one of ragtime music’s elder statesmen and the anchor
of not only the first RagFest but all subsequent RagFests, is
gone, having passed away on June 29, 2017. Bill was a fantastic pianist
and musician and a fixture of the Southern California jazz and
ragtime scenes for the past 60 years. He was a co-founder, in
1967, of the Los Angeles-based Maple Leaf Club, one of the first
ragtime societies ever created, and was known far and wide for
his piano-playing and bandleading skills. When the MLC morphed
into the Rose Leaf Ragtime Club, Bill helped keep it going by
often MCing at meetings, and when the RLRC monthly newsletter’s
editor, Gus Willmorth, passed away, Bill took over as its editor.
When Friends of Jazz and Eric Marchese created RagFest in the
spring of 2000, Bill Mitchell was the first performer Eric phoned
to tell him about the new festival and to invite him to be the
first pianist in the lineup. Bill not only appeared as a soloist;
he also brought along the then-new Albany Nightboat Ragtimers,
a four-man combo featuring a repertoire of both ragtime and
Dixieland. Bill became the anchor of every subsequent RagFest
and, in late 2001, was also among the first handful of performers
to appear at the Orange County Ragtime Society, another local
ragtime club Bill continued to perform at and support even despite
an ever-increasing demand for his pianistic talents.
Bill was a true gentleman, and was “old-fashioned”
in the best sense of the term: Soft-spoken, considerate, kind
and generous. He loved many forms of music and enjoyed listening
as much as playing, and he was averse to saying anything negative
about fellow musicians, preferring to stay positive. He also
had a wonderful sense of humor, evident by the twinkle in his
eye and warm smile whenever something tickled his funny bone.
Bill will be sorely missed, and we want to take this moment
to pay tribute to him; we dedicated the 2017 RagFest
to his memory. RIP, dear friend, and please keep looking down
on us mere ragtime mortals and keeping watch over us.