And All that Jazz

Some of ragtime’s most beloved players are gathering in Starkville to celebrate the genre.

The Charles Templeton Ragtime Jazz Festival kicks off next weekend at the Mississippi State University Library and will feature Mimi Blais, Brian Holland and Sonny Leyland, as well as Butch Thompson of “A Prairie Home Companion” fame. The festival, emceed by David Jasen, will feature seminars, concerts and tours of the Charles Templeton Sr. Music Museum.

The festival “is several things wrapped up in one,” said Stephen Cunetto, co-chair of the festival. “The music is very entertaining, as are the entertainers.”

It’s a little educational, too.

“The word ragtime’ will throw people off, but it’s really the beginning point for American popular music. All of these other forms grew out of ragtime. It’s very exciting,” Cunetto said.

Stars of the show
Returning for her third year is Canadian performer Mimi Blais, known as the “Queen of Ragtime.”

“She is a lot of fun,” Cunetto said. “She’ll be here throughout the week … she’s a great ambassador for jazz and ragtime.”

Butch Thompson, best known for his work on “A Prairie Home Companion,” will make his first appearance at the Starkville festival this year.

Besides his music, Thompson also does a great deal of writing and teaching.

Brian Holland, a Texas native and one of the most praised ragtime players, is returning for his second festival.

“He’s a very good performer,” Cunetto said, “in that he can play any style of music, but he specializes in ragtime and jazz.”

British-born Sonny Leyland is taking a break from his solo work and as leader of the Carl Sonny Leyland Trio to stop by this year’s event.

All four performers will give seminars called “My Life in Ragtime.” There will also be tours of the Charles Templeton Sr. Music Museum, and Templeton’s son Chip will offer a seminar on his father. David A. Jasen will give a seminar on collecting sheet music on Saturday.

Cunetto said the Starkville festival is gaining attention in the ragtime world, and more and more ragtime performers are eager to be a part of the festivities. Ragtime fans from around the world are also starting to make Starkville a destination.

“It’s very exciting to hear that the word’s getting out – not just in ragtime enthusiasts, but now the performers who are beating down our doors,” Cunetto said. “It brings in well-known performers to this area, and that’s something we wanted to do with this festival, was to introduce the area to these ragtime and jazz pianists.”

Click here for more on the festival.

Sheena Barnett/Daily Journal

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