Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Adventure in Starkville, Mississippi

Ragtime Jazz Festival 2017

My new friend Pat Matthes, who works at MSU in Starkville, Mississippi, invited me as her guest to attend both a dinner and the last night of the Charles H. Templeton Ragtime Jazz Festival, an annual event, hosted by the Mississippi State University Libraries. Both the dinner and the concert later that evening, April 1, was one of the most memorable adventures I've had since moving to Mississippi, and truly a great topic for my Postcards.

The last time I was out of Columbus I attended a book club meeting in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, during the summer of last year. The weather on my way to Starkville was a direct contrast to my trip to Hattiesburg. I left Columbus around 4:15 and while the sun was moving toward the western Horizon, it was well above my windshield, and so I was able to see with clarity the now resurgent greenery as Spring takes hold. Starkville is one of three small cities in what is known as the Golden Triangle region, which is experiencing an industrial renaissance, and on the way from Columbus to Starkville (about 28 miles), the industrial activity is evident. There are community colleges and tech schools, the Golden Triangle Industrial Park, and the airport, off the highway amid lush greenery, and the sides of the highway was freshly mowed. Again, one of the beautiful aspects of Mississippi are its highways and the fields and trees and large and small bodies of water.

Starkville, of course, is a college town, and much of it is dedicated to fulfilling the needs of the student population. The dinner I attended was held at Restaurant Tyler right downtown, but there are several coffee shops and restaurants all around the downtown. There were four such businesses within my view as I entered the Tyler. As Pat and I visited, I pointed out the "mason jar" water glasses and said "rustic" as we looked around the restaurant. She countered "sophisticated rustic" and I agreed. The dinner is part of the program for the ragtime festival, and is attended by faculty from the library and, I imagine, from other university departments. My friend Pat is next to the gentleman in the tuxedo, and had I not been taking this picture, I would have been seated between them. The gentleman in the tuxedo is Matt Musselman, the trombone player for Dan Levinson's Roof Garden Jazz Band, from New York City. They perform around the world. Anyway, we had a choice of three entrees, and of course I chose the catfish entree, which was complemented with garlic potatoes, fried okra, and hushpuppies. And I do have to say that I will be returning with my partner when he gets here, because the catfish at this restaurant is second only to the catfish one can have at the Friendship House restaurant in Aberdeen, Mississippi, about 30 miles north of Columbus.

The concert held on the campus of MSU, just outside of Starkville had two musical components. The first was a piano concert that surveyed early Ragtime from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.  Part of the reason for the historic survey of piano music, performed by internationally renowned pianists Brian Holland and Jeff Barnhart, is as a relevant part of the Charles H. Templeton, Sr. Music Museum at the university as a means of enhancing research in the area of ragtime music and increasing awareness of the Templeton Collection housed in MSU Libraries. The second musical component of the concert surveyed early twentieth century jazz, performed by the Roof Garden Jazz Band.

Both jazz and ragtime are two of my favorite musical genres and Mississippi and other southern states were directly responsible for the advent of both types of music, along with blues and early rock 'n roll. There's no denying that the South is one of the most active generators of uniquely American music.

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