Ragtime, a polyrhythmic musical genre that enjoyed its peak from 1897 to 1918, is a forgotten genre; society’s perception of it has been muddled into a caricature of itself. This is unfortunate, because ragtime has had a large amount of influence on notable 20th-century musical styles. Edward Berlin, a ragtime scholar, states in The Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians that it was usually written in 2/4 or 4/4 time with a dominant left-hand pattern of bass notes on odd-numbered beats and chords on even-numbered beats, accompanying a syncopated melody in the right hand.
While Scott Joplin’s 1899 “Maple Leaf Rag” can be seen as the first true distillation of the musical genre, it’s his 1902 composition, “The Entertainer,” that most listeners can recognize as the quintessential ragtime sound. Ragtime fell out of favor in the ’20s in the United States as jazz was on the upswing, but there have been several revivals in which the music from the early 20th century has been rediscovered.
Given the storied history of the genre, it’s important to take note of the greatness that its sounds have harnessed. Etta Baker, Reverend Gary Davis, and Wille “The Lion” Smith all used the form and channeled their mighty melodies through the ragtime sound.
That’s where Tom Brier, a California native, comes into the picture. A professional programmer and analyst, as well as a lifetime lover of ragtime, Brier has a virtuosic comprehension of the nuanced sounds of ragtime. He picked up the piano at the age of five and began appearing as a featured performer at the West Coast Ragtime Festival and other festivals right out of high school. At these festivals, he blew away audiences with his understanding of the genre and his gift with sight-reading and improvisation.
To experience the virtuosity of Tom Brier, hop onto YouTube and search his name. You will get hundreds of fun, fiery, and frenetic recordings.