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 "Matilda" 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
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 Lab) 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, and the West Coast Ragtime Festival
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/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's
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 "Matilda", "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. 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 in Springfield, Illinois.
Information compiled by Ron Ross, Public Relations Director, Rose Leaf