Tom Brier is the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Federation. The award was presented in absentia at the 2023 Festival in Sedalia on June 3.
The hallmark of Brier's piano-playing style is an aggressive left hand that attacks the lower half of the piano keyboard in staccato, machine-gun-like octave passages. He alternates these voicings with a variety of other sounds: walking bass ("boogie"), single-note figures, and widely-spaced chords – often both arpeggiated and unarpeggiated tenths.
Born in Oakdale, California in 1971, Tom was exposed to ragtime in his earliest years when his parents purchased a player piano. His parents found him a music teacher when he was five, and very shortly, he was composing and notating his own piano pieces. By the age of 11, he had composed and written the scores to some two dozen rags.
His first "serious" ragtime piece was the "Pine Cone Rag" of 1982, when Brier was 11 years old. Three years later, he began attending gatherings of the Sacramento Ragtime Society. The 14-year-old prodigy amazed everyone within earshot with his articulate renderings of the ragtime classics, and with his own highly original piano compositions.
Tom performed at his first West Coast Ragtime Festival in 1989. He has been a headliner many times since, astounding onlookers with his machine-like precision, sensitive interpretations of more lyrical pieces, and nearly flawless sight-reading technique. While pursuing his ragtime "education," Brier also achieved a college education at the California State University at Turlock, obtaining his Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science in 1993.
He is also know for his collection of original pieces of ragtime sheet music, with a collection numbering over 1,000. And, since 1982, he has composed and printed complete, notated scores to over 100 original ragtime compositions. To date, Brier has released seven albums: Rising Star (1994), Generic (1997), Pianola (2000), Dualing at the McCoys (with Nan Bostick, 2002)’, Skeletons (2003), Rewind (2006), Blue Sahara (2009), and Constellations (2012).
In 2016, Tom was injured in a devastating, rear-end auto collision. The accident cost him his ability to write, walk, speak, and play piano. He currently resides with his parents in Oakdale, and is receiving ongoing therapy. Tom's family is hopeful that he will continue to improve and his friends hope that he may one day return to composition.
Many videos of Tom’s performances can be found at this YouTube site: https://www.youtube.com/@Keeper1st