By GWEN SISSON
In his first appearance at the Charles Templeton Ragtime Jazz Festival, Mississippi pianist Jim Hession is excited to share his solo styles of early jazz, ragtime, stride and boogie woogie.
Hession will be one of four entertainers taking part in the Fifth Annual Charles Templeton Ragtime Jazz Music Festival set for March 25-26 at the Mitchell Memorial Library on the Mississippi State University campus.
“The Charles Templeton Ragtime Festival is a breath of fresh air on the festival circuit,” Hession said. “We first learned about the stellar reputation of this festival through our work with the Mississippi Arts Commission. It is indeed an honor to be included in this years lineup.”
Hession’s first performance at the Festival will be in concert Friday night at 7:30 p.m. with Sue Keller at Bettersworth Auditorium in Lee Hall on the MSU campus.
At 1:45 p.m. Saturday, Hession will host a “Talk at the Piano,” held in the Charles Templeton Music Museum on the Fourth Floor of Mitchell Memorial Library.
Lyle Tate, one of the organizers for the Festival, said Jim Hession is a Mississippi Gulf Coast artist who is new to the Festival this year.
“I spoke with him yesterday, and he said he’s really looking forward to coming to the Festival, about which he’s heard a lot of good things, and he’s excited about coming to this part of the state,” Tate said.
Tate said Hession has been one of the leading American pianists in the solo styles of early jazz, ragtime, stride, Harlem shout, boogie-woogie and swing for more than four decades. Hession and his wife, Martha, have relocated to the Mississippi Gulf Coast and perform frequently in New Orleans, La.
“This is our fifth year,” said Stephen Cunetto, MSU Libraries’ Administrator of Systems and Templeton Festival coordinator, “and we’re looking forward to our best Festival yet. Having such outstanding returning artists – and getting to feature Jim Hession, one of Mississippi’s own – has everyone involved excited about the weekend. We welcome people each year from all across the country, and we hope this year will bring even more ragtime enthusiasts to town.”
Organizers said they are excited about have a Mississippian perform at the festival and Hession’s “Talk at the Piano” is expected to be educational and entertaining.
“About 10 years ago after a series of college lectures a professor cornered me and asked me if I realized why I was so unique as a lecturer,” Hession said. “He brought up the fact that I was part of the living history of jazz.”
Having been a professional musician in the 1960’s in California, Hession was meeting, playing and listening to the music and stories of the originators of ragtime and jazz.
“Eubie Blake, Joe Jordan, the sidemen of Jelly Roll Morton’s band, Louis Armstrong, just to name a few of the giants that I had the pleasure of knowing and performing with,” Hession said. “Having first hand contact with these early jazz /ragtime pioneers provided an invaluable insight into the elements of the styles and the true flavor of the music.”
Hession said it was at the time he was finishing up his degree in music and film composition, that he met and began recording with the legendary Eubie Blake.
“He turned my life upside down,” Hession said.
According to Hession, America’s indigenous music, ragtime and jazz, is revered world wide and has an ever increasing number of performers and supporters. He said currently there is a thirst for knowledge internationally for America’s music and its roots.
“I hope to share the knowledge gained from my personal associations with many of the originators of early jazz and ragtime with younger players and students alike,” Hession said. “In short, I am interested in passing on, not only musical techniques, but also the genuine joy and love of the music itself.”
Hession stresses the importance of improvisation in the “post ragtime styles” such as stride, swing and boogie woogie. He said these styles developed along the lines of creative challenges between the originators.
“Ragtime and stride pianists created countless variations on themes and improvisational flourishes to distinguish themselves as innovators,” Hession said. “Ideas flowed freely between pianists, composers and instrumentalists to create an exciting mix of new music. I always attempt to capture this elusive musical spirit in my teaching and performances.”
For more information about Hession, go to http://www.hessionsession.webs.com .
The Charles Templeton Ragtime Jazz Festival is sponsored by the Mississippi State University Libraries, Charles Templeton Sr. Music Museum, Starkville Area Arts Council, Rotary Club of Starkville, Greater Starkville Development Partnership, and in part by grants from the Mississippi Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Tickets are available for daily events, evening concerts and for the entire festival by visiting http://library.msstate.edu/ragtime/festival/tkts/index.html  or by contacting Festival Planning Committee member Lyle Tate at firstname.lastname@example.org  or 325-2559.
For more information about the Charles Templeton Ragtime Jazz Festival, go to http://www.library.msstate.edu/templeton/festival .