That is how pianist Richard Dowling describes Scott Joplin, the self-styled “King of Ragtime” who died exactly 100 years ago on April 1.
Rooted in African-American rhythms and classical composition, Joplin’s music established ragtime as an authentic American music form and a direct precursor to jazz.
“So many of Joplin’s pieces have such memorable tunes,” said Dowling. “And he wrote a lot of melodies. He wrote so many rags, and each rag has three or four sections. How is that possible?”
Dowling is in a position to speak knowledgeably about Joplin. The pianist has immersed himself in the composer’s oeuvre, and this weekend Dowling will have the opportunity to celebrate the “King.”
Tomorrow, Dowling will perform Joplin’s complete works over the course of two recitals (at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.) at Carnegie Hall in Manhattan. The “Joplinathon,” as Dowling dubbed it, will include more than 50 rags, marches, and waltzes.
On Monday, April 3, Dowling will join forces with fellow pianist Jeff Barnhart in a program called “Two Sides of Scott Joplin,” which will be presented at the Bickford Theatre at the Morris Museum.
Dowling indicated that he is happy to share Joplin’s music with audiences, and he has no doubt that they will come away from the concerts sharing his love of that music.
“Joplin said that ragtime had ‘an intoxicating effect,’ ” Dowling said. “The syncopation (a change in the music’s rhythm) gets to you. If you can keep your feet still during ragtime, there’s something wrong.”
Dowling was exposed to Joplin’s music through the 1973 film “The Sting.” That soundtrack featured about a half-dozen Joplin compositions, notably “The Entertainer.”
“I saw the movie and fell in love with the music,” Dowling said. “I went down to the music store and bought Joplin’s collected works.”
An aspect of Joplin’s music that particularly impressed Dowling was its basis in classical music.
“Joplin was classically trained by Julius Weiss, a German-Jewish music teacher,” Dowling said. “He understood music theory, and he understood the craft. That was the mark of a fine composer. You don’t find that elsewhere.”
As an example, Dowling cited the middle section of Joplin’s “Antoinette,” which he compared to the music of Franz Schubert.
Dowling also enjoys performing such pieces as “The Nonpareil,” “The Great Crush Collision” (in which the piano mimics the sound of two trains colliding), “Binks’ Waltz,” and “Euphonic Sounds” (which Joplin himself considered one of his best).
For the Carnegie Hall concert, Dowling will include a nod to “Treemonisha,” Joplin’s opera, by including a transcription of the song “A Real Slow Drag.”