The Cape Cod Ragtime Festival

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I have recently been blowing the dust off nearly 50 years of photos and ephemera from the many annual trips my wife and I took to Cape Cod. Thanks to Sue Keller, I can legitimately write about some of those experiences in this month’s column. Let me explain.

I followed Sue’s fifth annual Cape Cod Ragtime Festival happenings this year thanks to the Facebook postings of some of the performers. Sue’s husband, Harold Vigorita, provided YouTube videos, and a long telephone conversation with Sue and then with one of her guest performers, Sam Post, filled in details.

It all began when Sam mentioned his invitation to the festival and it really resonated when John Remmers posted his beautiful photo behind the National Seashore Visitors’ Center and Will Perkins FaceBook posted a great selfie of Sam and Dalton Ridenhour, with Will and McKenna at Nauset Beach.

They had a great time September 29 and 30 and, instead of hymns and anthems, syncopation filled the nave of the Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit in Orleans, Massachusetts, and then floated out on the sea air over Pochet Sound to the sea. The Festival piano was a nine-foot Baldwin Grand at the Church, loaned by a parishioner. All attending agreed, the performances were superb.

Sue’s first ragtime festival on Cape Cod in 2014 featured her talents with Glen Jenks, Frank Livolsi, Dave Majchrzak, Jim Radloff, Mike Schwimmer, Steve Standiford, Faye Ballard, and special guest from Chatham, Jaqueline Schwab, known for her work with Ken Burns documentaries and her expertise in playing vintage American ragtime compositions. Glenn Jenks also furthered the festival tradition of providing a seminar and his was titled “What is Ragtime.”

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This year’s gathering hosted by Sue featured Jazzou Jones, Bob Schad, Will Perkins, Sam Post, John Remmers, Dalton Ridenhour, and John Thomas from nearby Provincetown, and Jaqueline Schwab was a guest again.

Sue has been playing ragtime piano around the world since 1974. I knew of her talents when she was the Artistic Director of Sedalia’s Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival for seven years. She also was a director and judge of the World Old Time Piano Championship in Peoria, Illinois, for 14 years. With her vast experience in ragtime and interest in the early composers, she founded The Ragtime Press in 1990 to publish folios bringing public attention to compositions such as the work of “Ragtime” Bob Darch and Joseph Lamb.

She also has 15 CDs of her own (and counting), including her latest with Jeff Barnhart titled, Return to Cripple Creek: The Music of Max Morath. In addition to original ragtime she performs novelty, stride, and old-time music as well as contemporary compositions.

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It was Frank Baxter’s Piano World parties on the Cape and at his home up in Maine that inspired her to hold her first ragtime event in Orleans. Over the years many performers she worked with in Sedalia and Peoria were also featured including Tex Wyndham, Dave Majchrzak, William McNally, Nathan Beasley, Daniel Souvigny, Jeff an Anne Barnhart, Jacob Adams, and Amy Barber, and the Xylophonia Ragtime Marimba Band.

After the concerts the performers gathered at Sue’s home for even more ragtime and other pieces that happen to be in their amazing repertoires. Many of the festival concerts and after-hours performances have been recorded by Howard Vigorita. His YouTube videos have been incredibly valuable to me and others who are unable to travel and attend the actual events. I can’t thank him enough. As an aside I must also mention the great reports on jazz and ragtime events in Syncopated Times articles. Thanks to all who keep us informed at home.

In the future I should probably retitle this column, “Blowing Out the Cobwebs,” as more and more in my dotage, I find myself living, “down the echoes of my mind.”

As Sue and I visited by phone about ragtime and Cape Cod, bouncing stories like pinballs for several hours, so many memories of the great times I’ve had came back to me.

Like Sue, I became enamored by ragtime in the early 1970s, and 1971 was our first trip to Cape Cod, so I’ve always associated the two experiences. From our seaside cottage on the elbow of the Cape, my wife Karen and I roamed the sandy land from the fingertip in Provincetown to the great shoulder in Sandwich and we usually had ragtime cassettes and later CDs to provide a soundtrack for our serendipitous adventures. It is a unique place, and the forty-mile National Seashore from Chatham to Provincetown is a national treasure. Our last visit was in 2007 when I stopped driving so we missed Sue’s performances.

We actually began visiting the Cape when it was still possible to drive the roads in summer. Later we deftly maneuvered the backroads when traffic was heavy, though we finely had to come in early spring or late in the fall to get around.

It was such a joy to reminisce about the ragtime greats we have been privileged to know and our astonishment at the way brilliant contemporary composers have taken the classic standards to a new level of interpretation—and have been creating new styles in the process. I envy Sue and all the master musicians who can perform this great American music. All I can manage is a CD player, but I am so grateful for that.

To have been involved enough to watch the great ragtime revival of the 1960s and 1970s evolve and to have been privileged to meet those who had kept the music alive and vital until its rediscovery, is a blessing I will always appreciate. Add to that the acquaintance of many contemporary composers and performers and my more than three quarters of a century leave me living among the most delightful echoes of my mind (when I get the cobwebs blown away.)

Watch for an announcement of the 2019 Cape Cod Ragtime Festival here in The Syncopated Times, and plan some additional days roaming the Cape and seashore after the unsyncopated tourists are gone.


Contact Melton at [email protected]


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