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Billy Mayerl

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Biography

Billy Joseph Mayerl (May 31, 1902 – March 25, 1959), was an English pianist and composer who built a career in music hall and musical theatre and became an acknowledged master of light music. Best known for his syncopated novelty piano solos, he wrote over 300 piano pieces, many of which were named after flowers and trees, including his best known composition, Marigold (1927). He also ran the successful School of Syncopation for whose members he published hundreds of his own arrangements of popular songs.

Mayerl was born into a musical family on London’s Tottenham Court Road, near the West End theatre district. His father, a violin player, attempted to introduce Mayerl to the violin at the age of four but failed. After noticing Mayerl’s affinity for the piano he started him with piano lessons soon afterward and by the age of 7 he was studying at the Trinity College of Music, paid for with a series of scholarships. His first major concert was at the age of nine, playing Grieg’s Piano Concerto. In his teens, he supplemented these lessons by accompanying silent movies and playing at dances.

While studying at Trinity College Mayerl began visiting a local music arcade known as ‘Gayland’, where he first encountered American ragtime music. After trying his hand at composing ragtime, he was threatened with expulsion from Trinity College if he continued and it was a decade before his first composition was re-issued as ‘The Jazz Master’.

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