Gras.
Then up at Memphis Handy blew a fuse -
For in 1912 he wrote the "Memphis Blues."
That was good, so he wrote another, the "St. Louis Blues."
Now Zez Confrey, just to be a tease,
Set a new jazz pattern and wrote "Kitten on the Keys."
Then George Gershwin got into a musical stew
And sat right down and wrote "Rhapsody in Blue."
So from Bolden to Gershwin it's been a musical treat,
But it all goes back to the two-four beat.

Sanford Brunson Campbell, age 15, rode a freight train from his Oklahoma home to Sedalia, MO in 1899, to take ragtime piano lessons from Scott Joplin. The composer nicknamed his student "The Ragtime Kid," and he went on to have a most interesting and colorful ragtime life - so interesting and colorful, he served as a principal character in two of the stories in my historical-mystery trilogy.

One of those books, THE RAGTIME KID, is the focus of this year's One Book/One City Festival in San Marino, CA. I'll be down there next Thursday with a presentation, "The Ragtime Kid - Separating Fiction From Reality." Not an easy undertaking, since Brun could rarely resist the temptation to embellish a story, and he rarely told the same tale the same way. Emerson could have been thinking of Brun when he made his point about consistency, hobgoblins, and little minds. But that was a great part of what made The Kid such an interesting character, in both senses of the word.

The lines of THE TWO-FOUR BEAT don't scan awfully well, but all right. Brun gets his point across, and more charitably than he usually did. Brun hated jazz; for him, it all began and ended with ragtime, and most of the time he was far from shy about making that clear.

My talk will be at the Crowell Public Library, 1890 Huntington Drive, San Marino, CA 91108, April 28, 7pm. Please come by, if you're in the neighborhood. There'll be food for mind and body.

No comments: