Tag Archives: Bob Milne

Sit down, shut up, and listen to ragtime


The ragtime pianist Bob Milne described a typical moment in his career during an oral history interview at the Library of Congress in 2004:

“I recently—well, three years ago or somethlng—played in Billings, Montana for the installation of the Shriners’ Grand Potentate. And the Shriners were all out there sitting at round tables; it was all black tie and tuxedo and gowns, and I’m up on the stage playing. Well, there’s this one table of Shriners that must have stopped somewhere else on their way to the dinner, because they were a little bit out of control; they were laughing and joking and slapping each other on the back…and I’m playing the piano, and these guys are a distraction. “

“So…I could see the Grand Potentate sitting there, and he was obviously concerned with these guys, so I decided, well…. See, something in the piano business is that, whenever someone like this appears on the scene, all the customers want…they want to see someone handle the situation. They don’t want to themselves; they’re too timid. So I realized a long time ago, it’s the job of the piano player—deal with it! So I have never been afraid to deal with these people on any level. “

“So what I did was, I was up on a stage, and they were over there, and I had a cordless mic. So, I stood up after playing this tune, and they’re all over here, ‘Wah-ha-ha, Ha haw haw…’ going on like this; they’re standing up.”

“So I took the mike, and I said ‘Ladies and gentlemen, the next tune that I’m going to play for you is the St. Louis Rag. It was written by Tom Turpin, who owned the Rosebud Bar in St. Louis; from 1900 to 1908, Scott Joplin hung out in the bar.’”

“And as I was saying this, I was walking over to this corner of the stage—there are little stairs going down—and I said, ‘The Rosebud Bar was an Institution in St. Louis, because people would come up the rivers, down the rivers…people would all go to the Rosebud’—and by now I was standing next to these guys—and I said [getting louder on each word until he is shouting] ‘They would go to the Rosebud, where they would all SIT DOWN, SHUT UP, AND LISTEN TO RAGTIME!’”

“They sat down and shut up. The Po­tentate almost fell over backward in his chair laughing, and I just went back up on the stage and continued. But to me, that’s just business as normal!”

This according to “‘Sit down, shut up, and listen to ragtime’: Bob Milne and the occupational folklore of the traveling piano player” by Jennifer Cutting and Stephen Winick (Folklife Center news XXIX/1–2 [winter–spring 2007] pp. 15–17). Above and below, Mr. Milne plies his trade.

Related articles:


Filed under Humor, Jazz and blues