Ragtime pianist and scholar Trebor Tichenor passed away last month after a stroke. He was 74. Longtime St. Louis Public Radio listeners may remember his weekly program “Ragophile” that aired on the station in the 1970s and ‘80s.
We dedicated the entire hour of Cityscape today to remembering Tichenor with his son Andy Tichenor and fellow band members Don Franz and Al Stricker.
In the fall of 1961 Trebor Tichenor (piano), Don Franz (tuba), Al Stricker (banjo) and Bill Mason (cornet) formed the St. Louis Ragtimers and began a regular gig at the Natchez Queen on Gaslight Square.
“We interviewed on Labor Day. The owner [of the Natchez Queen] said ‘Well, there won’t be much there [but] we can hear you guys.’ Well we fooled them. We called everybody we knew in town and the place was packed. We played one set and the guy said ‘You’re hired. We’ll start with Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.’” Stricker said.
The band stayed together for more than 50 years, playing their last show just a few months ago at the Sheldon. In 1965 the band began playing regularly at the Goldenrod Showboat, hosting annual ragtime festivals there for years.
Ragtime, said Andy Tichenor, was his dad’s life work.
“He started in the business probably in the early ‘50s, listening to early rag records,” Andy Tichenor said. “And then back in those early days, he started collecting this stuff, the sheets, piano rolls, and it literally became his life’s body of work.”
Trebor Tichenor’s ragtime collection included a player piano, piano rolls to play on the piano, records, and sheet music. Along with the objects, he began collecting information and stories about the history of ragtime.
Even before he began collecting ragtime paraphernalia, ragtime music made Tichenor fall in love with playing the piano.
“He started at age 5 and his parents kept him taking lessons and he really didn’t take to it,” Franz said. “Finally his piano teacher said I’m going to let you pick a song, and he picked "Maple Leaf Rag" and that was it.”
When the St. Louis Ragtimers performed, they played a mix of original works and ragtime classics. During the show, we played the band’s recordings of original pieces “Chestnut Valley” and “Bucksnort Stomp” as well as old favorite “Up Jumped the Devil.”
“Chestnut Valley” was inspired by the Mill Creek Valley section of downtown St. Louis, home of ragtime composer Tom Turpin’s Rosebud Bar.
Bucksnort Stomp is named after the hometown of Trebor Tichenor’s wife, Jeanette. According to legend, the town owes its name to the vast amounts of moonshine made there.
“The animals would stomp and snort at the smell of the moonshine,” Stricker said.
“Up Jumped the Devil” was an old fiddle tune that they started playing on Gaslight Square, Stricker said.
“Trebor always liked it, and the people on Gaslight Square liked it too,” he said. “It’s a snappy little tune.”
To wind up the hour, we played a recording of Andy Tichenor playing a duet with his father of Jelly Roll Morton’s “King Porter Stomp” with Andy on trumpet and Trebor on piano.
Both Andy and his sister Virginia continue their father’s musical tradition, with Andy playing trumpet and Virginia piano like her dad.
“He created an environment for my brother and myself that was just really fun. We saw all of his great friends and music and we just naturally wanted to be a part of it,” Virginia said.
Dennis Owsley, jazz historian and host of the weekly St. Louis Public Radio program “Jazz Unlimited,” interviewed Tichenor in 1986 for his book on the history of jazz in St. Louis.
“One of the things that impressed me about Trebor was that not only was he a performer and a musician, but he was a scholar,” Owsley said.
On Sunday March 23, Owsley will dedicate the first hour of “Jazz Unlimited” to remembering Trebor Tichenor.
"Jazz Unlimited" Remembering Trebor Tichenor
Sunday, March 23, 2014
St. Louis Public Radio 90.7FM
Cityscape is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer, hosted by Steve Potter and funded in part by the the Arts and Education Council of Greater St. Louis, the Regional Arts Commission and the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency.