From The 2024 Templeton Ragtime Fest

The annual Charles H.Templeton, Sr., Ragtime and Jazz Festival at Mississippi State University in Starkville has, for the past ten years, begun with the Gatsby Gala fashion show, which makes it unique among music festivals. It fosters participation by students in an event that they otherwise might not know was going on under their noses. Each year’s Gala has a different theme; this year it was fashions from the ’50s and ’60s, including some worn by the parents and grandparents of Chip (Charles, Jr.) and his wife Connie Templeton. Festival artistic director Jeff Barnhart on piano and his wife Anne on vocals provided period-appropriate music. Students in the Fashion Design and Merchandising Program at MSU modeled the wares they created—this year it was tote bags and T-shirt dresses. A reception after the show allows everyone to mingle.

The musical performers this year, in addition to Jeff and Anne, were reedman Louis Ford from New Orleans, percussionist Josh Duffee from Davenport, IA, and, from St. Louis, pianist Dave Majchrzak (pronounced MAY-zak) and multi-instrumentalist T.J. Muller. Josh and TJ were making their second visit, both having been here two years ago. I had seen Dave before, but had not met him or Louis personally.

Hot Jazz Jubile

The format this year was similar to past years: seminars conducted by various musicians, a tour of the Templeton collection of antique phonographs, mini-concerts, and full-length evening concerts in an auditorium on campus. All daytime events are held in the Templeton museum on the fourth floor of the main library. I have said it before, but it’s worth repeating that the museum is worth a visit by itself. There are numerous unique (meaning the only) instruments of their type on display. Usually Lynda Graham, the curator, gives tours, but there are several students who are also knowledgeable enough about the artifacts to do it.

Jeff and Anne Barnhart, Josh Duffee (behind) and TJ Muller at The 16th Annual Charles H. Templeton Ragtime & Jazz Festival (photo by Robby Lozano / © Mississippi State University)

It’s important to note that all the sheet music not still under copyright protection (some 12,400 pieces) has been digitized by the library and is available for download. Each year as copyrights expire more music will be made available. Many of the pieces are quite rare.

Opening Friday’s sessions was a one-hour group chat with all the performers on, essentially, how each got to where they are today. I already knew most of the musicians, so not everything they revealed was new to me, but I still found it entertaining.

Evergreen

This year’s seminar topics were “Behind Closed Doors: Women’s Significant (and sometimes secret) Contributions to Ragtime” by Dave Majchrzak; “From Cylinders to the Stage: How musical styles of the early 20th century are preserved and their role in the world today” by T.J.; “Mallet Men: the Forgotten Xylophone Superstars of the 1920s” by Josh; an overview of the origins and influences of African, European and Caribbean instruments and rhythms and their evolution into modern jazz with Louis, himself a 5th-generation musicians in New Orleans. Chip Templeton also showed, via slides, some rare sheet music that he recently acquired from the late David Jasen’s collection. Each seminar lasted about an hour, with Q&A from the audience. All the speakers were well prepared for their talks and I enjoyed each of them. They were not exclusively lectures; some music was included, played by the presenter. For example, Dave played five rags written by women, none of whom I had heard of.

There were two mini-concerts (about a half hour each) on Friday and one on Saturday. Not all the musicians played at each concert. Jeff Barnhart gave me credit for the idea of mini-concerts to add some music to the daytime seminars. I frankly don’t remember making that suggestion but if Jeff wants to credit me I’ll take it. These were spontaneous: only the musicians were announced beforehand. There was also an informal jam to end Saturday afternoon’s events, and a full-length (about 40 minutes) Buster Keaton silent film Friday morning with music by Jeff and Josh.

The Friday and Saturday evening concerts, which drew many people from the community who did not attend the daytime sessions, gave each performer some solo space in addition to mix-and-match segments. Everyone was brought in on the finales; Jeff yielded the piano bench to Dave while he played TJ’s trombone. On Saturday a special guest—Gwyen Elizabeth Franklin—performed two numbers on piano. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from MSU, but not in music; that was her avocation. She played in the MSU Maroon band and the jazz band, and now teaches piano locally to children and works in the MSU IT Services Department. She was warmly received.

In addition to their festival duties, several performers conducted master classes at MSU and visited local elementary and middle schools, further integrating the festival with the community.

The Templeton is the only festival of its type in the Southeast and deserves to be better attended. Watch this paper for next year’s dates.

Nauck

Bill Hoffman is a travel writer, an avid jazz fan and a supporter of musicians keeping traditional jazz alive in performance. He is the concert booker for the Tri-State Jazz Society in greater Philadelphia. Bill lives in Lancaster, PA. He is the author of Going Dutch: A Visitors Guide to the Pennsylvania Dutch Country, Unique and Unusual Places in the Mid-Atlantic Region, and The New York Bicycle Touring Guide. Bill lives in Lancaster, PA.

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