You may or may not know this, but Phil Matlin, owner of Perfect Magic is a ragtime piano player. He was always a piano player, that’s how he won my mother’s heart when he was 21 and I was 17, just a few years back, but that’s another story.
He was heavy into music and was musical director for amateur productions such as Oklahoma, Finnian’s Rainbow, Carousel, and the like. This was in the 60’s. In the 1970’s, when he went into the magic business, he met Dick Zimmerman who is a magician as well as a ragtime musician and historian. They discovered this mutual love of music and Dick tried to persuade Phil to call Mimi Blais, a Montrealer and top notch ragtime player and entertainer, to ask her if she would give him lessons in ragtime. He was too shy to call her. But one day when she was playing on stage at the Montreal Jazz Festival , I insisted he go over to her when the show was over just to give her regards from Dick Zimmerman. I twisted his arm. He said something like, “Great show and Hi from Dick Zimmerman.” “Oh, you must be the magician that he is always telling me to call!” And somehow from there they got to speaking about lessons, which she said she didn’t give, but if he was any good she would coach him.
She invited him to her home to strut his stuff so to speak and when he sat down at the piano he was so nervous he couldn’t see the keys. He was playing for Mimi Blais. He hit all the cracks and I’m not sure if he cried but she understood. She said she was going into the kitchen to make a cup of coffee and left him alone where he pulled himself together and played. She agreed to coach him, so he learned from the best. She was a tough teacher.
And so began Phil’s career as a ragtime piano player which is a form of music which was popular in the late 1800’s and into the early 1900’s, before movies and later was played as background music in silent movies. The home entertainment center in those days, usually consisted of a piano or other musical instrument. If you went out for entertainment you would go to a play, a concert or a vaudeville show. There were approximately 3000 vaudeville theatres in the U.S.A. and Canada during that period. Think Ed Sullivan Show. Every kind of talent performed, singers, dancers, jugglers, magicians, ventriloquists, comedians, acrobats, animal acts, you name it. George Burns and Gracie Allen, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Jack Benny, Al Jolson, Jimmy Durante, Abbott & Costello, Milton Berle, The Andrew Sisters, Adele and Fred Astaire, Josephine Baker, Edgar Bergen, Fanny Brice are only a few that came out of Vaudeville. It was popular in the Roarin” Twenties, the time of flappers. And ragtime was the music of the day. Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag, written in the 1800’s is still a favorite today.
So it was kind of natural that when Phil and Romaine became friends… Who’s Romaine? Don’t worry. That doesn’t bother him. When the Beatles first started out, and Bing Crosby first started out, people asked the same question. Who’s Romaine? Just kidding. Romaine is a world class manipulator, who has performed all over the world. He’s also a comedian and ventriloquist.
So when they came to be friends it was kind of natural that they put their talents together and created a two man show called “Back In Time”. It’s a throw back to the vaudeville days. Music, Magic, Comedy, Ventriloquism, and a Sing Along. Now that’s Vaudeville!