The foot-stompin’, banjo-pluckin’, clarinet-wailin’ ragtime and Dixieland jazz festival known as Grugelfest begins Friday and continues through Sunday at a new location: the Holiday Inn French Quarter in Perrysburg.
Ask chief organizer Richard “Ragtime Rick” Grafing about the subtleties of this festival and you’ll get none.
Oh, he’s a serious musicologist and a passionate devotee of that period music. But he doesn’t want people thinking they’re going to see the Toledo Symphony Orchestra at the Toledo Museum of Art’s Peristyle, either.
“Ragtime was a music of the people,” Grafing said, half-joking and half-serious when he added it “was not from Ivory Towers, but the clubs, the whorehouses, the saloons, and the streets” of yesteryear.
From 1897 to 1917, ragtime — a forerunner of jazz — was one of America’s most popular forms of music. It got its name in part because some people thought of its unconventional syncopation as “ragged time,” Grafing said.
Around 1917, it gave way to Dixieland, which brought listeners to the Jazz Age of the 1920s and the different sub-genres of music Americans now put under the general label of jazz.
Large groups of Americans were first exposed to ragtime in 1893 at the Chicago World’s Fair, which had some 27 million visitors between May and October that year, the Library of Congress says.
But enough of that.
Though a purist on a mission to help preserve ragtime and Dixieland for future generations, Grafing said he has as much disdain for the egghead academia thing as he does for what he calls “amateurs” who wear goofy straw hats and uniforms at malls, ice cream parlors, or tourist attractions and claim they’re performing music from that era.
Ragtime and Dixieland are serious genres that are meant to be fun and rowdy. You won’t find any pretentious “Silence is Golden” signs posted at Grugelfest calling for visitors to remain quiet while musicians perform, Grafing said.
“We're trying to keep the history alive, but we're not doing it as an academic thing. We're doing it as fun,” Grafing said. “You can talk all you want. You can order food and drink. It's up to us to play so well you don’t want to talk.”
Grafing, a one-time Toledo mayoral candidate and former owner of a longtime South Toledo tavern where he frequently performed, said he expects several hundred people to attend again.
The event was moved from downtown to Perrysburg only because the hotel it had been using was booked early, which Grafing said is a credit to downtown’s growing popularity.
“I think they’re going to love Perrysburg as much,” he said of this year’s Grugelfest-goers.
Four of the five bands have performed at past Grugelfests. Making its first appearance will be the Red Rose Ragtime Band of Chicago, which plays anything from Scott Joplin rags to jazz compositions by Jelly Roll Morton and King Oliver.
Toledo’s own Cakewalkin’ Jass Band will once again be at Grugelfest. Led by clarinetist Ray Heitger, the last remaining founding member, Cakewalkin’ Jass Band is best known for its nearly 33-year run at the original Tony Packo’s Cafe on Front Street. It began playing there on July 3, 1968.
Other bands scheduled to perform are Tex Wyndham and his Red Lion Jazz Band of Mendenhall, Pa.; Dave Greer’s Classic Jazz Stompers of Dayton, and Jon Seiger and the All Stars, of Rochester, N.Y.
Grugelfest got its name from its founder, the late Ralph Grugel, a trombonist who led Cleveland’s Eagle Jazz Band.
Created in 1986, the festival was originally known as the Fall Dixieland Jazz Festival. It was in Strongsville, Ohio, its first 25 years.
But when it became so cash-strapped that board members voted to shut it down in 2011, Grafing picked it up and moved it to Toledo starting in 2012.
“It's a lot of work to put the festival on, but it's a very satisfying thing to do,” Grafing said.
Proceeds benefit the Dyslexia Education Training Center of Northwest Ohio, which opens in its new location at Starr Elementary School in Oregon on Monday.
The Ralph Grugel Memorial Jazz Festival, aka Grugelfest, is Friday through Sunday at the Holiday Inn French Quarter, 10630 Fremont Pike, Perrysburg. Five jazz bands specializing in ragtime, Dixieland, and other sounds of yesteryear will be featured. Tickets are $45 for individual sessions and as much as $160 for weekend packages that include some extras. Profits from Grugelfest 2017 will benefit the Dyslexia Education Training Center of Northwest Ohio. For more information and tickets, see grugelfest.com or call 419-321-5007.
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