Wednesdays with Mr. Ragtime


November 30, 2011Mr. RagtimeNo comments

As posted October 27 2010.

Being an octogenarian has a few advantages but many pitfalls.  I no longer have the mobility necessary to check facts, locations, or work on many projects.  I must depend on memories and understanding readers.  One major advantage is that I have collected innumerable friends over the many years

I’d love to share my love of Ragtime with you.  I inaugurated a Ragtime festival in Fresno in 1986.  Under my chairmanship, it showcased over 350 musicians.  Still alive, the festival has long since moved to Sacramento.

Ragtime was America’s first musical art form with its beginnings circa 1890.  Scott Joplin was its most prolific composer/artist.  You will recognize Ragtime from its familiar “Maple Leaf Rag” tune  and  the movie, “The  Sting”.  Essentially, it added syncopation to older European music styles.

Unfortunately, Ragtime was primarily written for piano. 

I was privileged to know and befriend many of the finest Ragtime pianists in the World.  I’ve discussed the possibility of several of them coming to tiny San Felipe for concerts.  But alas, I know of no piano in or near San Felipe.  Many of the artists are “getting long in the tooth”, as am I, but stars such as Paul Asaro from Seattle, Ian Whitcomb of Los Angeles, Yvonne Cloutier currently in Nevada, New York’s David Jasen and Maine’s Glen Jenks have all expressed an interest.  They are accustomed to Bosendorfer 9-ft studio grand pianos but I have seen them pound the keys on spinets.  Regretfully, the 200-year old Bosendorfer, King of Pianos, has been purchased by Yamaha.

True pianists draw the line at electronic keyboards.

In the interim, I urge you to attend a festival or two.  The West Coast Ragtime Festival, America’s premier festival in Sacramento, is always the weekend before Thanksgiving.

Music in San Felipe has had its ups and downs.  Fifteen years ago, we were able to attract large orchestras from Mexico City or the Navy band for some of our special events, such as Carnaval (Mardi Gras).  I wonder if COTUCO or another of our civic organizations might be instrumental (joke) in bringing them back.  While many excellent musicians can be found evenings on the  Malecon, they don’t have the “pizzazz”, the colorful costumes, the organization, associated with mariachis.

It’s an old saying among musicians – “If you can’t play good, play loud”.  Unfortunately, too many of the groups playing at our local clubs believe it.  Most people go to clubs to chat, to intermix with friends, imbibe, rather than to hear music.  Musicians should realize this and moderate their volume.  Huge arrays of speakers aren’t necessary in any of our small San Felipe venues. I’ve always found that if the audience wants to hear you, they will quiet down.  Dancing is much more fun to quiet, romantic music.  Headaches and hangovers go hand in hand with overly loud music.

Yes, I was a professional musician for many years but you will never hear me.  My instrument was pipe organ.  They are just a little too big to carry under your arm.  A typical theater organ has over 4,000 pipes.  Few people realize it but a pipe organ only produces one level of sound – full blast.  Therefore, the pipe are mounted in rooms or “chambers”. The sound you hear has been moderated by “swell shades” (Venetian blinds) which regulate the amount of sound leaving the chambers containing the pipes.  Most pianos (not all) have 88 notes/sounds – an organ can easily have combinations of well over 10,000 sounds.  I sorely  miss my huge, 1500 lb. theater organ but it wouldn’t fit in my motor home.  Fresno had a very old, small Black church on the wrong side of town without even a piano – so I gave it to them.   I was always welcomed when I went back to play it occasionally.  I even managed to learn some Black gospel.

Conn 651, 3-manual, (2) Leslies, (2) sets pipes, toy counter, marimba,

Uh, ooh – I’ve gone over my word count – again.  But Kat has yet to pay me so I guess I can take some liberties.

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