Taslimah bey enterprises

 
 
 

Over the years, I have been asked why I pursue ragtime music, the only thing I can respond is that playing ragtime feels like coming home.

It’s a collage of favorite moments – Mama singing “Sunny Side of the Street,” Granny cooking fried corn in the morning, waking up to my brother playing the blues on our piano, the music announcing that he was home from college.  The fast syncopated rhythms combined with the haunting melodies reminds me of our family holiday gatherings – a cacophony of people aged from less than a year to 90 years old, singing carols as the kids play tag between our legs, all becoming silent as my grandmother leads us in Silent Night.  These scenes have been repeated in various ways throughout the history of the human family and embrace the concept of home – where I go when I play ragtime.

Playing the music of Scott Joplin, Jelly Roll Morton, James P. Johnson, Tom Turpin and Artie Matthews allows me to reach that inner spirit which some people have termed the soul.  The sound of the rolling bass and the syncopated rhythms gives me a comfort I do not get from any other musical genre.  I did a lot of research of the music to get a sense of how these composers went about their lives and why they made this music, and was moved by their struggles.  I came to understand them and to relate to them, and began to feel a keen sense of ownership.  This was my heritage.  This was where I had come from.  This was why I felt like home when I played this music.  This was my music!

Charlie Gabriel, a fourth-generation New Orleans musician, has been my mentor for a good part of my life.  He has an incredible knowledge of music and the history


of jazz, learned from his experiences, and the tradition of his family.  He has taught me a lot about traditional New Orleans music, and about music in general.  He always talks about music being a conversation between instrumentalists, which is a very good description of the improvised sections of New Orleans music, and consequently, how I interpret ragtime music.  Everyone is talking (playing) at once, but no one ever gets in anyone’s way because it is a conversation.  Everyone is listening to each other, and responding to what they hear.


The style of ragtime I play carries a large part of this within the songs.  I never think of ragtime as a stationary object, but as a living, breathing music, a place to experience both the struggles and triumphs of humanity.  When we play ragtime, we experience the music, the life and the times of the composers who wrote it, and we combine our lives with theirs.  Everyone plays with a depth of feeling that is unimaginable until you actually experience it.  You don’t just hear music, you experienced the life of the musicians, and you feel the music deep in your soul. 

 

“Ragtime feels like home to me...”

 

“...playing ragtime is like coming home”