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Clarke Buehling and the SkirtLifters
Morten Gunnar Larsen
Morris S. Palter
David Thomas Roberts
For good, spirited, old-time American string band music, Clarke Buehling and the SkirtLifters beat all comers hands down. Whether it is Civil War jigs and reels or Gay 90s, they do it all with enthusiasm and good humor. Pieces are thoughtfully arranged and performance styles carefully considered. They have drawn encores and accolades from Savannah to Minneapolis, and have brought young and old alike onto the dance floor in many a one-horse town. The ladies can be assured no offensive material will ever find its way into their program. SkirtLifters is a term referring to the ladies’ costumes in the dancing that goes with late 19th century music. On the riverboats and minstrel stages and under the big top emerged a blend of African and Anglo-Celtic musical cultures. Clarke Buehling and the SkirtLifters have meticulously researched the style, music, and humor of those times, evoking another genre of American music. Their repertoire includes rags, marches, galops, jigs, reels, and old-time songs. The program reflects their interest in the origins of American popular music. With lively banjo – enormously popular in social settings then – plus mandolin, guitar, and violin, the SkirtLifters’ expertly arranged tunes and minstrel songs add another color to the Rocky Mountain Ragtime Festival. Clarke Buehling: banjo and vocals Widely recognized for his interpretations of late 19th century, classic finger-style banjo, Clarke is also in the forefront of the recent resurgence of interest in the earlier minstrel banjo style. Much of the material of the SkirtLifters is based around Clarke’s collection of 19th century banjo and mandolin instruction books and sheet music. Clarke teaches banjo, fiddle, mandolin, and guitar in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Thom Howard: guitar Thom has a Bachelor of Music from Nebraska Wesleyan University, specializing in Spanish and Latin fingerstyle guitar. He has taught classical guitar at the University of Missouri at Columbia and pursues music as a profession. Tom Verdot: violin, banjo Tom makes and repairs violins in Columbia, Missouri. He especially enjoys re-creating vernacular music from the 18th century through the Civil War period.
How does one categorize a musician immersed in European Classical traditions from the time of Bach to the 20th century, but also intensely responsive to the music of New Orleans, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Brazil? Frank French answers the riddle by synthesizing all these various styles into his own formulation as a pianist and composer. Although it might seem obvious that anyone born to the Rhythm and Blues of the 1950s, growing up in San Francisco’s Haight- Ashbury district, and studying the classics at the Conservatory of Music would likely enough emerge with such an artistic makeup, it is not as though there are no other historical parallels or models for this kind of musical life. In earlier times the great American musical pioneer, Louis Moreau Gottschalk, successfully connected the musical traditions of Europe and Africa in his most important piano compositions dating from the 1850s. It was no accident that Frank French discovered a musical affinity for Gottschalk and became a premier interpreter of his music. In his unique one-man presentation of Gottschalk’s life and music, French weaves musical selections with the composer’s diary to paint a vivid picture in historical context. With Gottschalk begins this saga of music making, composing, and identifying continuing tradition and legacy that is truly Pan-American in its scope and outlook. The use of the pianoforte in the way espoused by French implies a distinctive musical territory placing the sound of the Western Hemisphere properly in the larger context of World Music. In this realm the musical imagination revolves around the piano, which may be coaxed like a harp in one moment and beaten like a drum in the next. Here is expressed the contrast of genteel Romanticism and the savage emotive provoked in a more rugged way of life. Thus is the artistic sentiment projected onto a landscape of rough and ready ways and means. Manifest in this is the dynamic attraction of spirit to earth. Over the past 20 years Frank French has performed and recorded this music in community concerts and educational venues, on radio and television. He has criss-crossed the globe from Europe to North America, to Australia, performing at numerous international music festivals in France, Finland, Germany, and throughout North America and Oceana, from the Maine coast to the Gold Coast, from Toronto to Santiago de Cuba. His music speaks a language larger than life through his many performances and recordings. Performing on viola with Frank is his niece, Nell French, a native of California, who has been performing as a solo violist, chamber musician, and orchestral player since the age of 12. Today she maintains an active performing career throughout the United States and in Europe. She holds a Bachelor of Music cum laude from the University of Colorado at Boulder, a Master of Music from the University of Missouri at Kansas City, and a Fine Arts Award in viola from the Interlochen Arts Academy. She has studied under such internationally renowned artists as David Holland, Erika Eckert, Barbara Hamilton, and Paul Coletti. Miss French currently lives in the Kansas City area and is very pleased to be a part of the 2004 Rocky Mountain Ragtime Festival.
Hal Isbitz was born in 1931. He grew up in Los Angeles and is a resident of Santa Barbara, California. Hal is a retired computer programmer and classically trained musician. He started writing ragtime in the mid-70s, being mainly influenced by the ragtime compositions of Scott Joplin and Joseph Lamb, American popular music, and the works of the Romantics, such as Chopin and Rachmaninov. Inspired by such pieces as Joplin’s “Solace” and Artie Matthews’ “Pastime Rag No. 5,” he began writing Latin American pieces in the early 1980s. In 1987, he became acquainted with the Brazilian tangos of Ernesto Nazareth, whose works exerted a strong influence in the creation of works employing the idioms of Latin America. To date he has written some 65 pieces. Hal was awarded second prize for his rag “Lazy Susan” in the 1997 Scott Joplin Foundation Ragtime Composition Contest.
Brian Keenan is a major Minnesota composer and performer of ragtime and related music of the past and present. Born in St. Paul, he began taking piano lessons at age ten and started playing and composing classic ragtime shortly thereafter. Brian was introduced to the world of New Ragtime when he met Frank French, David Thomas Roberts, and Jack Rummel in 1991. In 1994, he graduated with honors from the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he studied composition, piano, and harpsichord and was a member of the school’s Early Music and Electronic Music ensembles. Brian has been a featured performer at the Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival in Sedalia, Missouri; the Rocky Mountain Ragtime Festival in Boulder, Colorado; the West Coast Ragtime Festival in Sacramento, California; the Classic Ragtime Festival in Indianapolis, Indiana; and the Lake Superior Ragtime Festival in Superior, Wisconsin. Brian has also performed for several community theatre productions in the Twin Cities and composed the title song for Woodbury Community Theater’s “The Magic of Christmas” in 2002. In 2000, Brian presented his compositions on the program “The Wave Project” on KFAI-FM in Minneapolis. Brian’s recording of Trebor Tichenor’s “Deep in the Ozarks” was used by Garrison Keillor on a Mark Twain audiobook in 2001. Another career highlight was a 2004 appearance on Backstage Pass, a weekly arts magazine on Twin Cities public radio. Brian’s CD releases – comprising Folk Ragtime, New Ragtime, and Terra Verde – include Solo Piano (1996, Solo Art), Hidden Falls (1998, Viridiana), River Bluffs (2000, Viridiana), and Traditions (2001). In addition, his compositions have been recorded by David Thomas Roberts on Solo Art and Viridiana releases. This is Brian Keenan’s eighth appearance at the Rocky Mountain Ragtime Festival.
Pianist/composer Scott Kirby, Festival musical director, specializes in distinctly American musical styles which include Classic Ragtime, New Ragtime, Creole Music, and Terra Verde. As a performer, he is also an educator, providing historical context and musical insight into the program as it unfolds. Whether on the concert stage or in the classroom, Kirby offers a musical experience which is both informative and intimate, educational yet highly personal. Each presentation is unique and may include examples from North America, South America, and the Caribbean, illuminating how a rich musical heritage evolved from a melange of ethnic music and “art music,” from the aural and the composed traditions. Such composers include Louis Moreau Gottschalk, Scott Joplin, Brazilian composer Ernesto Nazareth, jazz pioneer Ferdinand “Jelly Roll” Morton, and Ernesto Lecuona of Cuba. Concerts may also contain short pieces from Latin America and the French Caribbean such as the Haitian merengue, the biguine from Martinique, the Puerto Rican danza, the cumbia, or the Cuban habanera. In addition, Kirby champions writers of New Ragtime and Terra Verde, contemporary counterparts to the more traditional styles. As a composer, Kirby combines the influence of nineteenth century romanticism with these New World idioms into his own individual, syncopated language. A native of Ohio, Scott Kirby began his study of music at the age of six and continued formal piano instruction for seventeen years. He worked under Robert Howat of Wittenburg University of Ohio and Sylvia Zaremba at Ohio State University. After obtaining an English degree from Ohio State University, Kirby moved to New Orleans and began his professional music career. In the following four years, he recorded the complete rags of Scott Joplin and made his debut at all of the major ragtime festivals in the United States, as well as festivals in Belgium, France, Norway, and Hungary. Kirby now divides his time between performance and composition and is available for concert appearances, workshops, residencies, and festivals. He has served as musical director of the Scott Joplin Festival in Sedalia, Missouri. Scott Kirby helped found the Ragtime Institute and has performed at every Rocky Mountain Ragtime Festival since its inception in 1992. This is his sixth year as the musical director.
Pianist, composer, and arranger, Morten Gunnar Larsen, was born in Oslo, Norway, in October 1955. He began piano lessons at age five and graduated from the Norwegian Academy of Music in 1978, specializing in the fields of classical ragtime and early jazz piano with an emphasis on the music of Scott Joplin, Ferdinand “Jelly Roll” Morton, Eubie Blake, and Louis M. Gottschalk, as well as contemporary ragtime composers. He has also focused his attention on the piano music of the Caribbean and South America in addition to his own material. Although mainly known in the field of ragtime and early jazz, he has also been a featured soloist in performances of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.” Morten recorded his first solo album in 1975, which received the prestigious “Spellemannsprisen” award (the Norwegian Grammy). He has made numerous appearances on Norwegian television and radio and has performed both solo and as guest performer with several jazz groups. In 1977, he founded his own orchestra, the 10-member Ophelia Ragtime Orchestra. He also plays with the Oslo Magnolia Jazz Band, was a guest performer on Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion, and played a solo command performance for Norway’s King Harald on the occasion of Her Majesty, Princess Ragnhild’s birthday. Morten has created several musical programs such as Memories of Eubie based on Eubie Blake’s music, One Mo’ Time — an off-Broadway hit musical which toured a number of U.S. cities for two years before going on to Brazil and Sweden; excerpts from Scott Joplin’s opera, Treemonisha, featuring a choir and soloists; and a portrait of Jelly Roll Morton entitled Jelly Roll! The Music and the Man with the American actor/playwright Vernel Bagneris during the Oslo Jazz Festival in 1990. Following an engagement at the New York jazz club Michael’s Pub, this show played a highly successful Off-Broadway run for 11 months during the 1994-95 season. In 1997, the show played in London’s Theatre Royal Stratford East, and also toured in the United States. Critically acclaimed, Jelly Roll! received two Off-Broadway awards, and Morten received an “OBIE” award for his role as piano soloist and musical arranger/director. In 1998, he recorded the show in Washington, DC, for the Library of Congress archives in the very same hall in which Jelly Roll Morton gave his famous interviews in 1938. In 1993, Morten received the annual “BUDDY” award from the Norwegian Jazz Federation as jazz musician of the year. During the summer of 1995, he toured with the Ophelia Ragtime Orchestra to the United States — New York, New Orleans, San Francisco, Seattle, and the annual Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival in Sedalia, Missouri. The group also made a CD for GHB/Jazzology, released in 1997. Morten has recorded eight solo piano CDs and three ensemble albums with the Ophelia Orchestra. His recent solo recording, Fingerbreaker, has received outstanding reviews since it was released internationally on the Decca label in 1998. In 1999, the Orchestra was again enthusiastically received in a 24-day tour of the United States. This is Morten’s third appearance at the Rocky Mountain Ragtime Festival.
The Mont Alto Ragtime and Tango Orchestra was founded in 1990 by pianist Rodney Sauer and specializes in the dance and theater music of the ragtime era. The orchestra plays for dancers, using both authentic and new orchestrations. The orchestra also plays for silent films and has toured the country with their film score presentations. They have created and recorded sound tracks for video releases of several silent films (using some ragtime, of course). The orchestra plays both famous ragtime hits and delightful obscurities and is not ashamed to leave the mainstream paths of ragtime and venture into neglected waltzes, early tangos, fox-trots, one-steps, parlor songs, 6/8 marches, and the half-and-half waltz (in 5/4 time). The musicians are Susan Hall on violin, Kevin Johnson on cello, Brian Collins on clarinet, Mark Hyams on trumpet, soprano Susan Rogers, and pianist and director Rodney Sauer. They have performed at every Rocky Mountain Ragtime Festival.
Max Morath is a performer who for years has occupied a unique space as an entertainer/spokesman for American life and music. His new show, “Ragtime and Again,” premiered with an acclaimed six-week run at the York Theatre in New York City and is now booking performances nationally. His first one-man theatrical “Turn of the Century” spearheaded the ragtime revival of the 1970s, playing Off-Broadway for a full season. It was followed by the equally successful properties, “The Ragtime Years” and “Living a Ragtime Life,” each a mixture of Max, music, and Americana which toured nationally, following opening runs in New York and at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C., which were cheered by the critics. On tour he has performed over 3,000 engagements at theaters, colleges, and community concerts in the United States and Canada as a solo artist, with his quintet, and with various orchestras. In June of 2003, Max appeared at the Lucille Lortel Theater in New York with William Bolcom and Joan Morris in a series of concert performances of songs by the legendary lyricist E.Y. “Yip” Harburg, released on CD by Original Cast Recordings. His many solo recordings are with Vanguard, Epic, and SoloArt. His new musical revue “Trust Everybody . . . But Cut the Cards,” with original music and lyrics and based on the Mister Dooley essays of the journalist Finley Peter Dunne, was presented in staged readings last year in New York and is being prepared for full production. Max is a native of Colorado Springs and worked his way through Colorado College as a radio announcer and jazz sideman, graduating with a BA in English. A variety of jobs followed: actor, salesman, writer, pianist, and television director. Performing at melodrama theaters in the gold camps and ghost towns of the West, he developed an ongoing fascination with ragtime and musical theater, and the colorful America that spawned them. Graduate studies at Stanford’s NBC Radio & Television Institute sharpened his media skills, and in the early 1960s, for PBS (then NET), Max wrote and performed twenty-six half-hour programs about Tin Pan Alley and ragtime music that are now considered definitive. He continues to appear often in public broadcasting, most recently with Marian McPartland’s “Piano Jazz” and the Wynton Marsalis series “Making the Music” on NPR. He was commissioned to write The NPR Curious Listener’s Guide to Popular Standards (Putnam/Perigee, 2002) and has appeared on many specials for PBS, including “American Experience: 1900” and “Yours for a Song,” a retrospective on women composers of American Popular Music. Max earned a Master’s degree in American Studies at Columbia University in 1996. His thesis explores the life and work of the early 20th century American composer and publisher Carrie Jacobs-Bond, whose works include the perennial favorites “I Love You Truly” and “The End of a Perfect Day.” Max and his wife, photographer Diane Fay Skomars, recently published The Road to Ragtime (Donning, 1999), a colorful depiction in photographs and text of the Ragtime Man on the road in the America of today. They maintain a studio in New York and a residence in Minnesota, where Diane is an administrator at the University of Minnesota – Duluth.
Born in Canada, Morris S. Palter has performed in the Acousmania Festival in Bucharest, the Agora Festival (IRCAM), the Holland Festival, the Musik III Festival in San Diego, the Green Umbrella concert series (LA Philharmonic), and at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall under famed conductor/composer Pierre Boulez. He has also performed as a soloist in the Amsterdam Percussion Festival and performed xylophone master classes at the Royal Conservatory, the Hague, and at the Rotterdam Conservatory. He was a guest artist at the Banff Centre for the Performing Arts. Morris is a founding member of NOISE (San Diego New Music) and is also a member of redfish blue fish. Morris actively commissions both solo and chamber works and has collaborated with artists such as Steve Schick, Bob Becker, Pierre Boulez, Roger Reynolds, David Lang, Stewart Saunders Smith, Chris Tonkin, Derek Keller, and Mathew Burtner. Morris currently has endorsement contracts with Black Swamp Percussion, Ayotte Drums, and Paiste Inc., and he is an Associate in Music at the University of California, San Diego.
David Thomas Roberts —composer-pianist, writer, and visual artist — has been hailed by many as New Ragtime’s leading figure. Born in Moss Point, Mississippi, in 1955, he was composing, painting, and writing stories by age eight. He wrote his first rag in 1971, at which time he was especially interested in the music of Erik Satie, Scott Joplin, Charles Ives, and Alexander Scriabin, whose work he encountered and studied independently of any teacher. Since then he has composed over 85 ragtime-related piano pieces while continuing to work in a variety of other musical languages. In his early twenties, David wrote some of the piano pieces for which he is best-known. His poetry was first published at that time. His first recording, Music For a Pretty Baby, appeared in 1978. By 1984, two albums devoted entirely to his own compositions were internationally available. Pieces such as The Early Life of Larry Hoffer, Roberto Clemente, Pinelands Memoir, Through the Bottomlands, and the eclectic suite, New Orleans Streets, led many writers to hail Roberts as the leading contemporary ragtimebased composer. The New Orleans historian Al Rose called him “the most important composer of this half of the century in America.” David is the author of entries in The New Grove Dictionary of American Music and is listed in The International Who’s Who in Music. He founded and edited The Streetfighting Aesthete, a journal of surrealist expression and experimental writing. His poetry appears in many U.S. small press periodicals, and his paintings were recently featured in the British magazine of visionary art, Raw Vision, while his music has been played on National Public Radio. He currently divides his time between California and Missouri. David has performed at every Rocky Mountain Ragtime Festival since its beginning in 1992.
Jack Rummel, Festival president, was born in Tacoma, Washington. He took his early lessons from a neighborhood children’s piano teacher and later studied the rudiments of popular musical stylings from a local Tacoma bandleader. He became aware of ragtime in the 1950s due to some early 45 rpm records by Joe “Fingers” Carr and Crazy Otto, but did not pursue its serious study until the 1970s when he was awakened to the classic rags of Scott Joplin and others through the recordings of Joshua Rifkin and Max Morath. Since then Jack has embraced ragtime as an avocation, starting with folio and record collecting, beginning composition in 1979, hosting a weekly radio program (KGNU’s Ragtime America) since 1980, writing articles and reviews for ragtime publications, and performing at various festivals in St. Louis, Missouri; Central City and Evergreen, Colorado; and Fresno and Sacramento, California. His four recordings ( Back to Ragtime, Lone Jack, Brun’s Boys, and A Contemporary Ragtime Sampler) and three published folios of original compositions have put him in the forefront of ragtime composers now living. He plays five-string banjo in a bluegrass band and practiced dentistry in Boulder for over thirty years before recently retiring. Jack is one of the original founders of the Rocky Mountain Ragtime Festival.
As a pianist at his beloved Steinway and a banjo and harp guitar player in the Etcetera String Band, Special Guest Bob Ault exudes the joy of music. He is a ragtime composer and a church organist and has entertained everywhere from Carnegie Hall to Japan. He has served on the board of directors of the Scott Joplin Foundation in Sedalia, Missouri. Bob has studied thousands of vintage recordings and plays in a style based on the work of early ragtime musicians.
Pianist, composer, collector, writer, and scholar, Trebor Tichenor is a native of St. Louis, Missouri. He was privately tutored in music, beginning on piano at the age of five. He discovered ragtime at age 13 through the recordings of Joe “Fingers” Carr. He began performing professionally in 1960 and co-founded the St. Louis Ragtimers in 1961. In the early 1960s, Trebor published – with the late Russ Cassidy – a quarterly The Ragtime Review. His writings on ragtime have appeared in all the major journals devoted to the music. Trebor is one of the handful of elite who have received the Scott Joplin Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Scott Joplin Foundation in Sedalia, Missouri, for extraordinary contributions to the field of ragtime. He is a thoroughly seasoned ragtime pianist, a world class collector of ragtime sheet music and piano rolls, a major recording artist specializing in folk ragtime, editor of Ragtime Rarities and Ragtime Rediscoveries, and co-author of Rags and Ragtime. Trebor hosted a weekly radio show Ragophile on station KWMU-FM for 15 years and has been teaching a ragtime history course at Washington University in Saint Louis for over 25 years. Trebor currently has three solo CDs in print: Tempus Ragorum, Those Southern Blues, and his latest, Wild Flower Rag. He also has published a folio of his original works, Tempus Ragorum, which contains all his originals from his recording of the same name.
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