Ragtime composer Robin Frost has died

Robin FrostRobert Tuttle Morris Frost died on March 25th of pneumonia complications in California, he was 89. Born in 1930 in Washington DC he was raised in Palo Alto California. His parents where patrons of classical music and he began training on piano at age six. He credits one of his earliest piano instructors, a Ms. King who had worked as a department store song plugger, with teaching him the proper emphasis and approach to melody in popular music. As a teenager he wrote for his high school orchestra, the Stanford Football Band, and the march for his high school graduation.

He went on to study composition under film composer Erich Zeisl an Austrian living in Hollywood. He has written many orchestral, chamber and choral works. Much of his career was in the commercial recording industry as an arranger and music director. He also taught music at the Marymount Day School and directed the choir at St. Anthony’s Seminary.

Red Wood Coast

During the early jazz revival period he learned to play jazz by jamming with local youth bands. After service in Korea he played in clubs in the Santa Barbara area on both piano and cornet with Dixieland groups including the one led by Rosie McHargue. He gigged and toured with Spencer Quinn, a comedic banjo player before settling down in Santa Barbara to a more stable life of occasional club dates at local restaurants and involvement with the symphony.

He had always toyed with ragtime composition and during the ragtime boom of the 1970s he bagan writing more serious pieces. He appeared regularly at the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival in Sedalia Missouri and at the West Coast Ragtime Festival. Every year he would arrive with new compositions, some of which, including “Space Shuffle” and “Windmill Rag”,  have  become staples in the repertoire of a new generation of ragtime artists.

Robin and Kay Frost
Robin Frost with his wife of 59 years Kay.

Though he had very specific tastes in music that steered away from the modern trends in both jazz and classical music he was not averse to experimentation. In the 1960s he made multi tracked recordings of himself playing all parts of original novelty compositions like “I’ll Never Forget What’s Her Name”. Later he experimented with ragtime piano compositions impossible for a human to play that can be heard only in MIDI format. A number of his most notable ragtime compositions were released in the 1990s as commercially available piano rolls.

Hot Jazz Jubile

The late John Roache has a great biography and discography of Robin Frost on his website. A full obituary can be found on the website of the Santa Barbara Independent.

Joe Bebco is the Associate Editor of The Syncopated Times and Webmaster of SyncopatedTimes.com

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