The Rose Leaf Ragtime Club was established in August, 1995. Phil "P.J." Schmidt, a longtime member of the esteemed Maple Leaf Club of Los Angeles, decided he wanted to try to organize ragtime get-togethers that were a little closer to home. For him, that meant the Pasadena area, north of Los Angeles.
The Rose Leaf began meeting on the last Sunday afternoon of each month at Biscotti & Books, a bookstore and coffeehouse in the Old Pasadena area. When the bookstore's ownership decided to close its doors, P.J. found another location a few miles away: the banquet room of the International House of Pancakes on East Foothill Blvd. in northeast Pasadena. After the IHOP closed its doors, the club moved to the Aztec Hotel on Foothill Blvd. In 2012, the Aztec was sold and the club now has a new home. Our current meeting place is in the banquet room of Wang's Place (a.k.a. Wang's Palace).
Wang's Place is located in Old Town Monrovia, at 120 E. Lemon Ave., just east of Myrtle Avenue in Monrovia, CA 91606. The phone number is (626) 303-3701. The banquet room houses the club's two pianosa Yamaha studio upright that the club bought through a member, and an old Gulbrandsen upright we picked up from the old IHOP owner, replete with a jangly sound...perfect for ragtime! Wang's Place has enough space to accommodate approximately 40-50 guests.
In Memory of
Phil "P.J." Schmidt
August 21, 1944 September 14, 1999
This is a short biography of P.J. Schmidt, the founder of the Rose Leaf Ragtime Club, pieced together from information furnished by friends and family. P.J. passed away on Sept 14, 1999 at Glendale Memorial Hospital following a bleeding ulcer and ensuing liver and kidney complications.
P. J. (Phil) Schmidt was born in Sheboygan, Wisconsin on August 21, 1944. He attended Northwestern University where he earned his B.A. in speech. From an early age however, he was fascinated with the piano and eventually became a professional musician. In the 1970's he moved from the Midwest to New Orleans, where he became fascinated with ragtime music, eventually working as a piano player at the Gazebo, a bar in the French Market district, playing ragtime. In New Orleans he worked with and became friends with David Thomas Roberts, who is considered one of the top contemporary ragtime composers and pianists, and maintained that connection until he died. David has indicated he will record one of P.J.'s compositions "Mathilda's Waltz" on his next CD. In New Orleans, Phil took a fling at acting, and co-starred in an acclaimed local production of "Bent" the play dealing with Nazi treatment of homosexuals.
In New Orleans, P.J. married and had a daughter, Ilana, who survives him. P.J. was divorced and left New Orleans in the early 80's to return to Chicago. In Chicago he worked as a secretary, but continued his piano studies at the American Conservatory of Music. On New year's Day of 1990, he moved to Pasadena, where he went to work, first at Waterson College as a teacher, and later at JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) as a secretary.
In 1993, he recorded his first and only album: P.J. Schmidt Plays Classic Ragtime Favorites, featuring the compositions of the "Big Three" of classic ragtime: Scott Joplin, James Scott and Joseph Lamb. That year and in subsequent years, P.J. performed at several Ragtime festivals, including the Scott Joplin Festival in Sedalia, Missouri, the West Coast Ragtime Festivals in Fresno and Sacramento, California, and the Rocky Mountain Ragtime Festival in Boulder, Colorado.
In Southern California, he performed regularly at the Maple Leaf Club, a bimonthly gathering of local ragtime enthusiasts, but when its fortunes began to wane, he started a new group, the Rose Leaf Ragtime Club, in Pasadena in August of 1995. This club's first meetings were held at Biscotti and Books, a bookstore and coffeehouse in Old Town. To the delight of his fellow ragtimers, P.J. held the club's meetings on the last Sunday of every month, rather than every other month, as the Maple Leaf had done. After Biscotti & Books closed in 1996, the meetings were moved to the IHOP in East Pasadena.
P.J., graciously and with good humor, hosted most of the Rose Leaf meetings, and also played anywhere from three to eight pieces during each meeting, depending on how many other players were available. There is normally a contingent of about 8 to 10 players at each meeting in a group numbering between 40 and 50. Although favoring the "Big Three," as mentioned above, P.J. would also occasionally play one of his own beautiful compositions, such as "Mathilda's Waltz," "French Vanilla" or "Father Martin's Song."
In 1998, branching out into another aspect of his artistic nature, P.J. mounted a one-man show in Hollywood, featuring the poetry of Walt Whitman.
At the August 1999 meeting, the club celebrated its Fourth Anniversary, giving P.J. a much-deserved tribute including a special song composed for the occasion, "The Rose Leaf Way." In retrospect, it served as a farewell party for a courageous, sensitive, extremely talented individual.
P.J. Schmidt is survived by his father, two sisters, who live in Wisconsin, and his daughter, Ilana, who resides with her husband and daughter in Springfield, Illinois.Information compiled by Ron Ross, Public Relations Director, Rose Leaf Ragtime Club