Allegheny City Ragtime Orchestra brings special music back to Pittsburgh

| Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013, 6:17 p.m.

Tom Roberts has a love of history that is almost as strong as his talent in music.

“I live for history,” he says, talking about his recent research into what he believes to be the forgotten history of ragtime music in Pittsburgh.

That research — and its results — will have him leading the Allegheny City Ragtime Orchestra at Shady Side Academy on Oct. 5 in Fox Chapel in the sixth-annual Americas in Concert. This edition is subtitled “Rediscovery, Rebirth, Restoration and Remembrance in Ragtime” and will feature works from this area's ragtime past.

Roberts is a ragtime and stride-piano specialist who has taken that music all over the world. He also did the score for Martin Scorsese's “The Aviator,” has written new scores for Charlie Chaplin films and arranged music of Louis Armstrong for the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra.

He lives on the North Side — or Allegheny City as it was known in its days of independence — hence, the name of the orchestra.

Putting together this concert has fueled his search for information and music from a time he says is generally overlooked in Pittsburgh popular-musical history — from the death of Stephen Foster in 1864 to the end of World War II. He found a link to a Pittsburgh ragtime composer George Reeg Jr., who died in 1918, at Oakland's Carnegie Library and even found a rag with a North Side connection.

It is called the “Trinicria Rag” and was written for an Italian-American newspaper published near Woods Run.

But he believes there simply has to be more and is continuing his efforts to spark a “rebirth and restoration of this Pittsburgh music.”

To accomplish that end, he formed the 11-piece Allegheny City Ragtime Orchestra, a mimic of ensembles of that era.

The Shady Side Academy concerts always have some Latin American touch to them, because they are sponsored by the University of Pittsburgh Center for Latin American Studies, as well as Med Health Services, Pittsburgh Cardiovascular Institute and Shady Side Academy.

This concert will include some Latin American and tango music played by ragtime-era mu sicians in Harlem, where a large Latin-American population preceded a black one, Roberts says.

The pianist is proud of the variety in this concert.

“This is a real ‘92nd Street Y' kind of program,” he says, referring to a famed concert series in New York City.

Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 412-320-7852.

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