Two musicians exemplify tight-knit Ragtime community
By Bob Satnan Democrat Columnist
The tight-knit ragtime community got a little tighter this week through an act of generosity that is both astounding and heart-warming.
Sedalia gets to claim a piece of this tale because it was in June, during the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival, that many ragtime performers and fans first learned about the gift between the two Dannys.
Bryan Wright, last year’s Joplin foundation artist in residence, explained in an email that during an “afterglow” – the after-hours playing-and-partying gathering of Joplin fest performers at the Best Western State Fair Inn – longtime ragtime aficionado and festival regular Danny Matson, who has suffered kidney failure and endured dialysis for years, “silenced the room” by announcing that after years of searching for the right donor, ragtime drummer Danny Coots was a perfect match and would be donating one of his kidneys.
As Wright noted, “Silencing the crowd during the afterglow is nearly impossible and virtually unheard of, so in a way I was primed for a momentous announcement. Still, as Danny (Matson) told the story of his plight and search for a kidney, and as he started weaving in Danny Coots, I couldn’t help but be awestruck.”
The transplant took place Wednesday at a hospital in Matson’s native Wisconsin, so Coots’ gift of life arrived just in time for the Matson family’s Christmas. All reports indicate both men are recovering nicely.
The ragtime community is a relatively small but dedicated and collegial bunch. But even by their standards, this is a pretty remarkable gesture.
“Since I first met him, Danny Coots always struck me as an incredibly kind man, but the thought of a relatively young, healthy person willingly donating such an integral part of himself as a kidney to an older man that he knew exclusively from ragtime festivals — well, my initial reaction was, honestly, disbelief,” Wright wrote. “Even at the end of the night (of the announcement), I wasn’t so sure it was really true. I don’t know when I last witnessed such a selfless act of heroism in person.”
A year before the transplant announcement, Matson was working on a noteworthy project. Through the years he has been an advocate for new ragtime compositions, and he asked a collection of pianist/composers to each create and record a piano rag for a new compilation CD called “Ragtime Wizardry,” as Wright wrote, “to showcase the diversity of ragtime today. (Matson) is not a musician himself, but he longs to create music — even if by ‘remote control’ (as he says). The musicians rallied around the ailing Danny and took on the challenge.”
Matson paid commissions to the artists and covered the cost to manufacture the CDs, while Wright’s recording company, Rivermont, took care of other expenses, including the booklet artwork. Many of the artists made their pieces tributes to Matson — William McNally’s track is called “Transplant This! Rag (or O Danny Boys)” — and Coots makes an appearance on drums on Brian Holland’s contribution, “Spanish Autumn.”
One-word review of the CD: Outstanding. I’d bet Matson will deem it money well-spent.
“Ragtime Wizardry” is peppered with Joplin festival regulars, including Wright, Frank LiVolsi, Max Keenlyside, Martin Spitznagel and Bill Edwards, who paid tribute to Matson with his piece “Better With Age” and to Coots on a private Facebook page where ragtime artists and fans have kept up with the story and the Dannys’ progress.
“Danny Coots to us is more than a hero,” Edwards wrote. “He is a God-given example for us to follow, and also a treasure. We should all consider just one selfless act in our lives that helps somebody else in theirs, much less the gift of life.”
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