James Scott (1885 - 1938)
Also known as "The Little Professor," James Scott was one of Kansas City's most prominent ragtime artists. Born in 1885 in Neosho, Mo., he learned piano as a child by listening to his mother, a former slave, play folk, blues, and gospel songs. Later, Scott studied with local piano professor John Coleman. His diligence and perfect pitch made him a quick study.
Scott's family moved to Ottawa, Kan., in 1899 and bought his first piano. In 1901, they moved to Carthage, Mo., where Scott began working at the Dumars Music Company. By this time, Scott had mastered classical, popular and ragtime. He also began performing in St. Louis, Sedalia and Kansas City.
In 1903, Dumars published Scott's first rag "A Summer Breeze: March and Two-Step." Scott continued to publish and began performing in saloons, amusement parks and theaters. In 1906, he studied with Scott Joplin in St. Louis.
Because of his association with Joplin, Scott began to publish with Stark Music Company of St. Louis and New York. Scott's most famous composition, "Frog Legs," was published by Stark in 1906. Another of Scott's compositions published by Stark was "Grace & Beauty." The cover page for the sheet music to this "Classy Rag" depicted a young white woman in a fur hat and stole posing with her dog before an ornate mirror (26k image).
Scott continued to live in Carthage and to work at Dumars, but he also established social and musical ties to Kansas City and dedicated his 1907 composition, "Kansas City Rag," to Mr. and Mrs. Matt Penn of Kansas City. Scott moved to Kansas City in 1914. He established his teaching studio next to his house and became musical director for the Panama Theater at 12th and Vine. Scott later served as musical director for the Lincoln and Eblon theaters, frequently accompanying artists touring on the Theater Owners Booking Association (TOBA) circuit. Scott's theater work ended when his band was replaced by a theater pipe organ.
Jazz began to eclipse ragtime in popularity in the 1920s and Scott's 1921 composition, "Don't Jazz Me -- Rag (I'm Music)," protested jazz's improvisational liberties with ragtime's perecise compositions. By the late 1920s the popularity of ragtime was in decline and Scott couldn't find a publisher for his new compositions.
James Scott died on August 30, 1938, after suffering from poor health. He was laid to rest next to his wife in Westlawn Cemetery in Kansas City, Kan. Their graves were unmarked and neglected until May 3, 1981, when a group of ragtime enthusiasts raised the funds for a headstone, dedicated on that date. The stone's epitaph articulates Scott's enduring musical legacy, "The Grace and Beauty of His Music Will Live Always."