The Terra Verde Corner

Biographical Information

Frank French || Hal Isbitz || Glenn Jenks || Brian Keenan || Scott Kirby
Tom McDermott || David Thomas Roberts || Jack Rummel || Luiz Simas

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Frank French

Frank French Frank French was born in Oakland, 1952 and grew up in San Francisco's Haight Ashbury district. A survivor of the Psychedelic 1960's, he became part of the city's "outside" music scene in the early 1970's while completing his musical education at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and San Francisco State University. It was during this time that he became acquainted with Cuban and Porto Rican dance music as pianist with "Papo y su Preferida", noting the immediate connection between Antillean music and piano Ragtime.

Moving to Vienna, Austria in the late 1970's he assumed the lifestyle of a Bohemian, tuning pianos by day and bolstering Vienna's counter-cultural cabaret scene by night. Teaming up with Latin Americans living there, he formed one of the earliest Salsa bands in Central Europe, introducing the music to Austrians, Swiss and Germans, and paving the way for noted performers like Ray Baretto to make debut performances in that part of the world. During his Austrian residence he also found time to record the entire Well-Tempered Clavier of J.S. Bach, thus securing a firm footing in the music of both the Old and New Worlds.

Returning to the United States in 1983 he became a noted figure in the world of syncopated piano music, first as a performer and later as composer of such notable and widely-recorded instrumentals as Belle of Louisville and Bucktown Buck. Moving to Colorado in 1990, he founded and directed the Rocky Mountain Ragtime Festival and Institute working as a musical activist in schools, community concerts, radio and community television. In 1996 he visited Cuba with the Pianos to Havana project and subsequently concertized in Cuba and the United States raising funds to send pianos and technical support to music schools in Cuba and to improve relations between people of both nations.

Frank French espouses the Creole Tradition of the melting pot of cultures in the music of the New World, especially that of the United States, the Caribbean and Brazil. As a composer, teacher, and performer he continues to emphasize progressive assimilation of musical and cultural concepts in order to create an aesthetic and societal texture in which the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. His teaching seminars include both introductory and hands-on sessions for all ages and all levels.

Be sure to read Frank's article Why Terra Verde?

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Hal Isbitz

Hal Isbitz Hal Isbitz was born in 1931. He grew up in Los Angeles and is a resident of Santa Barbara, California. Hal is a retired computer programmer and classically trained musician. He started writing ragtime in the mid-70's, being mainly influenced by the ragtime compositions of Scott Joplin and Joseph Lamb, American popular music, and the works of the Romantics, such as Chopin and Rachmaninov. Inspired by such pieces as Joplin's Solace and Artie Matthews' Pastime Rag No. 5, he began writing Latin American pieces in the early 80's. In 1987 he became acquainted with the Brazilian tangos of Ernesto Nazareth, whose works exerted a strong influence in the creation of works employing the idioms of Latin America. To date he has written some 65 pieces. Hal was awarded second prize for his rag Lazy Susan in the 1997 Scott Joplin Foundation Ragtime Composition Contest.

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Glenn Jenks

Glenn Jenks Glenn Jenks is a pianist, composer, performer, educator, raconteur, and wicked-hot banjo picker. He combines many elements of stagecraft with extraordinary musicianship. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, he has performed across the United States and Canada with Jud Strunk, Gordon Bok, Dick Hyman, Max Morath, and Doc Watson. His ragtime festival appearances include Sedalia, Toronto, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, and Norfolk. Jenks is a very prominent ragtime pianist and recording artist, and one of the most prolific and imaginative composers of the ragtime revival. Glenn produces the annual Harvest Ragtime Revue, a family oriented variety show which tours his home state of Maine each October. He is listed in Who's Who in Music.

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Brian Keenan

Brian Keenan Brian P. Keenan was born into a very musical family December 31, 1971 in St. Paul, Minnesota. He began taking piano lessons at age ten and started playing classic ragtime shortly thereafter. He began composing at twelve, and in 1988 his Denn Also Hat Gott Die Welt Geliebt for chorus and piano won first place in the West Central division in the high school classification of the Music Teachers National Association/Columbia Pictures Publications Student Composition Contest.

Keenan was introduced to the world of new ragtime when he met Frank French, David Thomas Roberts, and Jack Rummel in 1991. In 1994 he graduated with honors from the University of Colorado-Boulder where he studied composition, piano and harpsichord, and was a member of the school's Early Music and Electronic Music ensembles. He was also the first recipient of the university's Certificate in Music Technology. In 1994 he was assistant musical director for the university's production of The Mistress of Two Masters, a musical play by Paul Levitt about Anna Giro, mistress of Antonio Vivaldi.

Brian has performed on local television in the Twin Cities area and has been a featured performer at the Scott Joplin Festival in Sedalia, Missouri, the Rocky Mountain Ragtime Festival in Boulder, Colorado, and for the Classic Ragtime Society in Indianapolis. He plays a wide variety of contemporary rags in addition to the tangos of Ernesto Nazareth and the early folk rags of Charles Hunter and Brun Campbell. In addition to 45 ragtime-based piano solos, Keenan's works include a Piano Concertino, Magnificat for chorus and organ, and Three Songs on Ancient Chinese Texts for soprano and chamber ensemble. His CD releases, comprising folk ragtime, new ragtime, and Terra Verde, include Solo Piano (1996, Solo Art) and Hidden Falls (1998, Viridiana).

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Scott Kirby

Scott Kirby Pianist/composer Scott Kirby specializes in distinctly American musical styles which include Classic Ragtime, New Ragtime, Creole Music and Terra Verde. As a performer, he is also an educator, providing historical context and musical insight into the program as it unfolds. Whether on the concert stage or in the classroom, Kirby offers a musical experience which is both informative and intimate, educational yet highly personal.

Each presentation is unique and may include examples from North America, South America and the Caribbean, illuminating how a rich musical heritage evolved from a melange of ethnic music and "art music", from the aural and the composed traditions. Various composers include Louis Moreau Gottschalk, Scott Joplin, Brazilian composer Ernesto Nazareth, Jazz pioneer Ferdinand "Jelly Roll" Morton and Ernesto Lecuona of Cuba. Concerts may also contain short pieces from Latin America and the French Caribbean such as the Haitian merengue, the biguine from Martinique, the Puerto Rican danza, the cumbia or the Cuban habanera. In addition, Kirby champions writers of New Ragtime and Terra Verde, contemporary counterparts to the more traditional styles. As a composer, Kirby combines the influence of nineteenth century romanticism with these New World idioms into his own individual, syncopated language.

A native of Ohio, Scott Kirby began his study of music at the age of six, and continued formal piano instruction for seventeen years. He worked under Robert Howat of Wittenberg University of Ohio, and Sylvia Zaremba at the Ohio State University. After obtaining an English degree from Ohio State University, Kirby moved to New Orleans and began his professional music career. In the following four years, he recorded the complete rags of Scott Joplin, and made his debut at all of the major ragtime festivals in the United States, as well as festivals in Belgium, France, Norway and Hungary.

Along with being Musical Director of the Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival in Sedalia, MO, and of the Rocky Mountain Ragtime and American Music Festival in Boulder, CO, Kirby divides his time between performance and composition, and is available for concert appearances, workshops, residencies and festivals.

Be sure to read his excerpt on Terra Verde in the article called What is Terra Verde?.

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Tom McDermott

Tom McDermott Born in St. Louis, Missouri on September 24, 1957, Tom soaked up that town's ragtime heritage, learning dozens of rags and issuing an LP of originals (New Rags, Stomp Off Records, 1982). After earning a Master's Degree in music from Washington University and working two years for the morning paper as a jazz and rock critic, McDermott headed downriver in 1984 to New Orleans.

In Louisiana, he has explored the styles of New Orleans masters like Jelly Roll Morton, Professor Longhair and James Booker. As a soloist he is in demand as one of the few pianists in town comfortable with the Crescent City's traditional jazz and R&B styles.

In 1990, Tom joined the renowned group, the Dukes of Dixieland. The early '90s edition of the Dukes is considered by many to be the finest since the death of the founding Assunto brothers in the 1970s. During Tom's residency with the group, it has played Carnegie Hall, toured Germany, Denmark, Peru, Japan, and much of America, and recorded four CDs. The second of these, A Salute To Jelly Roll Morton, featured legendary guitarist Danny Barker, and a host of McDermott arrangements. Tom has also arranged for the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and for the movies (the 1991 "He Said, She Said"). In 1994 he co-founded the New Orleans Nightcrawlers, a modern brass band; he is the executive producer and one of the arrangers on their debut album on the Rounder Records label.

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David Thomas Roberts

David Thomas Roberts David Thomas Roberts was born on January 16, 1955 in Moss Point, Mississippi. By age eight he was composing, painting, and writing stories. In 1963 he performed his first composition, a waltz, in recital. From 1965-69 he focused upon visual art, a field in which he remains entirely self-taught. In 1969, he returned to the piano and composition. In 1971, at age 16, he wrote his first rag. At this time he was especially interested in the music of Charles Ives, Erik Satie, Scott Joplin and Alexander Scriabin, whose work he encountered and studied independently of any teacher.

In his early twenties he wrote some of the piano pieces for which he is best-known. His poetry was first published at that time. His first recording, Music For a Pretty Baby, appeared in 1978. By 1984, two albums devoted entirely to his own compositions were internationally available. Pieces such as The Early Life of Larry Hoffer, Roberto Clemente, Pinelands Memoir, Through the Bottomlands, and the eclectic suite, New Orleans Street led many writers to hail Roberts as the leading contemporary ragtime-based composer. The New Orleans historian Al Rose called him "the most important composer of this half of the century in America".

He made his European debut in February, 1988, at Oslo Concert Hall and at The Black Box (Oslo performance center). His first joint concert with Frank French took place in Boulder, Colorado in October, 1991. David Thomas Roberts is listed in "The International Who's Who in Music". He is the author of entries in "The New Grove Dictionary of American Music". He continues to lead the multi-media life of composer-pianist, writer and visual artist, and is currently writing a critical history of New Ragtime.

Be sure to read David Thomas Robert's article on Terra Verde Music.

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Jack Rummel

Jack Rummel Jack Thomas Rummel was born on August 17, 1939, in Tacoma, Washington State. He took his early lessons from the obligatory neighbourhood children's piano teacher and later studied the rudiments of popular musical stylings from a local Tacoma bandleader. He became aware of ragtime in the 1950s due to some early 45 rpm records by Joe "Fingers" Carr and Crazy Otto, but didn't pursue its serious study until the 1970s when he was awakened to the classic rags of Scott Joplin and others through the recordings of Joshua Rifkin and Max Morath. Since then he has embraced ragtime as an avocation, starting with a folio and record collecting, composition beginning in 1979, hosting a weekly radio program since 1980, writing articles and reviews for ragtime publications and performing at various festivals. An album containing his earlier works has been released on the Stomp Off label (Back to Ragtime, SOS 1118). An amateur musician, he has practiced dentistry in Boulder, Colorado since 1968.

Be sure to read Jack's article Por Que Terra Verde?

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Luiz Simas

Luiz Simas Luiz Simas was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Composer, singer and pianist, he has performed and recorded with several well known Brazilian artists, such as Raul Seixas, Roberto Carlos, Elza Soares, Marilia Pera, Lobao, Ritchie, Oswaldo Montenegro, Amelinha, and many others. Luiz was a founding member of many groups in Brazil, such as Agora-4 ('68-'69, bossa-nova), Módulo 1000 (early '70s, heavy psychodelic/experimental rock) and Vimana (mid '70s, funk/symphonic rock). Many of his songs have been recorded in Brazil, and he also composed several soundtracks for tv. Luiz was the first musician in Rio to use a synthesizer, and he composed and recorded sound effects for several TV and radio networks, including the trademark sound for Brazil's largest network (TV Globo).

Living in New York since 1989, he has performed as a solo pianist, as well as with his own group and with several Brazilian and American groups, in many different places such as the Brooklyn Conservatory, the Greenwich House Music School, the Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, Rutgers University, SOB's, the Village Gate, The Spanish Institute, The Ballroom, the Polish Consulate, the Rocky Mountain Ragtime Festival in Boulder, Colorado, the Roger Williams University in Bristol, Rhode Island, the Mirage Hotel (Las Vegas), and also in Jamaica, the British Virgin Islands and Trinidad in the West Indies.

Luiz was the music director for Brazilian legendary singer Elza Soares when she performed at the Village Gate. He also performed many times with the great American singer Natalie Carter.

In 1993 singer Ana Caram recorded his song Maybe in her CD for Chesky Records, which was released in the USA, Europe and Japan. Some of his songs recently recorded by other artists include Chorinho com Bossa, recorded by mandolin player Marilynn Mair in her CD Nadando em Luz, and Sombra da Partida, a song he wrote in partnership with Ritchie Court and Bernardo Vilhena, originally recorded by Ritchie and which was recorded again in 2002 by the Brazilian female singer Gil, from the group Banda Beijo.

His recording New Chorinhos From Brazil, a collection of his original chorinhos (a Brazilian style akin to ragtime) was highly praised in Keyboard Magazine, as well as in the internet at Luna Kafe's e-zine. Luiz also released the CD Recipe for Rhythm, with his original songs written in partnership with lyricist Ellen Schwartz. And his latest release is the CD Impromptu, with solo piano improvisations in many Brazilian styles.

Luiz's style is very influenced by classical music, jazz and bossa nova, and by Brazilian popular, traditional and modern music. His repertoire includes his "chorinhos" and his new compositions, with his own beautiful melodies and exquisite harmonies (his trademark), and his presentations are always very vibrant and extremely well received by the audiences.

In the Spring of 2003 Luiz gave a sold-out concert at the Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall with guest musicians Mauro Refosco on percussion, Barbara Blonska on flute and Steve Kowarsky on bassoon. The same program was presented again at the Gala Celebration of the organization NYDAI at the Polish Consulate in Manhattan, this time with percussionist Jorge Amorim. The Polish Consulate concert was recorded live and will be released as a new CD in the Summer of 2003.

Future plans for 2003 include performances at the Rocky Mountain Ragtime Festival in Boulder in July (playing choros as a featured artist), and at the Oslo Ragtime Festival in Oslo, Norway, in August, as well as giving for the third consecutive season a course on Brazilian Music at the City University of New York's Graduate Center in October.

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