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Ragtime means good times at third annual festival

 

“The Queen of Ragtime,” Mimi Blais, of Montreal, Canada, returns for a third appearance at the Charles Templeton Ragtime Jazz Festival March 27-28 in Starkville. Renowned pianists Brian Holland, Sonny Leyland and Butch Thompson will perform in concerts and seminars at Lee Hall Auditorium and Mitchell Memorial Library as well. Blais is slated to also entertain in front of the State Fountain Bakery at noon March 25.

“The Queen of Ragtime,” Mimi Blais, of Montreal, Canada, returns for a third appearance at the Charles Templeton Ragtime Jazz Festival March 27-28 in Starkville. Renowned pianists Brian Holland, Sonny Leyland and Butch Thompson will perform in concerts and seminars at Lee Hall Auditorium and Mitchell Memorial Library as well. Blais is slated to also entertain in front of the State Fountain Bakery at noon March 25. Photo by: Courtesy Photo

 

Jan Swoope

 

Charles Templeton Sr. had a passion for American music, and Chip, his son, grew up with the "same disease."  

 

As afflictions go, it''s a grand one to have, for it inspired an astonishing collection of more than 22,000 pieces of vintage sheet music, about 15,000 recordings and a dizzying array of classic players and instruments housed in the Charles H. Templeton Sr. Music Museum in Misssippi State University''s Mitchell Memorial Library. 

 

It also led to the Charles Templeton Ragtime Jazz Festival, a mecca for enthusiasts from around the region and beyond. For the third year, the collection, which includes nostalgic scores from masters like Scott Joplin, Victor Talking Machines and vintage player pianos, will help set the mood Friday and Saturday, March 27-28, when the faithful and curious converge in the Golden Triangle for seminars, tours and live music from some of the best pianists of the genre. 

 

"Ragtime is happy music," said the younger Templeton. "It''s impossible for a ragtime piece to not be happy, just impossible." 

 

Chip confesses he didn''t necessarily grow up loving ragtime, but he''s become a knowledgeable champion of the compelling music so popular from 1897 to near 1920, and of so much interest to his late father.   

 

"I grew up with rock and roll," the Starkville businessman said, "but I''m a piano player, and I''ve learned some ragtime pieces myself. ... Just like there are different kinds of rock and roll, there are different kinds of ragtime. Once you know what you''re listening for, it''s unbelievably exciting." 

 

Lyle Tate, one of the festival coordinators, offered, "I think one of the best features of the festival is the mini-concerts in the Grisham Room. The nighttime concerts are fantastic and lots of fun. With the mini-concerts, though, people will really get a one-on-one experience as the artists talk about why they love this music. It''s the intimate time I think you get an insight into what makes the music and genre so special." 

 

Another popular aspect is after-hours events being planned at various locations in Starkville. "It''s a great time to relax and hang out with the artists and other festival attendees," said Tate.  

 

  

 

The artists 

 

If ragtime is indeed happy music, there will plenty of smiles to go around when the "Queen of Ragtime," Mimi Blais, and Brian Holland, Carl Sonny Leyland and Butch Thompson dazzle on the keyboards at the festival. 

 

Blais, of Montreal, Canada, returns for her third appearance in Starkville. A larger-than-life personality and witty stage persona grew out of her classical training at the Quebec Conservatory of Music and Montreal''s McGill University. 

 

"Mimi is back with us for the third year, and we''re really excited about an exceptional part we''ve added this year: She''ll perform outside the State Fountain Bakery on campus March 25 at noon and and also at two elementary schools and for an MSU honors class that week, too." 

 

Holland''s deceptively laid-back approach belies a blazing skill on the keys, while British-born Leyland injects high energy into a boogie woogie repertoire. A regular performer at "Les Nuits Jazz and Boogie Woogie" in Paris, Leyland has also been featured on the soundtrack of the movies "A Perfect World" and "The Pelican Brief." 

 

Longtime listeners of "A Prairie Home Companion" have heard Thompson, a recognized master of traditional jazz and ragtime. He served as development consultant for the 1992 Broadway hit "Jelly''s Last Jam" starring Gregory Hines and tours widely as a soloist or at the helm of several ensembles, including the Butch Thompson Trio. 

 

Noted collector and music historian David A. Jasen also returns to the Templeton festival, putting the music, the composers and the culture into lively perspective. 

 

  

 

The business of music 

 

 "Dad called his collection ''the business of music.'' He was fascinated by what people wanted to produce and what the public wanted to buy," Chip shared. "It wasn''t just ragtime; he collected anything to do with American music." 

 

 The museum collection is a testament to influences that swept the music industry and American culture during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It''s a step back into a fascinating era of changing fashion, culture, and music. And for two days, the festival provides a toe-tapping parade of reasons to get ... happy. 

 

Tickets are $50 for an all-weekend pass, or $30 per day. Evening concert tickets are $10 per concert. Purchase tickets and pre-register at http://library.msstate.edu/ragtime/festival, or contact Lyle Tate at 662-325-2559 or at ltate@library. msstate.edu. Tickets can also be purchased at the festival.

 

Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.

 

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