What first drew you to ragtime music?
Like many teenagers my age (in the 1970s), the songs and strains of ragtime were most definitely "in the air", due in large measure to the popularity of the 1973 movie The Sting, which brought some newfound interest in Ragtime. At that time, it was difficult not to be around someone attempting to learn and play either The Entertainer or the Maple Leaf Rag of Joplin. I took to the music as well, which was immediately attractive and accessible to me.
For your album Ragtime in Washington, what was your inspiration, and how did you choose which rags you wanted to record?
Well, over the years, I have learned and performed many rags (not just of Joplin, but other seminal Ragtime composers) at various functions in my musical career...they, of course, make great encores - and folks really seem to love to hear them. I have also been aware, especially in the last 10 years or so, of the efforts of some more current later-20th and 21st century classical composers' contributions to the genre. It has been great fun discovering these newer pieces, with their rich variety of more daring textures, creative and challenging rhythmic patterns as well as some associated dense counterpoint/chromaticism. In 2016, I gave a lecture recital on Ragtime at a classical series that I run in Columbia MD, and selected a group of Rags that I found could represent an interesting survey of both historical and more contemporary Ragtime offerings. The concert was well-received, so it had to become a CD!
What connections between traditional classical piano repertoire and ragtime do you find?
Well, I think of ragtime as a hybrid form of sorts. It merges the more stylized construct of Marches and society hall dances of the early 20th century (like Cakewalks) with the "ragged" swung dotted rhythm style of playing prevalent in the piano bars of both Vaudeville and the lower Mississippi Valley. In spite of the less formal elements, I approach most of these pieces from a classical performance perspective, as Joplin himself was a classically-trained musician.
In addition to your Ragtime in Washington CD, you’ve also recently recorded “Keyboard Transcriptions”, including music by Prokofiev, Liszt and others. What are you planning to record next, and why?
Great question: I just spent the Labor Day holiday weekend in the recording studio, preparing a possible upcoming album of Spanish and Latin-American piano music. Like Ragtime, I have been attracted to this repertoire, and played a great variety of it over the years - so it made perfect sense to go ahead and make a recorded document of this great treasure trove of literature for the instrument.
Who are your biggest musical inspirations?
While many musicians inspire and motivate me, more often than not, it is the pieces themselves which fascinate me from a compositional point-of-view, although I am not a composer myself. In terms of pianists, I mostly enjoy listening to recordings of old-school virtuoso masters who are no longer with us, but inspire through their few recordings.
What’s the most memorable concert you’ve given?
I can't answer this question with a single one. I've had so many memorable performing experiences, whether it be an evening when I felt particularly "on" with an audience, or an exciting concerto performance with orchestra, inspiration from any great chamber musician I was fortunate to make music with, and/or even playing in a retirement community, while feeling the power of communication through music and its ability to touch and move folks.