When Richard Dowling was 9, the movie “The Sting” came out, with the famous Marvin Hamlisch soundtrack that included six ragtime songs composed by Scott Joplin.
“I literally fell in love with ‘The Entertainer,’ the way millions of other people did at that time, and I begged my piano teacher to let me learn it,” Dowling, now 52, recalled.
He learned the piece and several other Joplin ragtime compositions from a songbook his mother bought for him at a Houston music store. His affinity for the Joplin repertoire just took off from there.
“I never could have imagined that I would take that book — which I still have — and memorize all 53 pieces in it,” said Dowling, who will be the first pianist to perform the entire Joplin canon live in New York’s Carnegie Hall on April 1 — the centennial of Joplin’s death in 1917.
New Orleanians will be getting a sampling of that history-making concert this Sunday afternoon when Dowling’s show, titled “Great Scott!” will feature roughly half of the Joplin piano songbook at Le Petit Theatre under the auspices of the Musical Arts Society of New Orleans.
As the 1992 winner of MASNO’s International Piano Competition, he has been a frequent guest performer in New Orleans and elsewhere in Louisiana over the past 25 years.
Following Hurricane Katrina, Dowling donated his Baldwin concert piano to the East Bank Branch of the Jefferson Parish Library, and he has performed there several times since then.
Classically trained with a master’s degree from Yale University and a doctorate from the University of Texas, Dowling has performed internationally and in some of the most prestigious American concert halls, including Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall.
Joplin’s rags make up the largest portion of his surviving canon of works, the best-known of which was the 1899 composition, “Maple Leaf Rag.”
But, despite his reputation as primarily a ragtime composer and performer, Joplin was also classically trained by a German immigrant pianist and he wrote waltzes, marches and cakewalk dance music. He even wrote two operas, one of which — “Treemonisha” — is still performed.
Samplings of each of these styles will be presented by Dowling in his Joplin tribute concert, including the final number from “Treemonisha,” titled “A Real Slow Drag.”
All six Joplin songs from “The Sting” are also on the program.
“Joplin wrote some beautiful classical waltzes in the style of Schubert and the Chopin Preludes,” Dowling said. “They’re like little individual gems. Chopin wrote his Opus 28 Preludes in each key and the Joplin works are in a very similar style.”
Another Joplin piece in Dowling’s program, “The Cascades,” inspired by a falling water display at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, is structurally comparable to some of the works of Franz Liszt, Dowling noted.
In all, the pianist will play 27 pieces; most are about two minutes long.
And to prove he knows every song Joplin wrote, Dowling will have a member of the audience draw the name of one random selection from a basket.
The concert is dedicated to the memory of Edgar L. “Dooky” Chase Jr.
Coinciding with Dowling’s Carnegie Hall concert, Rivermont Records will be releasing his three-record boxed set of all of Joplin’s works.
Copies can be ordered from Dowling’s website or directly from the record company.
Great Scott! Joplin in the Quarter
Pianist Richard Dowling performs selected works of Scott Joplin
WHEN: 3 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: Le Petit Theatre, 616 St. Peter Street, New Orleans
TICKETS: $25 general admission