Guitarist Steven Hancoff

This month I continue to write about the premier 1974 Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival in Sedalia, Missouri. Last month I featured Flint Long, piano contest winner.

According to Steven Hancoff, he went to the 1974 Joplin Ragtime Festival, entered the String Contest, and was totally surprised when he won. Since that event Steven has gone on to have an amazing career as an innovative performer of traditional American music on the acoustic guitar.

Hot Jazz Jubile

Steven was born in Baltimore and in his adolescent years he went to New York City where he discovered the contemporary performers of the 1960s who were playing the folk music of America—specifically ragtime. He wanted to be part of the music scene, but his impoverished situation precluded getting a piano or even taking lessons. Therefore, his new motivation led him to purchase a guitar and teach himself to play.

When he was older Steven enrolled in and graduated from St. John’s college in Maryland. The college is known for its unique study of “The Great Books of the Western World” (The Syntopicon).

Learning the music by hearing it and then figuring it out allowed him to create his own technique and led to his unique style. His first recording Classic Ragtime Guitar was produced by Big Al Mothershead on Dirty Shame Records because of hearing Steven at the ’74 Sedalia Festival.

UpBeat Records

Steven points out on his website that he didn’t realize he had a unique style until he won that contest. He really impressed the judges with his original technique. He had evolved a style of hand picking to sound like two instruments instead of one. At that early time in his career, he was thoroughly immersed in the ragtime revival and specifically in the work of Scott Joplin.

1974 Joplin Festival contest winners: Flint Long, piano and Steven Hancoff, guitar. (Sedalia Democrat photograph)

As Steven’s musical interest began to expand from ragtime, he spent time in New Orlean adapting NOLA Jazz traditions to his guitar style as recorded on his New Orleans Guitar Solos on the Out of Time Music label. Next, he took on the music of Duke Ellington on two albums. More recently, Hancoff has ventured into the traditional classical realm by working on a massive four-volume book and recording of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Six Suites for ’Cello Solo.

Steven Hancoff served as an artistic ambassador for the United States touring for over 15 years through nations of Asia, the Arab world, and in South America. He presented concerts and master classes on the evolution of American music as well as appearing on public media programs.

He has been an avid hiker and rafter in his personal life and has always been conscious of taking good physical care of himself. Having performed around the world, Steven recently wrote that he and his beloved now live in Israel.

Most recently he composed and recorded a darkly satirical song, “Corona, Corona,” offered “in honor of the millions who have died during this dreadful pandemic.”


Steven Hancoff

I encourage readers to get acquainted with Steven’s music. It has been a gift to briefly get back in contact with him myself after nearly 50 years and learn of his life and career. In addition to his music, I found in his writing a genuine depth of thought and breadth of wisdom that is most thought-provoking. Perhaps it is the result of a lifetime of contemplation, picking his guitar, not to mention his classical education.

Steve Hancoff is another talented musician to have been part of the 1974 Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival. Find him (and listen to “Corona, Corona”) online at

Larry Melton was a founder of the Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival in 1974 and the Sedalia Ragtime Archive in 1976. He was a Sedalia Chamber of Commerce manager before moving on to Union, Missouri where he is currently helping to conserve the Ragtime collection of the Sedalia Heritage Foundation. Write him at [email protected].

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