Mimi Blais is a highly trained classical pianist and a native of Québec. About 1989, she discovered the ragtime and waltz music of Québec composer Jean Baptiste Lafrenière (1874-1912). Her intense interest in his unusual music led her to other ragtime writers including Scott Joplin, Joseph Lamb and Eubie Blake. Her interest also developed in the search of other Canadian ragtime performers and she now plays some of the works of Harry Thomas and Willie Eckstein. Harry Thomas was actually born in England and moved to Montreal where he made Canada's first ragtime recording, "Delirious Rag" for Victor in 1916. The composition was a Thomas and Eckstein collaboration.
I first saw Mimi Blais in concert about ten years ago at a resort near Alexandria Bay, NY and she really stole the show. Perhaps it was the solo piano contrast to the Dixieland Jazz bands that made the audience drop into dead silence when Mimi played. Since those early days, her career has been on a steady climb and many refer to Mimi as "The Queen of Ragtime." This pianist has fabulous stage presence and exhibits an aura of class, no matter what outlandish costume she is wearing at the time.
Please don't confuse ragtime and "honky tonk piano" as the two styles are unrelated. Honky Tonk is a happy bar room music in which a mediocre pianist is usually called "Fingers" or "Knuckles". Ragtime is highly structured music and the fans are truly knowledgeable. They are often able to detect slight tempo variations and tell the entertainer, in no uncertain terms, that they should mend their ways. Success and respect are not easily achieved in the world of classic ragtime. Survival is even tougher.
Mimi's newest CD, "Taxi!" is a bit of a departure from her previous pure ragtime efforts. This CD incorporates ragtime, novelty tunes, blues, and some original compositions by the artist. There are tunes by Lafrenière, Eckstein, Eubie Blake, Lucky Roberts and Scott Joplin. Some of Mimi's originals are "Black Cat Blues,"" Ma Douce Amie", "Mimi, ma biche" and a beautiful tribute to the "Little Sparrow", Edith Piaf.
Among my favorites are Eubie Blake's "Memories of You", Lafrenière's "Taxi Rag", Joplin's "Entertainer/Solace" medley and the performer's originals including Black Cat Blues and Piaf.
This fine recording deserves a place on your shelf if vintage ragtime is your bag.