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was the only major "classic ragtime" figure published by John Stark
who actually grew up in or near the cradle of ragtime which was rural Missouri, in this case, the southwestern corner of the state in Neosho and Carthage. His musical influences were highly regional in that regard, although bolstered by his exposure to published music through his piano teachers and his work at Dumar's Music Store in Carthage as a picture framer and later as a music demonstrator. His performance career started more or less at Lakeside Amusement Park near Carthage, where he played calliope, and possibly piano. While it is unclear if he ever directly connected with composer Scott Joplin
, James was clearly influenced by and benefited from his involvement with Stark, giving him a clear path to publication. That Joplin arranged Scott's Frog Legs Rag
for the famous Red Back Book
of orchestral arrangements issued by Stark further speaks of that involvement.
Scott's rags are not all quite as rich as Joplin's in terms of development and harmonic content, but they thrive on some modicum of variety as well as the use of call and response phrasing. Toward the end of his writing career he started to skew toward jazz in some sense, and indeed led his own jazz ensemble in Kansas City throughout most of the 1920s. While proceeds from Stark did not make him rich, he was still fairly well off in his situation, and one of his prized possessions was a grand piano in his home. While a large part of the rediscovery of Scott's works happened in the 1970s, he was never really out of circulation, as pieces like Frog Legs Rag and Hilarity Rag were frequently performed and recorded even in the 1950s and 1960s. The pieces here cover a broad spectrum of his output with Stark, but it is not a complete accounting. At some point hopefully more of them will be posted.
On The Pike
On the opposite end of the state of Missouri from St. Louis, site of the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition
, young James Scott
had been following the stories about the upcoming fair, and the opportunities as well. Although still an employee of Dumar's Music
in Carthage, he had already had two pieces published by Mr. Dumar, who was also somewhat eager to cash in on the big event of 1904. This piece is the result, and both the title and cover show what many considered to be the most exciting area of the exposition, the mile-long Pike. Amusements of all kinds, from exotic dancers to the "scenic railway", an early version of the roller coaster, were usually featured in this designated entertainment area. The few ragtime musicians lucky enough to play at the fair were featured at one of the appropriate venues along the Pike. Whether or not it was by coincidence, this piece features an ambitious left hand score with many moving octaves, much as with Joplin's Cascades
and Turpin's St. Louis Rag
. In spite of a few awkward harmonic resolutions in the 32 bar C section, it shows the promise that would later be realized in the main body of Scott's work.
Calliope Rag - Piano Version
& Bob Darch, arranged and edited by Bill Edwards - c. 1906
From the time the steam calliope was invented by J.C. Stoddard in the 1850s, it found a special niche in circuses and riverboats. Requiring a boiler to generate steam to blow through the pipes, calliopes ranged from 32 to 53 notes in scope, and some models could be heard for several miles. This was good for showboats or circuses announcing their arrival in town, but bad for the individual playing the device, and the premature onset of deafness was commonplace among calliope performers. By the early 1900s, many calliopes were automated through the use of a cylinder or roll, which didn't replace artists altogether, but helped to minimize their exposure to the noise.
That said, this particular piece has a rather fuzzy history that has on occasion built up its own head of steam. First published in 1964 in the third edition of They All Played Ragtime, Calliope Rag was discovered by veteran performer Ragtime Bob Darch in the late 1950s. In 1999, when the question of origin surfaced, and again in 2001 as told directly to myself, Mr. Darch clarified that several years prior to publication, and while following up a tip and visiting relatives of the late James Scott in Carthage, Missouri, he was rebuffed at the door of a home he sent to. As he walked to his car a cousin (or niece) of Scott caught up to him and showed him some music Scott had left behind. For a "deposit" of $20.00, Bob was able to borrow the papers. Attempts to XEROX the sources with then-new technology proved fruitless, so Bob jotted down the themes he found for later edification. He later filled in the harmonies and composed a trio, copyrighted the piece, and had it included it in the centerfold music area of the third and fourth editions of TAPR. It is thought to have been composed by Scott prior to 1910 for performance on a steam calliope in Lakeside Amusement Park near Carthage, Missouri. While what part of it was added to or altered by either composer, Scott likely composed the A section melody and possibly the B strain, or a large part of it. The trio (written in the initial key of F with no modulation), was composed by Darch, who solicited help through some consultation with other ragtimers. However, Bob did not take credit for any of the enhancements when TAPR was published. As of 2001, He was both pleased about the attention still given the rag, and humble about his important role in its discovery and subsequent exposure.
Based on this knowledge, I have constructed two versions of this rag. The first is nearly as published in TAPR, and is played on the calliope. It takes into account the fact that the instrument has a limited range (I'm keeping within 48 notes [F2 to E6], so some have been omitted), calliopes do not have a sustain pedal, and the notes are often hard to press because they are directly connected to a valve that lets the steam blow through the pipes. I have also reconstructed the 8 measure trio into a full 16 bars. After listening to this, the theory that it was composed for the instrument is quite plausible. The second version is played as a piano rag, and expands on Mr. Darch's sections in a manner similar to Scott's compositional style based on the accumulated analysis of his pieces from the last 40 years. This includes a modulation into the trio which is raised up to Bb, and a further alteration of that section into a smoother 16 bar harmonic pattern. Please note that this is done with full respect of and credit to Mr. Darch (with his complete blessing), and it is merely my take on this unusual piece. Comments, as always, are welcome.
Frog Legs Rag
While not Scott's first rag, it was the first of his to be published by John Stark
, who would issue almost everything Scott sent him for the pretty much the rest of Stark's life. And like a frog's legs might do, this piece just "jumps" right into the A section with no introduction. The B section is the most fun for me to improvise on, and has some similarities to the Maple Leaf Rag
B section. Those who are more familiar with this piece know that, unlike most rags, the printed score modulates up a fifth (from Db to Ab) for the trio as opposed to the traditional interval of a fourth (Db to Gb). This was likely due to Stark's reticence to print something in six flats, which creates at the very least the perception on the page of being extremely difficult to play, rather than a conscious composition decision on the part of Scott. With that in mind, I learned the C and D sections in the "original" key, and they aren't that difficult when transposed. The D section is made up largely of "ring shout" or call and response patterns, where an echoing figure is played in a different octave. Frog Legs
is absolutely delicious.
Grace and Beauty
The feeling of this rag certainly is reflected in the name. It may be Scott's finest single work, and among the best known overall. The A section starts out with a nice rising melody that slowly descends through repeated patterns. As with many of his rags, the C and D sections contain the echo device that reminiscent of ring shout spirituals of the 1800s. The B section uses a subtle melodic variation of this device. One of the more innovative techniques used in Scott rag interpretations, and one that exists in at least a couple piano rolls of the era, is to play the first two sections somewhat sedately, followed by an increase of fifteen or so metronome ticks and the application of a greater dynamic range in the C and D sections. This highlights both the beautiful melodies of Scott as well as the technical proficiency required to perform his often-challenging rags.
Great Scott Rag
Great Scott! What an expression. Contemporary audiences will recognize it as Emmett "Doc" Brown's
favorite expression of surprise in the Back to the Future
trilogy of the late 1980s. However the expression goes much further back, far enough that its origin has been obscured to some point. The official texts credit this slang as an expression of ridicule against General Winfield Scott
(a.k.a. Old Fuss and Feathers) who had been a hero of the war of 1812. and later the Mexican/American conflicts in Texas. He ran for President as a Whig party candidate in 1852 and evidently acted like he was entitled to the job, thus the jeers ridiculing the "Great Scott" during his appearances. You all remember President Scott, right? Great Pierce! You don't? However there is one dictionary, A Common Reader Edition
published in 1980 by John Ciardi
, which credits German immigrants with bringing over their expression of greeting "Gruess Gott!" (Great God), something that was eventually Americanized as so many things are. In fact it was likely parodied in conjunction with the General's name. In either case, the expressive use of it in this case is fitting, since what is inside the covers is indeed a Great [James] Scott Rag. It's simply a lot of fun to play, so hopefully it is to listen to as well.
The Ragtime Betty
Even though this was from an earlier juncture in his writing career, this rather complex work demonstrates Scott's abilities to send a musical message with flair and innovation. His use of two measure phrases is clearly evident. However, there are some notable additions. In the first strain, a descending pattern is twice used that eliminates the expected left hand pattern. The B section features some conversational work between the hands in a variation of the "call and response" pattern he so often uses. In the trio the patterns are broken down into one measure snippets for the most part, jumping into harmonies that are only changed by implication rather than moving bass lines. The more familiar Scott use of "call and response" returns in the D section, which in this case is unique and not a transposition of B as was often found in his piano rags. The cover of Ragtime Betty
was one of two drawn for either Scott or publisher John Stark
by cartoonist Clare Victor Dwiggins
, who also graced the cover Ophelia Rag
the following year, as it was named after his locally famous character seen in Saint Louis papers. It is unclear if Betty was another such character.
Relatively simple in concept and yet harmonically and melodically advanced for the time, this tune has a number of innovative devices that really help it stand out. Unlike a lot of Scott pieces of this period, the first and second halves of the A section are disparate and not symmetrical. There are breaks built into measures 3-4 and 7-8. The simple but elegant B section, also repeated as D, contains melodic movement that makes a very even line, and has nice play between the hands in measures 7-8. The trio opens with both rhythms and harmonies that would show up 55 years later in Herb Alpert's
great hit, Spanish Flea
. The run in the middle was a device used infrequently but effectively, the most obvious example being the later Grandpa's Spells
by "Jelly Roll" Morton
. The Starmer-drawn cover had been purchased from Shattinger Music
, another Saint Louis publishing firm, and was used no less than three times by publisher John Stark
for each of his marquis composers, this being the first instance. Sunburst Rag
is overall a happy piece bursting at the seams with bright ideas.
Bearing what is certainly one of the most interesting original covers ever in the Stark Music
catalog, this charming rag has elements of both folk strains and cakewalks interlaced throughout. The A section is broken up in the middle by a non-typical contrary motion scale between the hands. The B section is very much like the Maple Leaf Rag
in nature, but an innovative variation on that theme. It is in the trio where Scott shows genius, using the left hand to play an integral part of the melody. This format automatically creates a crescendo, which was probably helpful for the less skilled or dynamic players of the time. As for the cover, it was somewhat unusual to feature a little white girl on the cover of a black rag, particularly since many rags with children on the covers featured drawings or photographs of black boys (such as those of Abe Holzmann
). However, the cover girl was the well-known Ophelia Bumps
, popular heroine of a comic strip of the same name drawn by Clare Victor Dwiggins
, who was also known for drawing Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn
, among others.
Scott was certainly confident in his ability to write good rags by this time, and was willing to push known boundaries a bit in order to reach new plateaus in classic rag composition. Publisher John Stark
was equally supportive of Scott's work by publishing pretty much anything that Scott sent his way. This piece represents a successful fusion of folk styles with newer innovative syncopated patterns, and is one of the more memorable and effusive of the Scott rags. The opening section utilizes common folk patterns, and has a symbiotic relationship with the more progressive B section, which resolves what was set up by the first strain. The usual return to the A section is omitted from this particular rag. However, the relationship between major and minor set up in the A section is strengthened in the gregarious trio, while the final strain reverts back to another common folk pattern. While it is not as hard to play as it sounds, it still provides some technical challenges. As the title might suggest, Hilarity
is a great accompaniment to good times.
Quality was certainly foremost on the mind of both James Scott and publisher John Stark
where his overall output was concerned. While this is not one of his standouts, it is certainly memorable, and was relatively popular in a few iterations as a piano roll as well. Subtitled "A High Class Rag", it is one of those Scott pieces where the designation "Not fast" is relative, as Quality Rag
can be interpreted successfully at varying speeds. I choose a mild tempo partially to facilitate clean execution of the challenging trio (similar to that same section in Joplin's Maple Leaf Rag
), and to bring out the intricacies of the interplay between the voicings found in the right hand. The introduction contains two clever rhythmic variances of the theme utilized in the melodic A section. There is an effective use of octave shifting throughout the B section, which also closes the piece. Certainly, compared to a lot of the piano rag output of Tin Pan Alley of this period, Scott's piece does register with more than just a modicum of quality.
While rags and songs with animal names were popular around this time, very few actually tried to incorporate the animal thematically into their piece. As with Joseph Lamb's Ragtime Nightingale
, this is an outstanding example of how to do exactly that, making it into a descriptive work of sorts. The bird call starts right in the introduction, and is used in the A section for several iterations. This piece also incorporates the Lamb propensity for using longer phrases with more melodic and harmonic variety. Measures 7 and 8 of the A section utilize a device later commonly found in novelty piano pieces of the 1920s. The trio is yet another variation on the trio of Joplin's Maple Leaf Rag
. It leads into a fascinating D section that highlights Scott's gift for adaptation of common musical phrases and devices into an interesting play on the circle of fifths. The piece is then capped off by one last iteration of the bird call in the A section. Ragtime Oriole
stands out as one of Scott's best and most popular rags.
Right from the start you get a sense of a different approach by Scott, even within the same formula he was now so accustomed to using. The similarity to popular rags used as backdrops for movies, such as A Bag of Rags
, suggests that Scott's expanding experience as an accompanist for the movies influenced this piece in some way. The association of the music with the rag's title is unclear, and may have just been a name floating around in his head, although the cover was obviously done specifically for this rag. While many Scott rags start low and work their way up the keyboard, this one starts high and descends, throwing in his call and response patterns almost from the start. Note that the first strain is left unresolved until it is repeated after the B section. There are sparse breaks in the second strain, beefed up on the repeats in this performance. The trio really stands out for its innovative descending (again) chord progression that almost begs for "blue notes" here and there (listen for a couple I slipped in). It is followed by a characteristic return to the B section, resulting in a climactic ending indeed. This rag saw great popularity, having been made into a number of piano roll versions, and recorded by no less than "Jelly Roll" Morton
, a Scott influence in some regards.
In a time when Scott was very experimental with his harmonic and rhythmic textures, this unpretentious and less complex piece appeared, suggesting some possibility that it may have been written at an earlier time and released to keep his name consistently in the Stark Music
catalog. The bounce of the A section makes it an ideal candidate for dance music, which it is likely that Scott provided on the occasions that he entertained publicly. The B and C sections contain very little syncopation in contrast to his other rags of the period. The structural nature of both allows for a wide range of dynamics, providing additional possibilities for interpretation. The editing of the original plates was apparently not completed with diligence, as there are several variances in similar left-hand rhythms, and a couple of chord differences in the right hand between the initial B section and the repeat after the trio. There is some possibility that these anomalies were intentionally introduced for variety, but since this was not a common practice at the time, I have smoothed some of them out in this performance.
Honey Moon Rag
There are some clues within this rag that indicate it might have been written a few years earlier than it was published, as it is not as polished in many places as other rags released about the same time as Honey Moon
. Publisher John Stark
was known to have kept a backlog unissued works around for years, some released as much as a decade after their initial submission. The A section is an obvious variation of Joplin's Maple Leaf Rag
, which many ragtime writers looked to for format and inspiration. The B section takes a single pattern and runs with it exclusively for most of the sixteen measures. Other Scott rags at this had more variety within each theme. The trio is clearly the most innovative of this piece, and gives the pianist a lot to work with in terms of creating a joyous mood. Published just before the United States' entry into "The Great War," this was one of the last two Scott rags presented with the full four page typesetting using the larger 10"x13" paper format. All John Stark publications from 1917 on used harder to read condensed scoring on smaller paper.
James Scott rags are always challenging to play. He was pretty much the Franz Liszt
of classic ragtime. Scott used a lot of call and response (a.k.a. ring shout) patterns through shifting octaves with repeated riffs. This piece falls in line with some of the best of his compositions. Listen to how the melody shifts octaves in the A section, and the devices he uses to connect the octaves. Instead of the usual one or two bars followed by a repeat an octave higher, the variation of the call and response here is much more sophisticated. The B section contains a bit of the call and response method, but through the more traditional one bar shifting octaves. This utilization is expanded in the trio, with the pattern broken to a degree after the 8th measure. D is a reiteration of B in the new key, but approaches the octave shifts a little differently. Note how the initial strain in the introduction is used at the end of A, B, and D. By the way, I calculated the general velocity of notes in relation to the coefficient of gravity and octave shifting on an upright piano when the proper angular vector is applied and... well, the rag is truly efficient.
This is one of the few Scott pieces that demonstrates the more developed facets of his compositional abilities regarding classical form and chord structure. From the start it is presented in a minor mode with one of the more lyrical melodies by Scott, using a pleasant variation on the call and response he was so familiar with. Left unresolved for now, it continues into a B section that suggests some influence of Joseph Lamb
in terms of longer lines and better variety than usual within the patterns of both hands. This is followed by one more look at the opening section with a beautiful resolution in the relative major. Since the first half of this rag suggested a tempo that could accommodate some rubato (the suggested tempo is "Not fast"), I started out at such a pace. However the second half of the rag needs some momentum to really carry out the highly rhythmic patterns forcefully, so at this point the piece is accelerated somewhat. The trio echoes what is to come in New Era Rag
(next in line), and the final strain feels a bit like some of the middle rags of Scott Joplin
, such as Searchlight
, which would have been a likely influence on Scott.
New Era Rag
The title of this rag is more telling than it may let on. Ragtime was definitely waning, and some of the effects of this were showing in both the writing and the publication. For starters, John Stark
, for the sake of economy, had decided to continue a war-time practice of printing on smaller paper, and condensing the music to two pages instead of the more readable four pages of the past. He was also re-using cover art, as the Henry Reichard
image had previously been used for a piece named Tango Tea
, and would again be used for Scott's song The Shimmie Shake
. Scott himself was doing a little recycling, as the B section bears a great similarity to that B section of Joplin's Cascades
. The A section is made up of the characteristic call and response pattern that he had mastered so well by this time. In spite of this, most of his future pieces would contain some elements of jazz in them. The trio of New Era
is the most interesting, with a moving octave pattern that would later be used by Jelly Roll Morton
in a few pieces, as well as selected stride pianists. This rag can easily adapt to the stride piano paradigm as well, which can add a great deal of contrast to this snappy work.
Peace and Plenty Rag
The concept of Peace and Plenty in society goes back to the earliest times of recorded history. There were ancient Gods of Peace and Plenty in many cultures, and the pursuit of this way of life is strongly suggested in the Bible. So in the productive time of American history following The Great War (WWI), already a time of plenty (and some excess), peace was added to the American docket, albeit temporarily. This rag combines the old with the upcoming, mixing early ragtime and march styles with the intricate complexities that Scott had become known for. A moving octave bass line supports the opening theme, which is resolved only briefly in a couple of spots. The B section picks up with a repeated single-measure pattern followed by a cakewalk figure. Only in the non-symmetrical trio does the harmonic complexity begin to show itself. Then comes an interlude that is reminiscent of those used in Sousa marches, but also popular in many jazz pieces that were contemporary to the time, and commonly known as a "dogfight." While the ragtime era was nearly over, the time of Peace and Plenty would last for at least another decade until the advent of the depression, the repeal of prohibition, and changing world attitudes.
Although most publishers were scaling back or altogether eliminating the publication of ragtime in 1920, John Stark
was still adamant about the place of "classic ragtime" in the music world, and stuck by his last remaining composer of the genre as long as he could. Therefore only James Scott
and Artie Matthews
saw classic rags published in the 1920s, although Matthews' pieces were from nearly a decade before. Scott was widely known for his technically demanding rip-roaring rags, which makes this late one an exception. As the title may suggest, a modest approach works quite well for this gentle composition. The opening strain is half intermezzo and half ragtime with a lovely ascending line in the middle, and left unresolved into the B section. There is a very gentle melodic curve in the second strain which also comes to an unresolved cadence. The last iteration of A takes the first half of the rag to a logical resolution. The trio is made up of two measure phrases, which Scott predominately utilized in his writing. The flow of the melodic line contains overtones of classical figures from 19th century composers against the ragtime bass. Then the rag modestly closes with a resolved version of the B section.
Pegasus - A Classic Rag
Elements of Greek mythology often crept into popular music in the 1910s and 1920s, particularly in the publications of E.T. Paull
. It is quite possible that the cover art was available for this, and the rag was named to reflect the cover, as was often done by publishers. Pegasus
struggles with letting go of old ideas and working into new ones. The A section is very much classic ragtime, while the B section falls a little more towards innovative progressions not typically found in older rags. The trio utilizes a pattern found in many popular songs of the 1920s, including Birth of the Blues
. Due to John Stark's
printing policy of the time, which meant that rags were condensed to two pages, I speculate that a repeat of the A section was excised as a matter of practicality and limited space. Even though selected Scott rags did not repeat A, they usually had a unique C and D section whereas this one has only 3 sections in all. So I stand by my choice to repeat the A section after B. I guess that just got carried away by the wings of Pegasus
Broadway Rag - A Classic
This is Scott's last published rag, and perhaps the last one he wrote as well, although publisher John Stark
was known to have printed pieces out of sequence at times. To reinforce this possibility, it should be noted that all of Scott's rags from 1917 up until Broadway Rag
were condensed to the war time standard of two pages, while Broadway
occupies a more relaxed three pages, although the last two sections make a considerable impression on that third page. In any case, Broadway Rag
certainly reflects how closely Scott stuck to his proven formula for rag composition, sounding in the beginning like a combination of Great Scott Rag
and Sunburst Rag
, both from 1909. The B section is no less true to James Scott style. The trio, however, succeeds in capturing a more contemporary style within the rag framework, coming across at times like a "Jelly Roll" Morton
stomp, particular in the bass line and the anticipatory syncopations. The venue pictured on the cover may very well be a dance ballroom in Kansas City where Scott was living by this time, and one of the many venues that he and his band played in throughout the 1920s. While he didn't compose directly in the Jazz vein that was so popular by this time, he could certainly play the music extremely well both for movies and dances. Ironically, it was the impending assimilation of Broadway into film at the inception of practical film sound that finally ended his career for the most part.
Joseph F. Lamb
was an anomaly of sorts in the field of "classic ragtime", having grown up largely in New Jersey, with a few years of schooling near Toronto, Canada. As he was not an itinerant musician, nor formally trained in piano, it was his inherent musicality and the ability to emulate, incorporate and expand upon his musical influences that put him in good stead historically as one of the "Big Three" of classic piano ragtime. He had already written some piano rags, intermezzos and other works even before 1908 when Sensation
was first issued. Through publisher John Stark
Joe was able to directly connect with Scott Joplin
in New York, and Joplin in turn arranged for Lamb's initial publication with Stark. This alliance ultimately yielded one dozen Stark-published rags, yet through it all Lamb never considered himself a professional in the music field, holding onto his job as an import firm clerk, then manager. He continued to compose from the 1920s into the 1950s. The issuance of They All Played Ragtime
in 1950 helped to reignite an interest in ragtime, and specifically in Lamb as it was discovered by enthusiasts that he was alive and well in Brooklyn. This turned into meetings and recordings, and his only professional engagement in Toronto in the late 1950s. After his death many more of his rags were published by Mills Music, and even in the 21st century newer material has been released thanks to his daughter, Patricia Conn
The ragtime of Joseph Lamb ranges from standard popular fare to complex and highly engaging. His use of long phrases was influenced by classical works he had learned from his sister and others while growing up, but his sense of structure was potentially derived from his study of Joplin's piano rags. By the time he added some polish to his later works in the 1950s, Lamb had mastered the classic rag genre in a way that almost no other composer was able to approach at that time, and continued to play it passably as well, as evidenced by at least two separate recordings done in his home. His rediscovery came a bit earlier than that of James Scott, but given his smaller volume of published output prior to Ragtime Treasures of 1964, it was a bit slower to build. Now Lamb's pieces are played at ragtime festivals and in concerts of all kinds around the world.
The entries here cover Lamb's full output of a dozen piano rags published by John Stark, and assorted other works, including one that was finished by myself thanks to his daughter and historian Ted Tjaden. At some point hopefully more of them will be posted, including some published by Sue Keller in a fine recent folio, A Little Lost Lamb.
Muskoka Falls - An Indian Idyl
So give me a minute to explain how this one happened before too many conclusions are jumped to. I was compiling a CD to accompany a historical novel on the Muskoka Lakes region of Canada just north of Toronto. At the same time - October 2006 - Joe Lamb's daughter, my friend of several years Pat Conn, approached me (with some helpful facilitation by friend/Candian historian Ted Tjaden) with some of his unpublished works including an incomplete one titled Muskoka Falls
, a perfect fit for what I was doing. But it did not have a trio, and she asked me to finish it off. WOW! Finish a Lamb composition. Then again - wow...
something he wrote when he was around 15. Lamb was living in the Kitchener area (which was called Berlin at that time) just west of Toronto, going to school and apprenticing, plus staying engaged in improving his playing and composition skills. This piece was started shortly after the publication of the
Charles N. Daniels
(as Neil Moret) piece Hiawatha
. While it was really named after the town in Kansas (which WAS named after the famous Indian poem), and was based on railroad rhythms, it was played up as an Indian intermezzo and started a craze. Lamb would have been one of the earliest to have followed this trend, and his was intentionally crafted as an Indian Idyl or mood piece. So I worked with it a little, got what he had written down into print, and completed a trio and interlude in the same style as the opening two sections with just a touch of me in there as well. For the cover, the daughter of the aforementioned novelist, Gabriele Wills
, took some photographs of the actual Muskoka Falls (which is very hard to access from below), and I did a watercolor rendering of that. In any case, it is a definitive honor to have been asked to do this and to be linked to such an intrinsically musical composer such as Joe Lamb. For more information on the historical Muskoka novel and the soundtrack CD, please to go www.noveltunes.com
Joe Lamb had already published two rags by 1908, Walper House
and Ragged Rapids
, but he wasn't getting the distribution he likely desired. It was by chance during a visit to buy the latest Scott Joplin
and James Scott
pieces at John Stark's
New York office that he mentioned to the clerk (possibly one of Stark's children) how much he would like to meet Joplin. Lamb recounted that the clerk pointed to a black man in the office with his leg wrapped up (possibly for gout), and they told him, "There's your man." Lamb was thrilled to meet this icon of ragtime, and Joplin was always receptive to new talent. When Lamb mentioned that he had some rags to play, Joplin invited him over to his home to play them. A few days later, Lamb arrived at Joplin's home where there were some other friends of Joplin's gathered for some occasion. He was prompted to sit down and play one of his rags. Lamb played through Sensation Rag
, and by the time he was done the room had fallen silent. Joplin paid him the ultimate compliment, telling him that Lamb's piece sounded "like good Negro ragtime," which Lamb says is "... just what I wanted to hear." Much as
Charles N. Daniels
had arranged for Joplin's Original Rags
to be published, Joplin did the same for Lamb, which started a very successful relationship between Lamb and Stark. The "arranged by Scott Joplin" credit was more likely used to help sell the piece, rather than declare Joplin as the arranger, since Lamb was quite capable with music notation. The A section is an obvious derivation of the opening of Maple Leaf Rag
, but the remainder of the piece contains many very tricky and clever syncopated patterns, creating a true "Sensation."
When it was clear that Sensation
would establish Lamb as a serious ragtime composer, publisher John Stark
had no reticence about accepting further submissions from him, and the composer also worked at increasing the scope of his compositional ability. His next effort displayed a radical change in style from Sensation
, and was filled with experimental syncopated patterns and lush harmonies. Ethiopia
codified Joe Lamb as truly unique among all other ragtime composers, even the cream of the crop that made up the bulk of Stark's catalog. The tempo marking of Quarter=100 may have been either misinterpreted by the typesetter or misapplied, as that is entirely too fast to execute the piece and do it justice. The intended tempo might have been half of that at Eighth=100. The A section is delicate and restrained with carefully placed grace notes. The next strain increases in intensity with a rarely used pattern in measures 3 and 11, and some ambitious octave runs in the right hand. It is the trio that really sets this rag off, with a fascinating mix of syncopated patterns between the hands. Measures 5 to 7 constitute a classical pattern that is development-like in nature. The final strain is dominated by anticipatory syncopations, those that are held over a bar line. And to think, the best was yet to come.
Issued and likely composed around the same time as Ethiopia
improves upon the intricacy and complexities of its sibling. Lamb had been working in a publishing house, perhaps in an effort to learn a trade, but was still composing on the side. After he met his idol Scott Joplin
and Joplin arranged to have Sensation
published, Lamb had more incentive to make good on the opportunity given to him by the ragtime master and publisher John Stark
. This piece used the Maple Leaf Rag
as a template, at least through the first three sections. It is noteworthy that, in spite of the obvious difficulty involved, Excelsior Rag
was the only classic rag published in Db and Gb. Even James Scott's Frog Legs
, which likely modulated to Gb when first conceived, was probably transposed to Ab for simplicity. Lamb was able to convince Stark that only his chosen key would make the most of the rich textures used within, even after having transposed it down to C and F. As with Ethiopia
, much use of anticipatory syncopation was evident in the B and C sections. Through effective voicing, several secondary and counter melodies have been inserted as well. As a point of interest, the word excelsior
, which is translated as "still higher," is the motto of New York State.
Even though this earlier rag of Lamb's is close in nature to popular ragtime output of the time and was not up to the standard he would set in later classic rags, it is still rife with creative ideas and effectively effervescent in execution. In spite of the "rag" designation, it is subtitled as a March - Two Step
, which is further reinforced by the 4/4 key signature. In spite of this, there is enough syncopation to warrant the use of "rag" in the title. The A section contains a couple of measures where no bass note is struck on the first beat, an innovative and sometimes effective device that showed up often in later Lamb works. Both the B and C sections are fully arranged with written variations an octave higher instead of using the more characteristic repeat sign. The trio is cast very much like the trios of some other popular syncopated works of that period, particularly trios written by Kansas City composer Charles L. Johnson
that are more in the framework of dance music. The interlude after the trio bears some similarity to "dog fights" which would appear later in many jazz standards. It is followed by an unusual repeat of the A section in a new key. Listen for the champagne bubbles in this repeat.
American Beauty Rag
A study of rags by Joplin, Scott, and Lamb reveal a collective level of continuity within compositions by each, but some notably distinct differences between them as well. As a rule, Joplin seemed to write in four measure phrases, and Scott in short two measure phrases, while Lamb often preferred extended eight measure phrases. This paradigm was well established by the composition of this truly beautiful piece. Even in the first eight measures, Lamb introduces several textures in the interplay between hands. The B section is more a fine realization of ideas started by Scott Joplin, then refined by Lamb. The interlude before C seemed to suggest some forward motion, so I take a James Scott approach here and accelerate the tempo a bit through the end. The repetition in the trio further suggests the Scott influence. The D section is an expansion on the idea presented in the same section in Joplin's Pine Apple Rag
, using a diminished chord for effect. The title applies as much to the rose pictured on the cover as to the music contained within.
In a 1959 interview, Lamb recounted how his lyrical Nightingale Rag
came to be. He had wanted to write something similar to James Scott's Ragtime Oriole
, and had been looking through his sister's Etude
magazine, when he saw Chopin's Revolutionary Etude
(a portion of which is included in the introduction of this performance) with an intriguing bass line. Working with this bass line he formed the A section, and then added a snippet of the famous Nightingale Song
, and a rag was born. Lamb was very attentive to detail in his work, which was clear even when he played in his last years; carefully and deliberately. Many consider this to be his finest work. I particularly like the A section, and include variations on it in both the second and third iterations. The counter melody in the second iteration of A is similar to one used by John Arpin
in his duet version of this piece, which I had the fortunate opportunity to perform with him in 1991 in Toronto, Canada. Additional Arpin and Edwards ideas were applied to the trio and the short segue that follows it, both of which contain descriptive phrases akin to various bird calls.
Lamb was certainly able to provide variety in his writing, and surprises where least expected. His command of pianistic texture is demonstrated through that variety. In the case of Cleopatra Rag
, it is the thinning of this texture that provides the contrast. The opening strain is, for the most part, made up of a single melodic line instead of the chordally rich passages Lamb had become known for. There is also a marked mixed of dotted rhythms with straight ones, the dotted rhythms reflecting the style many pianists had adopted at this time and would later be infused into jazz. These conventions are continued, with little exception, into the B section. The first four measures alone of the trio display four varieties of syncopation, followed by a fifth that carries through the next few bars. The final section is a repeat of B, something that Lamb rarely did. The beautiful cover was a well-known work by one of the Starmer brothers who specialized in sheet music covers, and had been used by at least one other publisher, whose logo Stark simply covered up. The art was also used for James Scott's Sunburst Rag
and later for Scott Joplin's
posthumous Reflection Rag
Publisher John Stark
had returned to St. Louis by this time after his tenuous tenure in New York City. Still, Lamb, who was living in Brooklyn by this time, continued to submit works to Stark which he continued to publish without hesitation. This lively rag (with contrasting markings of Not fast
followed by quarter=100, which IS relatively fast) again displays the variety that marked Lamb's dozen rags for Stark. The A section used mixed staccato passages with sustained notes reinforced by supporting chords. The second pattern is effectively carried over into the B strain providing continuity between the sections. The trio displays contrast through the "less is more" paradigm, minimizing both melodic and harmonic elements. The D section is somewhat retro, reflecting patterns used in marches from a decade past. Why there is no reindeer on the cover, or how it got that name are both mysteries. However, Lamb was a hands-on operator who likely named most, if not all of his pieces. Norwegian ragtime artist Morten Gunnar Larsen
says that the opening of the A section is very similar to an old Northern European children's Christmas tune, and speculates that Lamb may have known of it when he wrote the rag. Just the same, it would be at least three more decades before reindeer would be in vogue thanks to Rudolph.
This relatively simple rag was originally composed by Lamb in 1909 as an anniversary gift of sorts for publisher John Stark
and his wife Sarah
. As Lamb tells the story, he had noted how content Mr. and Mrs. Stark seemed after having spent so many years together, and it touched his heart to the point he named and dedicated Contentment Rag
to them. The idea was put forward that a drawing of a happy older couple be used for the cover art. However, shortly after Stark received the piece for publication he moved back to St. Louis, tired of the hustling tactics of "sleazy" New York publishers. Soon after the move in 1910, Mrs. Stark, who had become progressive more ill over the past year, passed away. A disheartened John Stark would hold the piece for six years before publishing it sans the dedication and references to himself and Mrs. Stark, and with a silhouette picture of a content old man on the cover rather than the original contented married couple designated for that spot. It is an unremarkable work overall, but still pleasant and above par for the typical Tin Pan Alley output of the early 1910s. There are a few comparisons that can be made to other Lamb rags published at the time of composition, including both Ethiopia
Top Liner Rag
Multiple printed sources and the opinions of many I have asked confirm this to be Lamb's finest rag, and perhaps even one of the finest ever composed. Top Liner
encompasses a wide range of harmonic progressions, bass patterns, octave shifts, transitional phrasing, and just plain beautiful melodies, hallmarks of the best of Joe's output. In fact, even Lamb considered it to be his favorite rag among those he wrote. The opening, which eschews an introduction, holds off on the traditional ragtime bass pattern until the melodic flow has been established. The B section thrives on simplicity with its melody primarily in thirds, and has a bass line that echoes some of Joplin's later New York works. The interlude following the reiteration of the A strain beautifully anticipates the trio without outright quoting from it. What follows is a creative expansion on James Scott's repeated call and response patterns. The D section closes with true eight measure phrasing that encompasses a wide range of the keyboard. This was truly the top of the line for the original ragtime era!
This beautiful piece is a companion to the lyrical Top Liner Rag
and American Beauty Rag
. As with the other two pieces, it has no introduction and jumps right in to a two measure phrase that is developed into a four measure phrase. Lamb's familiarity with classical music structure, gained in large part from his older sisters, contributed greatly to his propensity for theme development. Even the supporting chords are carefully chosen. This becomes even clearer in the B section, with 8 measure phrases and intricate syncopations introduced. Then for the trio, the melodic line goes well into the lower part of the keyboard interacting with the left hand to wonderful effect. Even more innovation is introduced in the final strain, of which half of it uses only a moving octave line for left hand support. Lamb also uses blues-influenced seventh chords here in ways not frequently heard in ragtime.
At a time when rags were losing popularity and jazz was coming into its own, a few brave or non-adaptive composers were still writing rags. This was the last of Joseph Lamb's piano rags published before his death in 1960, and the twelfth issued by publisher John Stark
. Just the same, continuing to work in his day job as a clerk, then manager of a New York importing firm, he continued to write piano rags and even novelties throughout much of his life (see Ragtime Treasures
which is now available online for more of them). Bohemia
also suffered from economics of the time as John Stark
, in an effort to cut publishing costs and conform to new standards in the music industry, used a simple line drawing for the cover (no color) and issued the entire rag on two pages, which was a challenge to read for many used to the previous issuances of rags expanded to four full pages. Bohemianism was increasingly popular at that time, and was considered to be the practice of unconventional and artistic lifestyles with free thinking, a precursor to the hippie movement of the 1960s. Given the tone of the rag, this is the more likely source of inspiration for the title than references to the country that is still part of the Czech Republic. This work stands out from all of Lamb's other pieces in terms of tonality and structure. The tonic key is not clearly established in the A section until the last four bars. The B section offers two alternate versions for the left hand bass line, in essence, mapping out the desired improvisation for the repeat. The trio is very lively, and even includes a twelve bar interlude, unusual for Lamb. Many contemporary artists, including myself, have been known to expand on this section with a number of variations, and even the occasional key change. While Bohemia
was not quite jazz, the "bohemian" attitude is certainly present throughout this piece.
Among the treasures that Lamb had been keeping in his trunk for over four decades was this delightful gem. Similar in many ways to Top Liner Rag
and American Beauty
in structure and phrasing, it may well have been composed during the ragtime era, then polished up a bit when Lamb responded to growing interest in his work in the late 1950s. As with the other two aforementioned classic rags, the composer makes good use of flowing 4 and 8 measure phrases with harmonies that blend over bar lines, using little repetition yet maintaining thematic coherence throughout. The B section makes sparse use of the usual ragtime bass pattern, with much anticipation of each following measure in the right hand syncopations. The trio is particularly lyrical in content, while the D section is clearly a variation of Top Liner
with many clever rhythms included. If this was indeed composed around or prior to Lamb's 1917 departure from composing to a full-time job, one might wonder why it was not also submitted to John Stark for publication, as it may have certainly been worthy as such. Among the pieces in the 1964 Belwin Mills Ragtime Treasures
folio (long out of print) of 13 posthumously published Lamb pieces, this is the most requested among myself and my peers.
One of the set of 13 posthumously published Lamb rags in Ragtime Treasures
was possibly started or sketched out during the ragtime era, but modified and polished to some extent just prior to his death. This was Lamb's second attempt at a bird-call rag, following his sumptuous Ragtime Nightingale
. There are a few clues that this is not your average classic rag. The opening section contains no trace of a traditional ragtime bass line, which sets up the contrast of the well-developed B strain. The trio again nearly eschews the oom-pah bass, while the final section is more traditional and seemingly part of the Stark published Lamb rags. In fact, the last strain, depending on when it was completed, either forecasts or echoes a theme found in Charlotte Blake's Poker Rag
and the 1950s hit The Old Piano Roll Blues
, with a similar melodic line that makes good use of "call and response" patterns. Incidentally, the bird pictured on the cover (which I created since it was never printed separately) is indeed a North American Bobolink found around the New England states.
In 1959, the United States added both the 49th and 50th states, the first additions in 47 years since Arizona in 1912. An area that had been a matter of contention between the U.S. and Russia as early as 1821, Alaska was finally purchased and claimed as a U.S. territory in 1867. The territory became permanently engrained in the American culture during 1898 during one of the shortest-lived but most ballyhooed gold rushes in history in the Klondike, bordering Canada. So, many Americans felt it was certainly a part of the United States by the time it was finally admitted on January 3rd. (This also means that the Perfessor was one of that small group born under a 49 star flag as Hawaii was admitted in August.) Whether this was a piece that Lamb had written years before the event and simply named it for the new state is unclear. However he did have it ready in February 1959 when historian Mike Montgomery
spent an evening at the Lamb residence recording the composer playing his own works. It does follow his classic structure in many ways, but attention is immediately gained since the first beat of the first two phrases in the A section are actually rests. The trio uses the well-honed rise and fall structure with counter-chords and rhythms throughout. The final section has many anticipatory syncopations over bar lines arriving at a very sweet resolution.
was a native of central Illinois, raised by his mother who was widowed when Artie was very young. He learned how to play ragtime from a combination of semi-formal training and from two Springfield, Illinois, ragtime pianists, Banty Morgan
and Art Dunningham
. Moving to Saint Louis around 1907, he was engaged as a pianist, and used some of his proceeds to pursue formal training at the Keeton School of Music
through 1912. This training helped him to become adept as an arranger, and even before his involvement with publisher John Stark
, Artie's services were called upon in that regard. He did some contract arranging work for Stark through the mid-1910s, as well as some composing, then left for Chicago, Illinois, to pursue new opportunities. When that did not pan out, Artie moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he remained. He started his Cosmopolitan School of Music
to serve students of color in the Cincinnati and Covington, Kentucky, area of the Ohio River, the first school of its kind in the United States. Many fine black performers and composers graduated from Matthews' conservatory, which he ran with his wife Anna
. His son, Art Matthews, Jr.
, continued the musical tradition into the 21st century as a composer and teacher, as well as a proponent of his father's legacy.
While he is largely known for his five Pastime Rags issued by John Stark, the influence of Matthews can be heard in his arrangements of other works issued by the publisher, making them in a sense an extension of his own piano rags. Among all of these pieces there is a clear indication that Artie was well-versed in a number of musical styles, given the variegated quality of his output. If his personal output had been a more prolific, there is a good chance he would have been considered one of the "Big Four" of classic ragtime, something this author has long advocated.
The entries here cover Matthew's compositional output from Stark in addition to one other arrangement which might be viewed as a co-composition. Other works arranged by Matthews for Charles Thompson
, Lucian Porter Gibson
and Robert Hampton
and can be found starting with the Piano Rags from 1910-1915
page and continuing on to the following page.
Pastime Rag #1
Matthews was a contracted arranger for publisher John Stark
for a few years through the mid-1910s. It is believed by some historians that he composed his series of Pastime Rags
around 1912-1913, but that Stark considered some of them a bit too advanced for the musical public at the time of their composition. Matthew's style also filtered into arrangements he did for other composers such as Robert Hampton
Rags) and Lucian Porter Gibson
Rags). The A section contains an unusual syncopated chord descent after a repetitious theme. The second section is made up of a 6 2 5 1
chord progression commonly used by Matthews and others (such as Leon Block's Louisiana Rag
) The final section challenges the player first with a downward arpeggio on the primary chords, then complicates it in the repeat with a moving doubled bass line against the sweeping chords. I attempt to continue the arpeggios to raise the bar further, yielding an interesting (I hope) result.
Pastime Rag #2
In spite of an output of only five rags written directly by Matthews, I have long considered him to be equal in general ability to the big three (Joplin
), and perhaps even more innovative in some regards. This becomes more evident when his arrangements of other composers' rags are factored into his body of work. Note that like the other members of the big three that he was published by John Stark
, but that his talents lay beyond ragtime composing and arranging, and eventually spread to blues and early jazz. A lot of that comes through in this rag, which shares some kinship to Joplin's innovative Euphonic Sounds
. Unlike most ragtime, the A section contains no more than one bar of the "oom-pah" left hand, opting instead for a largely chromatic flowing bass line. In fact, the static right hand chords accompany this line. The B section makes good use of triplets. The trio again has no traditional left hand pattern, and requires the player to clap in between certain chords. The piece closes out with an inventive chord progression that is unexpected even for the seasoned ragtime listener.
Pastime Rag #3
As with the other Pastime Rags
, this was most likely released sometime after it was written, which may have been around 1912. Publisher John Stark
had every confidence in Matthews' abilities as both an arranger and composer, but considered some of the Pastimes
a bit too advanced for the average music consumer at the time of their composition. I first was exposed to Artie Matthews at the age of 5 through a recording of this rag by the legendary Paul Lingle
on the only studio LP he ever cut. I'm not sure what it was about the piece, or the performance, that stuck with me, but this has long been my favorite of the five. It is entirely unique as a rag. The A section utilizes a modified tango, found in other pieces of the day, but not often shifting between the tonic and the relative minor. The B section is reminiscent of "villain music" played during the silent movies of the time. It is followed by an interesting variation on rag themes of the day complete with a full measure of rest. The ending is pure Matthews with a melody line that surrounds rhythmic chords. I'm sure you'll appreciate the intricacies of this fine rag as much as I do.
Pastime Rag #4
This is probably the most recorded of Matthews' five Pastime Rags
. Due to it's difficulty and eclectic nature, it was the last released of the five, published around a decade after it was composed and several years after he had left Saint Louis, Missouri (where it was published by John Stark
for Chicago, Illinois, and ultimately to Cincinnati, Ohio). This rag fits in relatively well with the early jazz and novelty pieces, such as those by Roy Bargy
and Zez Confrey
. Even though it was not published until the 1920s, there are scattered reports of it having been played by various pianists in the mid-teens. In no more fitting place than this rag was the request placed at the top of all five, "Don't Fake." The A section is comprised largely of close chord clusters that are somewhat jazzy sounding, but found virtually nowhere else in ragtime. The B section makes liberal use of descending sextuplet arpeggios. The trio which follows echoes the idea of A by building a cluster from the bottom up along with a crescendo for each building phrase. Taken in context, it is understandable how Stark might have withheld this piece from market until there were indicators of how it would be accepted amidst current music trends. And when you play or listen to it, remember, Don't Fake!
Pastime Rag #5
By the time this piece was published, Matthews was long gone from St. Louis, Missouri, and the John Stark
publishing firm, and working on starting his successful African American music conservatory in Cincinnati, Ohio. He composed a number of fabulous post-ragtime works as well, and eventually earned an honorary doctorate degree. Indications of Matthews' genius and musical innovation are prevalent throughout the five Pastime Rags
. Pastime Rag #3
starts out with a mild habanera rhythm, but was only a precursor of the content of #5. This one really takes off with a full-fledged modified habanera/tango section full of Latin-derived Afro-American rhythms. The B and C sections appear to be variations on one another, as they bear many similarities in construction and chord progression. The D section breaks from the straight rag rhythm of B and C into more of a swing pattern, forecasting common use of this style years before it became popular. I choose to reprise the A section because it provides for a much more lively ending.
Baby Seals Blues
Baby F. Seals (arr.
) - 1912
Baby F. Seals
was a somewhat well known itinerant pianist who often played in St. Louis. It was likely there that he met Artie Matthews who arranged this early blues piece for publication. Long considered the earliest blues piece published, it actually was the second publication with "Blues" in the title, preceded in 1908 by A Maggio's I Got Da Blues
. Speculation has it that Seals learned his blues from listening to W.C. Handy's Mister Crump
of 1909, later republished as The Memphis Blues
in 1912. To add to the unresolved issue of who originated or popularized the genre, Ferdinand "Jelly Roll" Morton
, in the 1930s claimed that he was an originator of the blues, in response to a Ripley's Believe It or Not
radio show touting Handy's involvement in the genre as its true parent. Officially, the August publication of this piece beat out Handy's landmark Memphis Blues
by one month. It is more of a song with a blues feeling, intended to be performed by both a man and a woman. No single section is cast in twelve bars, but if you want to find the blues, look in the chorus. It is divided into sixteen bars in the first part and twelve bars (a modified derivative of the blues) in the second.
Dr. Matthews was the second composer/arranger to have a piece published with "Blues" in the title with the Baby Seals Blues
, an arrangement of a song by pianist Baby F. Seals
, first released in August of 1912. After that, composers everywhere clamored to write and perform melodies for this familiar mournful 12 bar progression. Written in response to a request by publisher John Stark
to offer a saleable blues in his catalog, Weary Blues
has had a lot of exposure since its inception, recorded by such artists as Louis Armstrong
, Count Basie
, and a number of traditional jazz bands. Matthews not only took the $50 prize from Stark for this composition, but the publisher also gave him $27 to buy a new suit, a great compliment from the frugal Stark. It was composed at a time when blues were still related to ragtime, and therefore usually had two or three structured sections, instead of the single repeated and improvised riffs found in authentic blues songs throughout the 1920s. The B section has a bass line similar to that of Boogie Woogie piano, which was ten years off. It differs in that there is no inclusion of the flatted seventh in the pattern, and is done in even sixteenths instead of dotted. The main riff in the trio is particularly interesting, and drives the piece well to the end. Weary Blues
was performed somewhat faster in early recordings that I have heard of it than is done here by myself. Some of this need for speed was potentially due to the limitations of acoustic recording through 1925, requiring a piece that would otherwise be five minutes long to be squeezed into three and one half minutes. The usual remedy was to either cut out sections or speed the piece up. I have reversed the process somewhat here in my interpretation.
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