West Coast Ragtime Society
Larry Karp
Larry Karp
April 26, 1939 - October 11, 2016

We miss you Larry, your gentle soul, kindness, passion and love of ragtime. You lived the ragtime life, and that of a time-traveler. It's hardly a stretch to imagine you walking the boardwalks of Sedalia, following Brun Campell and meeting Scott Joplin. Thank you, Larry, for taking us on your journey.

Larry Karp passed away October 11, 2016, after a ten year battle against cancer. He was 77. Despite living in Seattle for forty-six years, he always considered himself a New Yorker at heart.

He practiced perinatal medicine for two and a half decades, and his patients remember him as the epitome of the caring physician, one who took as much time as needed to answer questions and explain procedures. He was proud to have delivered the first baby in the Pacific Northwest conceived through in vitro fertilization. Larry retired from medicine in 1994 to write full-time. He produced nine popular mystery novels and a variety of non-fiction, including a genetics textbook and a highly-regarded biography of ragtime musician Brun Campbell.

Larry enjoyed playing with language, not just in his writing, but in making puns, creating nonsense words, and writing limericks. He liked complicated gadgets and loved music, a combination of traits which developed into an interest in antique music boxes and phonographs. His musical tastes ranged from opera, through Gilbert and Sullivan and folk, to blues, but his deepest musical passion was ragtime. Larry was a regular attendee of both the Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival and the West Coast Ragtime Festival.

An avid baseball fan, Larry attributed much of his optimistic approach to life to having seen the 1951 New York Giants incredible run to the pennant. Later, he applied the same optimism to the Mets and Mariners, following his teams in-season and off, always ready to believe that "next year" had arrived.

Larry's enthusiasm and optimism carried over into the rest of his life as well. He wasted little time on circumstances he couldn't control, preferring to devote his energy to what he could affect and his vision of what should be. Faced with a setback, his response was always "Onward."

He is survived by Myra, his wife of fifty-four years; his son Casey and daughter Erin; daughter-in-law Maggie and son-in-law Peter; and grandson, Simon.

A private memorial will be held at a later date. The family asks that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival or the West Coast Ragtime Society.

Published in The Seattle Times on Oct. 23, 2016

By David Reffkin

Imagine – a retired doctor who made a second career of fictionalizing, researching, documenting, and presenting ragtime history! That was Larry Karp of Seattle, Washington, a mild-mannered gentleman who set aside a noteworthy career to pursue his passion for writing. He died on October 11, 2016, six months after publication of his major documentary work, Brun Campbell: The Original Ragtime Kid.

In earlier years, Larry had been vaguely familiar with the music and story of ragtime, though he was an authoritative collector of antique music boxes. Something about the youthful relationship between Scott Joplin and Brun Campbell caught his attention as he pondered subjects for a mystery novel. The Ragtime Kid, published in 2006, was followed by two sequels, creating what is now commonly referred to as the "Ragtime Trilogy."

David Reffkin & Larry Karp Sedalia 2016 But the plot thickened when he inadvertently acquired the real-life Campbell's memorabilia, including previously unknown compositions. Larry consulted with me on how best to make it available to the ragtime community. We decided that he would write a biography and I would create a CD of the complete works. His goal was to bring Brun's life and music into focus through companion literary and recorded volumes. He recruited me to help him with the unfamiliar terrains of music research and materials, and the format of a multi-layered biography. He personally backed the recording of my group, the American Ragtime Ensemble.

Larry amused me with occasional emails describing how an inquiry of his would cause someone else to dig into an archive, or about his indecision over which of three similar essays by Brun to use because they were equally dreadful yet equally compelling. Ironically, for someone who regularly listened to music, took deep interest in many forms, and regularly attended opera, operetta and folk festivals, he had virtually no working knowledge of technical terms, notation, or musical vocabulary with which to discuss a composition.

In his last year or so of writing, his faltering memory required my help in tracking the narrative. But he retained a dry wit that was expressed at numerous points in all his books. I sometimes offered a comment or anecdote that would help lighten the book and avoid it being a strictly academic text. The mythical bullet-punctured 1897 half-dollar associated with Joplin and Brun provides one example. I pointed out that the coin would in fact have been designed by engraver Charles E. Barber, which was ironic given Brun's real career as a barber. Larry included the detail without attribution, but that was perfectly fine by me.

We were fortunate in that we could design a perfectly compatible working arrangement that made use of our various strengths. With a talent for keeping everything in perspective, and with seemingly endless persistence, he took the massively complex and contradictory Brun, made sense of the story, pursued the clues, and created a work that is in itself a model for biographical organization. He made friends everywhere he turned, gained their respect, incorporated their ideas, and most importantly, he listened and inspired.

Larry died at age 77. He lived long enough to be able to say that the Brun Campbell book and recording project was one of the most exciting, fascinating, and satisfying works of his life. And that's going some for a person who had gained fame during his 25-year career in perinatal medicine. He had specialized in the care of high-risk pregnancies. At publication I congratulated him on the successful "delivery" of the book. I now think of Larry Karp as a person who at the beginning of his career vowed to "First do no harm," and it seems, in the last part of his career, "Do much good."

The CD David references is "Essays in Ragtime: The Music of Brun Campbell" Rivermont BSW-2236. Editor.

By Fred Heoptner

It is with great sadness that I have learned of the death of Laurence "Larry" Karp at age 77 after a 10-year battle with cancer. Ragtime festival goers will recall Larry's seminars at the Scott Joplin and West Coast Ragtime Festivals. A respected physician practicing perinatal medicine, Larry retired in 1994 to become a full-time author. He combined passions for ragtime and mystery to produce his trilogy of fiction: "The Ragtime Kid" (2006), "The King of Ragtime" (2008), and "The Ragtime Fool" (2010). Larry told me that his goal was "to stay true to history and fill in the blanks with fiction." Thus he spent many hours in Sedalia researching the town as it existed in 1898 when his teenage protagonist Brun Campbell ran away from his Oklahoma home to take piano lessons from Scott Joplin. Then after his serendipitous discovery and acquisition of a store of Campbell's effects, he set out to write his biography now published as "Brun Campbell: The Original Ragtime Kid" (2016). According to Larry's October 23, 2016 obituary in the Seattle Times, a private memorial will be held at a later date. The family asks that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival or the West Coast Ragtime Society.

Links to the referenced books provided by the editor.

Gallery - Click image for enlargement.
Larry - Pensive Larry with