San Diego's Heliotrope Ragtime Orchestra was founded in early 2005 by pianist Bob Pinsker and cornetist and author Bruce Vermazen, originally to provide accompaniment for ragtime-era events put on by the San Diego Vintage Dancers. Co-leader Pinsker is also a historian of the music and a collector of sheet music, piano rolls, and the like. Vermazen, exiled from the San Francisco Bay area, mined a well regarded San Diego concert band, the Hillcrest Wind Ensemble, for musicians, and four of the original six are still with the HRO: John Winkelman (tuba), who directs the Hillcrest group, Fernando Herrera (flute, piccolo and alto sax), a computer whiz, Patrick McMahon (tenor sax), whose terrific memoir (Becoming Patrick) about being an adopted child was published a few years ago, and co-leader Vermazen. The six musicians who joined the group as the years passed are the concertmistress and music director, respectively of the North Coast Symphony Orchestra, Cheryl and Dan Swem (violins), Josh Mills (clarinet and alto sax), Ken Lemke (cornet), John Ralston (trombone), and Suzanne Tractenberg (drums). They are all very sought after in San Diego, and the Heliotrope is lucky to have them.


The orchestra takes its name from the wonderful 1907 Louis Chauvin-Scott Joplin rag "Heliotrope Bouquet." The delicate and fragrant heliotrope's behavior, a constant turning toward the sun as the day passes, makes a good metaphor for San Diego's affinity for sunshine.


The Heliotrope Ragtime Orchestra started out aiming to reproduce the authentic sound of a dance band from the height of the ragtime era, say, about 1915, but in recent years it has extended its repertoire to include pieces from the 1920s by King Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton, and the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, among others. It has been featured at the Orange County RagFest 2005-2013, has played at several events for the San Diego Vintage Dancers,the San Diego ballroom dance organization Waltz & Such, charity events, etc., will be featured for the 14th consecutive year at the 2019 San Diego Jazz Fest, and is now available for your event - be it a wedding, Bar Mitzvah, what have you! Contact either of the co-leaders, Bruce Vermazen or Bob Pinsker, at the email address made up of their names in the form 'brucev' or 'bobp', plus the '@' sign, plus the address 'sandiegoragtime.com' (without any of the quotes). (Sorry about that awkwardness, but it's to cut down on spam.)