The Community Room of the Evanston Public Library will resound with the music of yesteryear made new when Reginald Robinson, MacArthur Foundation genius and ragtime maestro performs his compositions at a free concert at 2 p. m. on Nov. 7 at the Library, 1703 Orrington Ave.
Co-sponsored by the World Music Center of Evanston, the program will feature excerpts from Mr. Robinson’s “Concerto for Genius.” The World Music Center, founded by teacher and concert pianist Carol Lems-Dworkin, is concerned with the performance and preservation of
ethnic music, particularly those forms that grew out of
the black experience in the New World.
Mr. Robinson, a Chicago native, first discovered
ragtime through an elementary school program called “From Bach to Bebop.” He started studying and playing piano ragtime on an electronic keyboard he got for Christmas, shortly after hearing this kind of music at a school assembly.
Although his parents could not afford piano lessons, Mr. Robinson began teaching himself how to read and write music from studying music books around his home and by comparing note-for-note ragtime transcriptions to faithful piano roll recordings.
“I feel greatly honored to be compared to (ragtime composer) Scott Joplin, and to be respected for not just playing the ragtime classics like so many others, but known as one who has updated this music with new approaches,” Mr. Robinson told the RoundTable. “I seriously don’t see my self invested in one genre of music as a ragtime composer.”
In 2004, Mr. Robinson was recognized by the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation for his innovation in ragtime music.
“It felt great to be noticed and honored with not only a respectable title as ‘genius’
but to be given a respectable sum of $500,000 in recognition of my music,” Mr.
Robinson said. “I had never heard of the award before
but had heard about the MacArthur Foundation from watching PBS.”
Mr. Robinson said that in addition to the financial value of the award, the “genius” nomination affords him credibility with ragtime experts and those who are unfamiliar with the genre. “I often hear people say to me, ‘You must be really good at what you do, because you got a MacArthur Award.’”
Ragtime is important in the 21st century “because it can be found in gospel, blues, jazz, country, rock & roll, r&b, soul, hip-hop,” Mr. Robinson said. “In other words, it is the mother of all American music. Also, the best classic ragtime music is timeless music that will live on for generations to come.”
Mr. Robinson has released four albums of his original compositions, the most recent of which is “Man Out of Time.”
He is currently at work on a new project, “Reflections,” which will be an audio-visual look at his musical creations for the past 21 years.