Jazz Scholar Rudi Blesh; Historian, Biographer, Critic


Rudi Blesh, jazz historian and biographer, has died of a stroke at his farm in Gilmanton, N.H., the entertainment paper Daily Variety reported Thursday.

Blesh was 86 and in 1950 wrote “They All Played Ragtime,” the first complete book on the music associated with Scott Joplin, Jelly Roll Morton and others.

He also was the author of “Keaton,” a 1960 biography of Buster Keaton, and “Shining Trumpets,” a history of Afro-American jazz he wrote in collaboration with Harriet Janis.


Blesh, who died last Sunday, was a jazz critic for both the San Francisco Chronicle and the New York Herald Tribune who also had worked as a concert promoter and interior designer. In the late 1940s he hosted a national radio show called “This Is Jazz,” but then spent much of the rest of his life teaching at New York universities and touring the country documenting the origins of ragtime and interviewing the musicians who played it.

At about the time he published “They All Played Ragtime” he discovered Eubie Blake living quietly in retirement and persuaded the pianist to re-establish himself. Blake went on to play for 30 more years before dying at 100 in 1983.