By Gwen Sisson
“Ragtime music is happy music. It makes you want to get up and dance,” said one of the presenters at last year’s Charles Templeton Ragtime Jazz Festival.
And this year will be no exception, as Mississippi State University’s Mitchell Memorial Library presents the fifth annual festival, set for March 25-26. Organizers said this signature festival will feature “some of the most dazzling keyboard virtuosity around in a setting that has come to be known for its warmth, hospitality and uniqueness with performances from five internationally renowned ragtime artists.”
“This year we’re excited to bring artists who’ve been a part of the Festival before back to Starkville and to welcome a new-to-our-Festival entertainer, as well,” said Lyle Tate, festival organizer.
This year’s festival will feature four returning favorites, plus Jim Hession, a Mississippi Gulf Coast artist who is looking forward to visiting with festival-goers at this year’s event.
The artists include:
• Jim Hession has been one of the leading American pianists in the solo styles of early jazz, ragtime, stride, Harlem shout, boogie-woogie and swing for more than four decades. Hession and his wife, Martha, have relocated to the Mississippi Gulf Coast and perform frequently in New Orleans.
• Frederick Hodges is sought after by today’s foremost orchestras, festival, conductors and collaborative musicians. Hodges holds a doctorate from Oxford University and his repertoire includes the great European classical masters as well as the best ragtime, stride and novelty solo piano pieces.
• Brian Holland has performed ragtime, jazz and stride piano for almost 30 years and was nominated for a Grammy Award. Classically trained, but with a keen ear for improvisation, Holland has a dynamic, driving style that has been described as “clear as Waterford crystal.”
• Sue Keller began her ragtime obsession in 1974 after graduating from DePauw University with a degree in music and theatre. Her appearances have ranged from the grand opening of Faneuil Hall Marketplace in Boston Harbor, the fabled Mikado nightclub in Tokyo, across Australia and even to the Great Wall of China.
• David Jasen is a collector of books, recordings, piano rolls, periodicals, catalogs and sheet music that cover the gamut of American popular music. An advisor to the Charles Templeton Ragtime Jazz Festival since its inception, Jasen brings an extraordinary knowledge of ragtime and history, enriching the festival experience and providing a dimension rarely seen elsewhere.
Festival-goers will remember Jasen’s exuberant style and vast knowledge of Ragtime and Jazz musical history. He is also well-versed in the instrumentation on display at the Charles A. Templeton Museum at the Mitchell Memorial Library, home of more than 20,000 pieces of sheet music, 200 musical instruments and extensive memorabilia from the 1880s – 1930s.
“Having Dave Jasen on hand to lead the tours and share his incomparable insights on the music, culture, and styles of the Ragtime era is really an unmatched facet of the Templeton Festival,” Tate said.
Tate said Fredrick Hodges will be coming back and will do another session where he underscores silent films.
“That was a big hit last year, and we’re excited he’s bringing more of that work this year,” Tate said.
Tate said Holland and Keller are both dynamic, exciting performers and he is excited they are returning to the festival this year. Keller returns to the Templeton Festival after performing in the inaugural event on the MSU campus in 2007.
“I had such a wonderful experience the last time I was in Starkville,” said Keller. “There was no question in my mind that I wanted to return. When asked, I said ‘absolutely!’”
Stephen Cunetto, MSU Libraries’ Administrator of Systems and Templeton Festival coordinator shares Keller’s excitement about the Festival.
“This is our fifth year,” Cunetto said, “and we’re looking forward to our best festival yet. Having such outstanding returning artists – and getting to feature Jim Hession, one of Mississippi’s own – has everyone involved excited about the weekend. We welcome people each year from all across the country, and we hope this year will bring even more ragtime enthusiasts to town.”
In years past Ragtime Festival attendees have traveled from California, Ohio, Missouri, Florida, Arizona, and other states, and throughout Mississippi to listen and learn more about the “happiest music in the world.”
Tate said audiences love the interaction with the performers and the collection throughout the weekend.
“In the ‘living room’ sessions, especially, the audience is right there with the performer as he/she shares insights and anecdotes about the Ragtime era and about the music and styles they’ve come to master,” Tate said.
Evening concerts will be held in Lee Hall’s historic Bettersworth Auditorium, while the daytime “living room” sessions and tours of the Templeton Collection will take place in Mitchell Memorial Library.
The Fifth Annual Charles Templeton Ragtime Jazz Festival is sponsored by the Mississippi State University Libraries, Charles Templeton Sr. Music Museum, Starkville Area Arts Council, Rotary Club of Starkville, Greater Starkville Development Partnership and in part by grants from the Mississippi Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Tickets are available for daily events, evening concerts and for the entire festival by visiting http://library.msstate.edu/ragtime/festival/tkts/index.html  or by contacting Festival Planning Committee member Lyle Tate at firstname.lastname@example.org  or 325-2559.
For more information, visit the festival’s website at http://library.msstate.edu/ragtime/festival .