Rita "Mimi" Blais, pianist, composer, actress (born 22 March 1956 in Sillery, QC). Mimi Blais is a pianist, composer, comedienne and arranger known internationally for her specialization in ragtime music. Classically trained and equally at home with folk, jazz, blues and tango, she has performed solo, as accompanist, and as a featured performer in many cabaret shows.

Education and Early Career

Blais began piano lessons at age seven with Rita-Sonia Audibert in Québec City. At 14, she entered the Conservatoire de musique du Québec, where she studied piano with Nadia Strycek and Christiane Sénart (1970–77). She further refined her playing at McGill University from 1978 to 1984 under Dorothy Morton and Louis-Philippe Pelletier, and in master classes with Kendall Taylor and Menahem Pressler. While studying towards her Bachelor in Music, Licentiate and Concert Diploma, she was a soloist with the McGill Symphony Orchestra and the McGill Wind Symphony in Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 and Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, respectively.

Mimi Blais's professional career began with Jeunesses musicales of Canada (JMC) 1980–92. During this time she was accompanist to percussionist Marie-Josée Simard, and was part of Dynamic Duo with percussionist Sylvain Grenier. She also adapted Pierre Vellones's 1930 piano work, Au jardin des bêtes sauvages (1989), into a children's play with her sister, Hélène Blais. The sisters toured the work in Ontario and Québec schools (1990–94) and played at the National Arts Centre (1991) and Roy Thomson Hall (1993).

Concentration on Ragtime

In January 1990, Mimi Blais's career took an important turn towards ragtime when she played an all-rag concert at Place des Arts in Montréal. The change was cemented with the release of her first CD, Ragtime (1992), produced on a grant from the JMC. The next year in Maskinongé, Québec marked the premiere of her second major show, Soirée des années folles, which she wrote, produced, directed and accompanied.

In 1994, she starred as a bordello pianist in Michel Garneau's Héliotropes at the Théâtre du Rideau Vert. She went on to star in the first show at the Montréal Casino's Cabaret as pianist-actress in Guy Caron's Le dîner farfelu (1996–97). She played with Quartango in 1997 before returning to the Casino with Le dîner farfelu... la suite! in 1998. The Casino also hired her to play in their cabaret during the summers from 2002 to 2005.

In 1998, Blais signed a recording contract with Port Royal/Orange Music that saw her focus on her solo career with albums including Taxi (1998), Old Rags New Rags (2000), Made in Québec (2002), Mimi Blais Plays André Gagnon (2004) and Once Upon a Rag Time (2005); the last two received nominations for ADISQ awards. The recordings feature many of her ragtime compositions. Her album Interlude was released in 2015.

Blais has played annually at ragtime and jazz festivals across Canada (e.g., the Montreal International Jazz Festival) and the United States (e.g., the Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival), as well as in Belgium, Hungary and Norway. She has been regularly recorded for broadcast by the CBC and has appeared on a number of Québec television programs. In 2005, she received a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts to research Canadian ragtime music.

Compositions

Fur Elise, for Elise, pour Elise, poor Elise... Pauvre Elise! 1987

Funky Rag. 1990

Ma Douce Amie. 1990

Mimi Ma Biche. 1995

On My Way Back to Montreal I got the Blues for Memphis Blues. 1998

La Dinde (The Turkey). 1998

The Black Cat Blues. 1998

Le Rag-a-Nat (the Monkey Rag). 1999

Suite Naive en Fa (Sweet Innocence) contient: La Valse des Grandes Giraffes, L'Oiseau-Mouche, Le Serpent à Tête de Tigre, Le Blues du Chat Noir, Master Frog Ballet Dancer, The Monkey Rag, La Dinde, Finale. 1998-9

Sunday Morning Blues. 2002

Le Retour des Oies Blanches. 1991-2, rev. 2003

Grands-Doigts. (for the vaudeville "Les Mauvaise Filles" by Nathalie Claude). 2005

Le Rigaudon du Gros Bouton. 2006

Hope and the Blues (chanson). 2006

Je Suis une Naufragée (chanson). 2006

Theatre

Soirée des années folles. 1993

Once upon a Rag-time (Il était une fois le Ragtime!!). 1998-9

Aunt Georgette "Liberacette". 1998-9

Le Ragtime???... c'est quoi au juste! 2000

Un après-midi chez Jean-Baptiste Lafrenière (for 1, 2 or 4 performers). 2000

Discography

Ragtime, 1992, Tragart MRBC/MRBCD 001

Geraldine, 1993, Tragart MRBC/BRBCD 002

Mimi Blais and Friends, Live from the Lake Superior Ragtime Festival, 1993, Tragart MRBC 003

Taxi, 1998, Port‑Royal PR2208‑2

Old Rags New Rags, 2000, Port‑Royal PR2213‑2

Made in Québec, with violinist Sophie Rivard, 2002, Orange Music OMCD‑5525

Sunday Morning, 2004, Orange Music OMCD‑5533

Mimi Blais joue/plays André Gagnon, 2004, Orange Music OMCD‑5534

Once Upon A Rag Time, with pianist John Petley, 2005, Orange Music OMCD‑5538

Life is a Dream, 2006, Orange Music OMCD‑5543

Silence! 2008, Orange Music OMCD‑5553

Interlude, 2015, MRBCD-004