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All MIDI file contents and Wave Audio recordings are Copyright ©1998 through 2014 under the 1998 Electronic Copyright Laws by Bill Edwards and Siggnal Sounds. All Sheet Music and Album Cover images here have been restored or enhanced by Bill Edwards, and only the original sources are in the Public Domain (except where noted). Unauthorized duplication or distribution of these proprietary files or associated digital recordings is a violation of copyright and patent law. They are for personal use and enjoyment of individuals only, and may be used on other sites only upon request for permission to do so. This site has been optimized browsers released in 2006 or later with a recommended minimum 800x600 (SVGA) and optimal 1024x768 (XGA) monitor resolution.
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|Piano Rags by , , and|
|James Sylvester Scott|
|On The Pike|
James Scott - 1904: 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 (Calliope version) Calliope Rag (Piano Rag version)|
James Scott & 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 solicted 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.
If the first version does not sound like a steam calliope, you have an ancient sound card and should consider replacing it.
Many Thanks go to ragtime scholar Edward Berlin who initially extracted the updated information from Mr. Darch prior to my 2001 interview. Please go to my Resources Page and look up the books that Mr. Berlin has written on ragtime. They are highly recommended reading for getting inside the music.
Copyright ©1960/1988 Robert R. Darch. Used by Permission.
|Frog Legs Rag|
James Scott - 1906: While not Scott's first rag, it was the first of his to be published by John Stark, who would publish everything Scott sent him for the pretty much the rest of Stark's life. And like a frogs 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. This was likely due to Stark's reticence to print something in six flats, which creates the perception 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|
James Scott - 1909: The feeling of this rag certainly is reflected in the name. It may be Scott's finest single work. 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 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 greater dynamics in the C and D sections. This highlights both the beautiful melodies of Scott as well as the technical proficiency required to perform the rags.
|Great Scott Rag|
James Scott - 1909: 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|
James Scott - 1909: Even though it is earlier 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 often found in his rags.
James Scott - 1909: Relatively simple in concept but 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. Sunburst Rag is overall a happy piece bursting at the seams with bright ideas.
James Scott - 1910: 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 and Nipper, among others.
James Scott - 1910: 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 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 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 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. As the title might suggest, Hilarity is a great accompaniment to good times.
James Scott - 1911: Quality was certainly foremost on the mind of both James Scott and John Stark where his output was concerned. While not one of his standouts, it is certainly memorable, and was relatively popular 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 and can be interpreted successfully at varying speeds. I choose a mild tempo partially to facilitate clean execution of the challenging trio (similar to the same section in Joplin's Maple Leaf Rag, and to bring out the intricacies of the interplay between the voicings 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.
James Scott - 1911: 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. The bird call starts right in the introduction, and is used in the A section for several iterations. This 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 common in Novelty piano pieces. The trio is yet another variation on the trio of Joplin's Maple Leaf. 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. This stands out as one of his best and most popular rags.
James Scott - 1914: 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.
James Scott - 1915: 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|
James Scott - 1916: There are indications within this rag that it may have been written a few years earlier than it was published, as it is not as polished in many places as those released about the same time as Honey Moon. 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 in four page format. All John Stark publications from 1917 on used harder to read condensed scoring on smaller paper.
James Scott - 1917: James Scott rags are always challenging to play. He was pretty much the Franz Liszt of classic ragtime. Scott uses a lot of call and response (a.k.a. ring shout) patterns through shifting octaves with repeated riffs. This falls in line with the best of his work. Listen to how the melody shifts octaves in the A section, and the devices he uses to connect the octaves. The B section contains a bit of the call and response method, again through shifting octaves. This utilization is expanded in the trio, and the pattern broken 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. :-)
James Scott - 1918: 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 accomodate 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 or Gladiolus, which would have been a likely influence on Scott.
|New Era Rag|
James Scott - 1919: 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 tradition. He was also re-using cover art, as the picture 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. 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, easily adaptable to the stride piano sound, and it adds a great deal of contrast to this snappy rag.
|Peace and Plenty Rag|
James Scott - 1919: 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.
James Scott - 1920: 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|
James Scott - 1920: 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|
James Scott - 1922: 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 Francis Lamb|
|Muskoka Falls - An Indian Idyl|
Joseph F. Lamb and Bill Edwards - 1902/2006: 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.
Copyright ©2006 by Bill Edwards and Patricia Conn (Lamb).
Joseph Lamb - 1908: 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."
Joseph Lamb - 1909: 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.
Joseph Lamb - 1909: Issued and likely composed around the same time as Ethiopia, Excelsior 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.
Joseph Lamb - 1910: Even though this earlier rag of Lamb's is close to popular ragtime 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" title, 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, a 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 a repeat. 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|
Joseph Lamb - 1913: 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, Scott in short two measure phrases, and Lamb largely in eight measure phrases. This 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 Joplinistic ideas. The interlude before C seems to suggest 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.
Joseph Lamb - 1914: 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 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. The trio and the short segue that follow both contain descriptive phrases akin to various bird calls.
Joseph Lamb - 1915: 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.
Joseph Lamb - 1915: 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.
Joseph Lamb - 1916: This rag was originally composed in 1909 as an anniversary gift of sorts for publisher John Stark. As Lamb tells the story, he had noted how content Mr. and Mrs. Stark seemed after so many years together, and it touched his heart to the point he named and dedicated Contentment Rag to them. 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, Mrs. Stark took ill and died. 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.
|Top Liner Rag|
Joseph Lamb - 1916: Multiple printed sources and the opinions of many I have asked confirm this to be Lamb's finest rag, and one of the finest ever written. It encompasses a wide range of harmonic progressions, bass patterns, octave shifts, transitional phrasing, and just plain beautiful melodies. Lamb even considered it to be his favorite rag. The opening 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. The interlude beautifully anticipates the trio without outright quoting from it. What follows is an 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!
Joseph Lamb - 1916: 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.
Joseph Lamb - 1919: 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 Lamb's rags published before his death in 1960, although he continued to write throughout much of his life (see Ragtime Treasures published by Mills Music for more). Bohemia also suffered from economics as John Stark, in an effort to cut publishing costs, used a simple line drawing for the cover (no color) and published the entire rag on two pages (a challenge to read). This rag 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. While not quite jazz, the "bohemian" attitude is certainly present in this piece.
Joseph Lamb - c. 1910s/1959: 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.
Copyright ©1959 Belwin Mills Music.
Joseph Lamb - c. 1950s/1959: One of the set of 13 posthumously published Lamb rags in Ragtime Treasures, Bobolink 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.
Copyright ©1960 Belwin Mills Music.
Joseph Lamb - c. 1959: 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.
Copyright ©1959 Robert Darch.
|Pastime Rag #1|
Artie Matthews - 1913: Matthews was a contracted arranger for publisher John Stark for a few years through the mid 1910s. It is believed 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 (Cataract and Agitation Rags) and Lucian Porter Gibson (Cactus and Jinx 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 Northrup'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 continue the arpeggios to raise the bar further.
|Pastime Rag #2|
Artie Matthews - 1913: 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, Scott and Lamb), and perhaps even more innovative in some regards. Note that like the others 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 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 innovative chord progression that is unexpected even for the seasoned ragtime listener.
|Pastime Rag #3|
Artie Matthews - 1916: As with the other Pastime Rags, this was most likely released some time 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|
Artie Matthews - 1920: 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. It fit in quite 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 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 sextuplet patterns. The trio echoes the idea of A by building a cluster from the bottom up. And remember, Don't Fake!
|Pastime Rag #5|
Artie Matthews - 1918: By the time this piece was published, Matthews was long gone from St. Louis and the Stark organization, 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 doctoral degree. Indications of his genius and musical innovation are prevalent throughout the Pastimes. Pastime Rag #3 starts out with a mild tango rhythm, but was only a precursor of the content of #5. This one really takes off with a full fledged modified habañera/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. The D section breaks from the straight rag rhythm of B and C into more of a swing pattern. I choose to reprise the A section because it provides for a much more lively ending.
|Baby Seals Blues Lyrics|
Baby F. Seals (arr. Artie Matthews) - 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 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.
Explicit thanks and gratitude need to be extended to Art Matthews, the son of Dr. Matthews and a composer/performer in his own right, who provided me with a copy of this rare piece, and has given many positive words of encouragement as well.
Artie Matthews - 1915: 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 the early recordings I have heard than is done here by myself. Much of this need for speed was 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. Note: The Paul Whiteman recordings of Rhapsody In Blue suffered from this malady, and a full four minutes of the piece was excised for both releases in 1924 (acoustic) and 1927 (electronic).
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