This year marked the 12th annual Charles H. Templeton Ragtime and Jazz Festival, with Gatsby Gala, presented by the Mississippi State University Libraries in Starkville, Mississippi on March 22-24, 2018. The weekend offered daytime talks by the musicians, silent movies with live piano accompaniment, a gala fashion show presented by University fashion students, and evening concerts filled with ragtime, jazz, and blues performances.
This was my first time to attend this festival which takes place on the campus of Mississippi State University. The daytime activities were held in the Templeton Music Museum on the fourth floor of the Mitchell Memorial Library, while the evening concerts were held in McComas Hall. The Music Museum showcases a fabulous collection of music memorabilia collected over four decades by Starkville businessman Charles H. Templeton, Sr., including 200 musical instruments dating from the 1880s to the 1930s; 22,000 pieces of sheet music (many of which have been digitized); and 15,000 recordings. I enjoyed viewing the player pianos and organs made of beautiful woods and the many antique phonographs and gramophones.
I didn’t arrive in town in time to attend the festival’s Gatsby Gala on Thursday night, but this sounded like a fun event. Students modeled 1920s-inspired fashion designs from the University’s Fashion Design and Merchandising Department to 1920s period music provided by Artistic Director Jeff Barnhart, and attendees were encouraged to dress in 1920s styles.
Scenes from the Gatsby Gala and other 2018 festival highlights are captured in this brief official video:
As befitting the festival’s university setting and library sponsorship, there was more of an educational emphasis than some festivals I’ve attended which offered only musical entertainment. I enjoyed several of the Friday and Saturday daytime talks by the performers on various subjects, including “The Devil and the Delta Blues” and “Backward Blues: from Concert Hall to Cottonfield” by Blues expert and author Steve Cheseborough, “Tales from the Road” featuring Jeff and Anne Barnhart and Eddie Erickson , and “The Future of Music and the Musicians” with all of the performers.
Other daytime features included Friday’s silent films with piano accompaniment by Jeff Barnhart: “The Playhouse” starring Buster Keaton, 1921; and “A Night in the Show” starring Charlie Chaplin, 1915; a tour of the RCA Music and Sound Machines in the Charles H. Templeton Collection, hosted by Lynda Graham; and “What’s New at the Templeton Sheet Music Collection” hosted by Chip Templeton.
The musicians at this festival were world-class:
Jeff Barnhart: Artistic Director of the festival for the past five years and ragtime pianist, entertainer, arranger, and bandleader.
Eddie Erickson: Banjo and guitar instrumentalist and vocalist from the Monterey, California area.
Steve Cheseborough: Banjo, guitar, harmonica, vocals, author of the book “Blues Traveling: the Holy Sites of Delta Blues.” I bought this book and had it autographed; it looks like a great resource.
Kris Tokarski: New Orleans-based jazz and ragtime pianist, composer, and arranger.
The two evening concerts featured all of the musicians, separately and together.
Friday Night Concert: “Spreadin’ Rhythm Around”
Jeff Barnhart opened the concert by playing the concert title song by Fats Waller tune on piano.
Next, Kris Tokarski performed the following solos on the excellent Steinway piano: James Scott’s “Frog Legs Rag”, Jelly Roll Morton’s “King Porter Stomp” and “New Orleans Blues”, and “If Dreams Come True.”
Eddie Erickson on banjo was accompanied by Jeff Barnhart on piano on Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer.”
These two were joined by Anne Barnhart on flute and vocals for “Crazy Rhythm”, “Careless Love”, and “Creole Belle.”
Eddie Erickson sang and strummed his guitar in a lovely rendition of “Smile”, accompanied by Jeff Barnhart on piano.
Anne Barnhart sang “Mr. Shane” accompanied by Jeff Barnhart on piano, then the duo performed Jay Ungar’s beautiful tune “The Lover’s Waltz.”
Anne Barnhart, Jeff Barnhart, and Eddie Erickson next performed “I Want to Be Happy.”
Steve Cheseborough took the stage with his guitars and played and sang a selection of Blues numbers.
After intermission, the festival directors presented this year’s recipient of the Keyone Docher Student Achievement Award to University senior and music education major Catherine Patriquin. Ms. Patriquin then brilliantly performed a solo by Astor Piazzolla on soprano sax. She displayed a poise and technical ability usually only seen in older and more experienced performers.
Kris Tokorski returned to the piano and performed Joseph Lamb’s “Ragtime Nightingale” and Jelly Roll Morton’s “The Perfect Rag.”
Jeff Barnhart then joined Mr. Tokorski on stage at the second piano and the two played Earl Hine’s “Rosetta” and “China Boy.” I was amazed at the two pianists’ ability to play these pieces together without music or rehearsal.
All of the performers then came onstage for the night’s grand finale: “I Got Rhythm.”
Saturday Night Concert: “From Joplin to Jobim“
To start off the festival’s final concert, Chip Templeton, son of Charles H. Templeton, Sr. (the festival’s namesake), very ably performed a piano piece entitled “At the Angels’ Ragtime Ball.”
Next Eddie Erickson on banjo, accompanied by Jeff Barnhart on piano, performed Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag”:
Kris Tokarski then took his seat at the Steinway and performed Jelly Roll Morton’s “The Crave”, followed by Scott Joplin’s “The Easy Winners” and two other solos including “Improvised Blues.”
Eddie Erickson sang the poignant tune “Old Folks” accompanied by Kris Tokarski on piano.
Steve Cheseborough performed a selection of Blues tunes, including the following piece (watch his hand on the guitar frets):
I didn’t take complete notes of this night’s performance, but the piano duets by Jeff Barnhart and Kris Tokarski were again mesmerizing.
Here are two of those duets from Saturday night’s concert:
I’m sure many in the audience shared my feeling that the evening concert ended much too soon. Both nights’ concerts were followed by After-Hours Celebrations at the Courtyard by Marriott hotel to which all were invited to attend. I didn’t make those after-hours events this year, but I have no doubt that it was enjoyable time for the performers and audience members to meet and mingle.
Next year’s Ragtime & Jazz Festival will be held on March 28-30, 2019. I hope I’m able to make this festival a yearly event!