The 13th Annual Charles H. Templeton Ragtime & Jazz Festival was an unqualified musical success. The event, held in the Mitchell Memorial Library and McComas Hall at Mississippi State University in Starkville, featured returning performers—pianists Martin Spitznagel and Jeff Barnhart—together with three newcomers: pianist Larisa Migachyov, clarinetist/pianist Dave Bennett and this writer on drums.
Before the official start of the festival on Thursday, Barnhart (who is also the Musical Director of the event) performed at two area schools as Ivory&Gold®, along with his wife Anne—an accomplished flautist and vocalist. On Thursday evening both Barnharts, Migachyov, Bennett, and Smith played for the “Gatsby Gala” at Mitchell Memorial Library. This event showcases fashions designed and modeled by Mississippi State students. Later that night, the performers (with the addition of a late-arriving Spitznagel) gathered at the home of festival co-chair Chip Templeton and wife Connie for a reception and jam session which gave the newcomers a chance to play together in various combinations.
On Friday morning, a tour of the Templeton collection of phonographs and recordings illustrating “The Business of Music” was offered to festival attendees, followed by a discussion led by Barnhart which included all the performers: “The Varying Roads Taken and Choices Made Which Find Us Here Today.”
Next, Barnhart played accompaniment to silent movies, while the newest festival performers were interviewed for the Templeton Collection archives.
After a lunch break, Larisa Migachyov presented “Influences in Composition.” (Migachyov is the most prolific female composer in Ragtime history. Her presentation included her background as an immigrant from Russia, inspirations for her compositions and her entry into the Ragtime festival scene).
Next, Dave Bennett offered “Ben and Jerry”—a look at the similarities in the backgrounds of Benny Goodman and Jerry Lee Lewis, their passion for the music and their audience appeal. To illustrate Goodman’s music, Bennett played clarinet in a trio with Barnhart and Smith, then moved to piano, taking on the Lewis persona on some of “The Killer’s” greatest hits.
The Friday evening program at McComas Hall featured some of the musical combinations which originated at the Templetons’ reception, plus solo piano, piano duos, and clarinet/piano/drums. In addition, trumpeter Quinlan Gray (winner of the Templeton Festival’s Keyone Docher Student Achievement Award) was clearly inspired by the receptive audience during his solo segment. In previous years, the Templeton Festival has departed from a strictly “Ragtime and Jazz” program by including Blues and Boogie Woogie. This year, the envelope was pushed even farther as Bennett and Smith’s “Evil Twins” performed Rockabilly music associated with Jerry Lee Lewis to wind up the concert. However, the music continued at the after-hours party held at the nearby Courtyard by Marriott.
On Saturday, Chip Templeton presented “Sheet Music Showcase”; a slide show featuring some rarities from the Library’s vast collection, accompanied by Barnhart. Next, this writer offered a thumbnail sketch of the “History of Jazz Drumming, from Ragtime to Swing” (with musical assistance from Barnhart and Bennett). Following the lunch break, Martin Spitznagel presented “Eubie and Me”—Eubie Blake’s tremendous influence on Spitznagel’s playing and composing styles. To wind up the day at the Library, Barnhart moderated a discussion which involved the performers as well as the audience: “The Times They Are A-Changing; The Future of The Music AND The Musicians.”
The Saturday night concert offered a new program to the audience, though once again there was a considerable amount of mix-and-match in the instrumental combinations. All who attended agree that one of the concert’s highlights came when Bennett joined Migichayov for a haunting performance of the pianist’s original composition “Chicken Fried Steak.” However, all the performers played with energy, enthusiasm and skill, leading up to a reprise of Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.” After the final cymbal crash, most of the audience returned to the Marriott for another post-concert session in the lobby.
Musical Director Jeff Barnhart commented that the 2019 Festival “Brought more cross-pollination between performers than I have ever seen at this event.” Plans are already underway for the 2020 Charles H. Templeton Ragtime and Jazz Festival, and the programming will undoubtedly include the same type of “cross-pollination” between musicians. For more information regarding the festival and the Charles H. Templeton collection, please visit the Mississippi State University website: library.msstate.edu/festival.