Jazz Pianists to Swing the Octagon Center

Jeff Barnhart, acclaimed Jazz Pianist will be performing at the Octagon Center for the Arts in Ames Iowa on Monday, January 29th. 

Courtesy of Jeff Barnhart

Jeff Barnhart, acclaimed Jazz Pianist will be performing at the Octagon Center for the Arts in Ames Iowa on Monday, January 29th. 


Donald Homer McNeil has been infatuated with ragtime piano music for over 60 years. McNeil, an ISU alum of 1965, has been hosting jazz pianists for well over three years now. Many of his concerts have taken place in Denver and Taos, New Mexico, but this Monday, he is bringing “An Excursion Through the American Songbook” to Ames. The concert will feature two acclaimed Jazz Pianists, Daniel Souvigny and Jeff Barnhart.

“[The show] will be an enjoyable and enlightening presentation on the evolution of the most enduring popular songs and jazz standards,” said Dennis Wendell, classmate and longtime friend of McNeil, helping locally to handle arrangements here in Ames.

Souvigny is an award winning 17-year-old pianist from Hampshire, Illinois. At only the age of 5, he started to take piano lessons, beginning violin lessons a year later. Age has been no barrier for Souvigny, a three-time junior champion of the World Championship Old Time Piano Playing Contest.

At 15-years-old, he became the youngest ever to take second place in the adult division of this contest. This isn’t Souvigny’s first time playing in Ames. In August of last year, he brought in a packed crowd at the Ames First United Methodist Church. Souvigny, being homeschooled, learned a lot of his skills from his late father, who Wendell described as “a fabulous pianists and collector of old instruments.”

Souvigny just released his sophomore album “Possibilities” in 2015, following “Tearin’ Up The Keys” from 2013. Souvigny gets a lot of his influence from Prof. Alexander Sandler and Scott Joplin.

“He’s an inspiration in so many ways that has emerged as a very fine young man with a strong sense of self and good values” Barnhart said.

Jeff Barnhart has been playing since he was only 2 years old, heavily influenced by his grandfather.

“I loved how much noise [the organ] could make, but I couldn’t reach the foot pedals until I was about 8” Barnhart said.

He has led several bands in the U.K. over the years including the Fryer-Barnhart International Jazz Band and Jeff Barnhart’s British Band. Barnhart often performs with his wife, flutist Anne Barnhart. He performs internationally as a pianist, vocalist, arranger, band-leader, recording artist, composer, educator and all round entertainer. His influences include Fats Waller, Teddy Wilson and Dick Hyman. 

His favorite place to perform is “wherever there is a good audience and a good piano, so frankly, Ames, Iowa,” Barnhart said.

“Classic Jazz has never gone away. There is often more heart to it. It is raw and in the moment,” Barnhart said.

“The Excursion” will be from 2-3:30pm on Monday at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Ames. “The Excursion” is free and open to the public. It will include a presentation of the evolution of the most enduring popular songs from 1760-1960 and popular dance forms including the waltz, tango, two-step and more. Styles and influences of famous jazz musicians including Scott Joplin, Stéphane Grappelli, Frank Johnson and Fats Waller will be exhibited.

The solo and duo piano concert will start at 7 p.m. on Monday at the Octagon Center for the Arts. The event will take place on the third floor. Admission is $10 for an evening of classic swing, jazz and ragtime music.

If you are interested in more events like this, “Ragtime in Randall” will host its 32nd festival later this year in Randall, Iowa. “Ragtime in Randall” is a three-day ragtime music festival during the month of October.