Ragtime festival draws talent worldwide

Sunday, June 6, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 2:27 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

With Missouri as the center of the ragtime world, the John William “Blind” Boone Ragtime and Early Jazz Festival is drawing in musical talent from around the globe.

Columbia will host the 10th annual festival today through Tuesday, and headlines performers such as Morten Gunnar Larsen and the Odeon Jazz Quartet of Norway, the St. Louis Ragtimers and Englishman Carl Sonny Leyland.

“These people bring in unbelievable talent,” festival director Lucille Salerno said. “To have it all clustered together in one festival is like Christmas.”

The festival will feature three days of concerts and seminars designed to educate and intrigue audience members about the development of ragtime as a truly American form of music and its influence on jazz, the blues and other finger-snapping, foot-tapping music.

“It’s a tradition in ragtime to not only want to convey the music itself, but to engage folks cognitively to understand the construction and importance of the works,” Salerno said.

For a woman who “took her music with her milk” as a child, Salerno said she became particularly interested in ragtime and early jazz when she moved to Missouri.

“I was enthralled with Sedalia’s Scott Joplin (Ragtime) Festival and the context of the music and the area,” Salerno said. “I thought if Sedalia can do it, so can we. Boone really contributed to American music, and people from all over celebrate and enjoy this genre of music.”

And thus, Columbia’s ragtime festival was born. Its namesake, John William “Blind” Boone, was an early ragtime composer and performer. In infancy, his eyes were surgically removed to relieve pressure on the brain induced by “brain fever.” He became a famous ragtime musician and toured for 39 years before his death in 1927.

Profits from the festival, hosted by the J.W. Boone Heritage Foundation and KOPN/89.5 FM, will be used to continue restoration at the Blind Boone Home on Fourth Street. In July 2003, the house was declared nationally significant by the U.S. Department of the Interior, but is in need of much repair.

Salerno said the festival typically draws 400 to 600 people each day, and with returning favorites, such as musicologist and composer Kjell Waltman of Sweden scheduled to perform and lecture alongside newcomers such as Patricia Lamb Conn, daughter of the classic ragtime composer Joseph Lamb, there should be something for everyone.

More Information

  • Visit the festival’s Web site.
  • All events except Afterglow and the tour are held at the Missouri Theater, 203 S. Ninth St.
  • Tickets for each concert are $27 or $75 for an all-events pass. Tickets must be bought in advance and are available at Streetside Records, D&H Drugs, and from KOPN/ 89.5 FM.
  • Afterglow is an informal jam session immediately following the evening concerts. Each Afterglow will be held at the Ramada Inn and Conference Center.

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