A food preparation mishap almost derailed a return appearance of Virginia Tichenor, daughter of the late Trebor Jay Tichenor, and her husband Marty Eggers, both professional ragtime and jazz musicians, in a St. Louis concert Monday, May 1st. This Ragtime Rendezvous concert was held in the recently renovated upstairs event venue, Jack’s Joint, at O’Connell’s pub at Shaw and Kingshighway. An enthusiastic crowd of ragtime fans and members of the Friends of Scott Joplin organization packed the room and greeted a half-dozen talented ragtime performers.
When Ms. Tichenor was presented as the evening’s featured act, she explained that a vegetable peeler she was using nicked her little finger, causing considerable pain when she applied pressure. A trip to the emergency room made the best of the situation and provided a minimal dressing, which enabled her to perform. She rendered one of her father’s compositions, “Chestnut Valley Rag,” (click to listen) and one of her own, which ventured into atonal chords, key changes and varied rhythms, taking her musical innovation several steps beyond traditional ragtime. Her style was percussive, requiring, the emcee explained, more precision than the relaxed and comfortable style of the previous generation—a refreshing new direction that gave hints of her new interpretations for the genre.
Demonstrating she is as professional a trouper as her famous father, after several robustly rendered selections Virginia yielded to her pain and introduced her spouse Marty Eggers to finish the set. This multi-talented string bass and piano player delivered several spirited renditions of Trebor Tichenor’s favorite rags.
The elder Tichenor’s many recordings, his published compositions, his books and his distinction in the world of ragtime music survive his passing in 2014 at the age of 74. The 2019 Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival in Sedalia honored Tichenor with a tribute concert on May 29th, 2019. His daughter Virginia emceed the concert. It was a repeat appearance: she was also present at the first Sedalia festival as a small child.
Marty Eggers had played in St. Louis and the West coast, with both Tichenors and Stephanie Trick as well. The Ragtimers’ 48th Anniversary Concert at the Sheldon Theater in October 2009 was just one of the several occasions members of this elite group played together. While repairing a broken banjo string, Al Stricker called on Stephanie Trick, who had wowed the audience earlier with her piano jazz interpretations between sets, to return to the stage and perform again.
Stephanie is a University of Chicago music grad with international touring to her credit, and three-time winner of the St. Louis Ragtime Piano Competition. The lissome and vigorous young musician stepped back up to the concert grand as Trebor Jay “The Professor” Tichenor graciously yielded his seat and stood listening and watching her prodigious talent with an eagle eye and a fine-tuned ear from the sidelines. Her second selection, a rousing stride piano version of the George Gershwin-Earl Wild classic “Liza,” improvising with elaborate riffs on the melody line and concluding with harmonious arpeggios, brought the audience to their feet, cheering to the hall’s intricately illuminated rafters.
As Stricker tuned the new string and gingerly strummed a few chords he said, “Keep your fingers crossed.”
“Maybe that was your problem in the first place,” cracked Don Franz from the tuba section.
With such easy familiarity and a gut sense of what’s right for the moment, the product of almost a half-century of playing together, Tichenor, Stricker, Franz, and Bill Mason—playing lead on cornet (and occasional harmonica)—revived the songs and legends of the ragtime era. Ever since their first 1961 Pierce City concert they regaled audiences on riverboats and in concert halls worldwide with their renditions of Scott Joplin tunes and compositions of a host of other greats. Such favorites as Mississippi Rag (“M-I-crooked letter-crooked letter-I”), “Peoria,” “Mississippi Mud” and “New Orleans” took them to the first break, when Dave Majchrzak, president of the Friends of Scott Joplin organization, entertained with his own ragtime piano stylings. After an entertaining third set, Stricker thanked the rapt audience and signed off with, “Let’s hope we make it to our fiftieth.”
Indeed, the Ragtimers staged their fiftieth anniversary concert before a large audience in 2011. They continued playing gigs for several more years under the unflagging guidance of Don Franz, manager, organizer and tuba player of the group.
Trebor Jay Tichenor fed his passion for ragtime by collecting piano rolls, which grew throughout his life to 9,000 items, possibly the genre’s largest collection anywhere. He taught the ragtime course at Washington University for many years. It is reassuring that the great tradition the Ragtimers joined, in the capable custodial hands of Marty Eggers, Virginia Tichenor and the dozens of talented musicians and fans assembled for this Ragtime Rendezvous, will continue well into the future.