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Popular Piano Ragtime Pieces from 1910 to 1915
Knockout Drops - A Trombone Jag
Frank Henri Klickmann
This is the first rag by Kentucky native Klickmann, a composer who would amass a large body of compositions and arrangements, but leave us only scant information about himself. Knockout Drops
has many facets that help it stand out from lesser rags of 1910. The trombone influence referred to in the title, which may have come from Frank playing the instrument in his teens, is quite apparent in the left hand lines as there is a lot of octave movement along runs that resemble those of a slide trombone. The occasional skipped beats in the left hand also give it a little bit of the feel of a stop time piece, particularly during any brief returns to the more conventional oom-pah patterns. The trombone action slips into the right hand for the trio. The final section is a fun blowout with sliding patterns in both hands. I think the title better refers to the effect on the pianist rather than the listener, although it is a workout for everyone!
Red Mouse Rag
Wilbur J. Piper - 1910/1911
The cover of Red Mouse Rag
states, "The melody of this will creep into anything." While there were many rags and song about dogs and cats and lions and tigers and bears, oh my, there were very few rodent rags, and given the ick factor it's understandable as to why. Yet Red Mouse Rag
sold at a pretty fair clip in its day. It was composed by a 19-year-old from Sidney, Ohio, who worked for his father who was a dry goods merchant. It is the only known work found by Piper, yet a rather fair quality piece at that. Largely scale-pattern driven in content, it wasn't that hard for the average pianist to grasp as well. It was the sometimes-erratic syncopated rhythms that were the real challenge. The trio is slightly reminiscent of the familiar Frankie and Johnny
melody that would be published a year later, and which was already a folk staple of sorts. It is punctuated with a bold interlude. In recent years, pianist and historian Dick Zimmerman
had a computer mouse pad made from the cover. And if you don't like this fun little piece, well then rats to you.
This rag is the second of Cobb's solo piano works published by
of Boston, and it proclaimed Cobb's versatility as a composer. While not easy to learn or to play, it was certainly worth the effort, and the way it is notated provides wonderful interpretation cues for amateurs and professionals alike. In essence, Aggravation Rag
starts out as a Scott Joplin
rag repeating the asymmetrical pattern found in the A sections of Maple Leaf Rag
, Gladiolus Rag
, Sugar Cane
, and similar pieces. It is still, however, separated from them by the mixture of syncopations found in the second set of eight bars. The B section is more indicative of folk ragtime, but can trip up somebody who is not following the score carefully. The fluid harmonic structure of the trio introduces both variety and a little uncertainty as to the final key destination. A little aggravating to learn, but otherwise quite nice.
That Hindu Rag
George Linus Cobb
Early on in his career Cobb showed a propensity for mood-setting ragtime. This was one of his earliest of the many descriptive genre pieces he would compose, in this case originally as a band piece, having been loosely associated with ensemble-friendly publisher,
of Boston, for just over a year. In this case, his topic was the growing interest in adaptations of Eastern Music harmonies and riffs. Cobb showed great attention to detail in his writing, and it was probable that he was exposed to such themes while attending the music school at Syracuse University
. His choice of chords right from the eight bar introduction take you to far off lands in Asia, India or Arabia. There are two somewhat tricky descending diminished chord patterns in the A section that only sound difficult, but are used to great effect. The B section is based in part on a famous melodic line using the modalities of Asiatic countries, later adapted by Carl Stalling
for many Warner Brothers cartoons based in India or Asia Minor. The trio breaks away from the modality, and is more typical of dance music of the day, although with a written variation. Jacobs originally put this in a package of thematic film pieces for band and orchestra perhaps in 1911 or 1912, and later published this particular work as a piano reduction in compilations for use in movie theatres, under the subheadings of "Oriental" and "Slapstick".
Dabney was the son of a Washington D.C. undertaker, and as a prodigy in his youth served as a "court composer" to the President of Haiti from 1904 to 1906. Having experienced some of the indigenous island music during this time, he was well equipped to integrate it into popular music styles when he moved to New York around 1910 to break into publishing and performance. While he initially worked as a pharmacist, Dabney got Haytian Rag
into print as a logical first choice, closely followed by Porto Rico
, a piece which created a template for many composers of "Latin-tinged" music to follow over the next decade. While Panama
in 1911 was ultimately the bigger hit, Porto Rico
remains fresh and charming, and worthy of repeated performances. The introduction suggests the moderate tempo taken, and the unusual low octave melody in the A section immediately sets a tone of contrast throughout. As written, however, it has a little less of the "island rhythm" than might be heard in later pieces. So part way into the B section of this performance, there is a shift into more of a habanera feel. On resuming the A section, a minor shift in syncopation creates a nice little choro. More liberties are taken on the flexible trio, including the addition of a minor rendition of that strain. The return to the A section starts with a fully expanded realization of the melodic line in higher octaves before returning to the final measures and the bookend coda.
Who Let the Cows Out? (A Bully Rag)
On occasion, rag composers made sure to not take themselves too
seriously, and some would even lean towards just plain silliness. This piece, which may be best described as whimsical, certainly espouses that sentiment. Humfeld was a well-known Saint Louis, Missouri, pianist and vaudeville performer who's printed output was minimal, but judging by the number of copies of this piece still in existence, it must have seen success due to the sheer novelty of his product. His work continued as a theater pianist into the 1920s, and as a self-proclaimed "Professor of Music". He later went into real estate, then taught music at the high school level in Saint Louis. Who Let the Cows Out
is undoubtedly the first piece with a break in it that prompts the pianist (or the audience) to "Make a noise like a cow," and perhaps the only one. That cue in itself allows for many possibilities, given the types of noises cows tend to create. Due to MIDI limitations, I could not include a cow in the performance, but will let the listener fill in the proper sound. The first two breaks are where you include the "moosic", and the third break is reserved for "Oh! you cow!!" It's Udderly wonderful. And should you have any beefs, I'll be milking it for all it's worth, not just hoofing it! (I hope that didn't go pasteurize and over your head.)
Harry Augustus Fischler
Fischler was a life-long Pennsylvania resident, and a member of various bands in the Williamsport area, allegedly including the well-known Repasz Band, likely on either piano or cornet. While some sources cite Vandersloot Music
Harry J. Lincoln
as the source for his rags, Fischler was quite real, not a pseudonym, and turned out a few easy to play minor hits for Vandersloot. The A section of Chili-Sauce
clips along at a nice even pace, which is followed by an ambitious 8 measure repeated B section, really more of an interlude. However, he uses the exact same section as an interlude for the trio in the new key. In any case, this piece is certainly evocative of the name. I liked the first section so much I did another take on it at the end. So grab a tall glass of cold water and start up the Chili Sauce
Up front it should be noted that the common Vandersloot cover for Riverside Rag
is among the most tasteless ever done in the ragtime era, particularly by today's sensibilities, and (one would have hoped) even those of the post-Victorian era. W.J. Dittmar
was an accomplished cover artist in both cartoon caricatures and fine landscapes. It was just a matter of poor subject matter, and it is not known if the art was suggested by Cohen, Dittmar, or possibly from a request by management at Vandersloot, perhaps even manager
Harry J. Lincoln
himself. Why the concept of the original cover was not retained is unclear, but it may have had to do with the specific locality that the piece was named for. That aside, the rag is simple yet engaging. Cohen was the resident ragtime musician, piano technician and teacher in Binghamton, New York from around 1909 to the 1930s. A black musician married to a white woman, he was highly regarded and respected in Southern New York state. Cohen was known for his performances at carnivals, movie theaters and similar venues. Riverside Rag
was specifically composed for and dedicated to the Riverside amusement park on Riverside Drive in Binghamton, where the composer likely played. It has an opening section very similar to Charles Johnson's Golden Spider
which was also published by Vandersloot that same year. There are some unique aspects of Riverside Rag
however, and it conveys some of that carnival atmosphere. The B section changes to the dominant key, not uncommon but effective in this instance. The trio is cast in a form similar to stop-time, but the chord progression echoes one that would be popular in Stride and Novelty Piano trios of the 1920s. There are certainly many underlying consistencies that nicely tie all three sections together.
The Grizzly Bear Rag
(L) - 1910
Dancing and Ragtime have gone hand in hand since before the cakewalk was popular. In the first decade of the 20th century, the only people who actually had a modicum of body contact while dancing were stage performers, and even that was considered somewhat nefarious to the upper crust of society. Around 1910 there was a desire by the public to join along with some of the more adventurous dances as well, and many venues opened up to both teach and host dances. As a result, several dance crazes were introduced over the next decade, including the Turkey Trot, Cubanola Glide, Fox Trot, and the Grizzly Bear. There were many more that were banned by dance organizers or from public venues in general because they involved grinding motions. The Grizzly Bear
dance comes close since it involves some public bear hugging. I have done the Grizzly Bear in a session with the Flying Cloud Dance Academy
, and if you think the Swim and the Mashed Potato are weird, well... Bears in particular were popular as a result of Teddy Roosevelt
and the "Teddy" Bear named after him. Botsford was very adept at turning out tunes that hooked the listener. This one had lyrics added to it just prior to its initial release as a rag, which were penned by no less than Irving Berlin
. The song was introduced in the 1910 Ziegfeld Follies
by Fannie Brice
and quickly popularized by Sophie Tucker
. The A section can also be done as a tango or habanera, as demonstrated here in the repeat after B. The real hook is in the C section, which was a very memorable melody. You can still find a grizzly bear on the California State flag.
Shortly after the success of his enormous hit rag turned into song Grizzly Bear Rag
, published by
Jerome H. Remick
, who had published Botsford's first rags, saw fit to hire him on as a staff composer and arranger, and obviously reap the benefits from any future hits. Chatterbox
certainly must have been somewhat successful, judging by the number of copies still floating around. The A section uses an interesting descending pattern over a single bass note for each measure, which is broken up by a good rollicking rag phrase. The B section uses two different interchanged patterns with great success. The trio is essentially an inverted variation of A with a few patterns from the middle of the B strain. The cover of the piece by artist
André De Takacs
is also quite engaging. All in all, there's a lot to talk about with this rag.
The Entertainer's Rag
There was a time when one of the more well attended social events of the lower and middle class of the big cities was the piano cutting contest, where players would perform on back to back pianos, sometimes four or more at one time. They would play tunes with or at each other while at the same time trying to outclass the rest of their peers. Many of them came up with their own pianistic tricks to accomplish this. In a cutting contest scene from the movie Scott Joplin
was portrayed as beating his opponent by changing keys throughout the ditty they were dueling with, Poet and Peasant Overture
, to which the other player can't keep up. Roberts wrote the Entertainer's Rag
with cutting contests in mind, and even directs the musician to work the rag up to a fast speed by stating, "Play slowly at first and you will find it to be not difficult." This is actually just good sensible piano practice protocol. The A section has little remarkable about it, and consists largely of non-rag patterns. The B section, played only one time through, is made up primarily of the "secondary rag" three over four rhythm pattern, and ends with one of the most awkward modulations ever encountered in popular music. This strain is in Db for the first twelve measures, but transitions to Eb during the last four to set up a smoother change into Ab for the following section. You figure it out. Of particular note in the unusual trio is the playing of Yankee Doodle
with the left hand, a reiteration of which is combined with Dixie
in the right hand. Then the repeat of the D section at a tempo of largo, which is quite slow. This is definitely a showcase tune with character. This rag caught on quickly enough that it was bought by Forster Publishers in Chicago within a year of its release, soon after Roberts and his partner Lloyd split up. It remains a perpetual favorite at 21st century events.
The Baltimore Todolo
James Hubert "Eubie" Blake
was an African American dance of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Add to that the fact that Eubie grew up in Baltimore and you have a plot for a great Blake piece. Not published until the 1970s, the piece probably went through a few alterations in style since its alleged inception in the early 1910s, but not too much of content. It has a nice swing to it, and patterns that comprise elements found in many of Eubie's pieces. The size of his enormous hands is apparent when the performer realizes that there is no getting around the playing of the heavily chorded tenths in the left hand in order to perform the piece as intended. The dynamic trio is full of little syncopated surprises and an extended ending. If Terry Waldo's
brilliant transcription of the piece is followed properly, the true essence of the composer's performance will shine through. I dare you to not feel like moving to this beat.
Very little is known about this Iowa-born Kansas City composer aside from this rag and her later Eatin' Time
in 1913, plus a few assorted songs. In some areas of the country it was difficult for a woman to get a rag published, and some used male pseudonyms just to get their work in print. Being a different time in American society, many would also give up their name and any income-producing pursuits once they married as well, which is what happened to Irene in 1912 when she married Dr. Joseph Whitman Sherer
just prior to the issuance of Eatin' Time
. It is unfortunate that there was so little published by this talented composer. The introduction of Affinity Rag
subtly suggests rubato, giving it a somewhat more refined parlor-like feel. The opening strain is highly melodic with beautiful contrast provided by right hand textures. The B section is more forceful in feel but again provides contrast through shifts every four measures. The trio is cast very much in the classic rag style and gives pleasant balance to the A section. The last section is again more forceful but with a genteel ending. Neither of the last two strains is repeated in score, but they are reiterated in this performance in full to allow for some improvisation and fitting closure. In many ways, this piece stands up favorably to some of the more well-known classic rags of Joseph Lamb
and Scott Joplin
. Perhaps you too will develop a real affinity for this gem.
Giblin's talent for composing fun-to-play rags was considerable. She was one of the more prolific women composers of the era, and her pieces still fare well with collectors and musicians. This rag starts out a little slow (as the title might suggest) with a modification of the popular three-over-four pattern into a theme that flows well (as the title might suggest), similar to Gladys Yelvington's Piffle Rag
. It is followed by a typical ragtime theme that drips along pleasantly (as the title might...). The trio is quite innovative and is a dotted quarter short of a habanera (as exhibited here in the repeat). The final iteration of the B section in the new key is much more ambitious than the first one, and pours forth nicely (as the title...). The cover for the piece is oddly predictive of the future of condiment advertising on television more than a half century later. Just think of the Kool-Aid pitcher commercials. Note also the more proper spelling as opposed to the later "catsup." To-ma-to
. Still, if this promotes good spelling, than that's at least half the bottle one (as the... mmfmmfmff)!
Albert F. Marzian
(as Mark Janza) - 1910
A rarity that is not listed in many ragtime reference sources, it has recently been discovered that the Aviation Rag
, as its companion the Lion Tamer
, may have actually been penned by its publisher, Al Marzian
. Since there is no other record of a Mark Janza in the music business, and Marzian's fathers original last name was likely to have been the Russian Marjanza, the identity of this talented mystery composer is now, more than likely, known. Musically it is very descriptive in relation to its title. There are elements in here that were later used in the Aviation Suite
by arranger/composer Ferde Grofé
in the 1920's. The introduction could well be a propeller spinning in preparation for take-off. The A section has a busy yet flowing melodic line, and uses the common three over four pattern with some variances. It is the trio that is the stand out here. I have heard it described as a rough landing or a crash followed by settling dust. There is also an interlude that uses one short and one long glissando up to a well-crafted descending line. The original ending is a bit anti-climactic as written, so I've altered it a bit.
The Aviator Rag
Ms. Giblin went right from high school into a brief career as a noted salesperson and pianist in St. Louis. She was one of many women who were entering the work force as it was more common for women in the home to play the piano than it was the man, and their talents were very useful for demonstrating new rags for sale. Giblin retired from writing and sales in the mid-teens to raise a family. The Aviator Rag
was one of many pieces commemorating the aviation craze that had struck the country. The Wright Brothers were demonstrating their latest flyers all around the globe, but there were many others in this country charging admission to ride in, or even see a flying machine. There is little in this rag to emulate the experience airplane flight, although it is loaded with tricky syncopations. The opening of the trio echoes patterns found later in Robert Hampton's Cataract Rag
. Some printed inconsistencies and note misalignments have been corrected for this performance, plus a few added (as usual). By the way, take a look at the anatomically incorrect planes on the cover. Some should not fly, while others can't land. The artist did not study simple aeronautics with any measure of diligence.
Red Pepper - A Spicy Rag
Thomas Henry Lodge
Along with the inevitable transportation rags, lady-named rags, and various animal-themed pieces, vegetables enjoyed some of the spotlight during the middle of the ragtime era. While not exactly foreign to the United States in 1910, red and green peppers were not in such common use in most of the country, but were popular with immigrants from southern Europe. A popular follow-up to the Temptation Rag
, there is both innovation and fun within Red Pepper
. It rolls right out with a theme of unrelenting sixteenths in the right hand and repeated eighth chords in the left, which is resolved with the expected ragtime bass in the second half of the A section. This provides contrast through more than just dynamics, forcing the pianist to employ variety in his performance. The B section is rife with interesting syncopations alternating between hands, and uses an interesting variation of the common three over four pattern. It is what follows that brings this piece to life. The trio is well-composed and as fun to play as to hear. A bold move, it starts in the relative minor, but quickly finds its way harmonically to the established key. This is accented by an interlude that not only provides contrast, but leads logically back into the trio theme. The interlude, by virtue of repeated patterns, encourages some improvisation. Mama-mia, thatsa spicy playin'!
is Latin for "without name" or "no name", which of course contradicts the fact that it is the title of this interesting piece. Dabney, a Washington, D.C. native was better known for his Oh You Devil
and Oh You Angel
rags, but this one is worth exploring. I first came across it on a piano roll, then later in Dick Zimmerman's 101 Rare Rags
is in rondo format (A B A C A) with the primary theme executed as a full 32 bar section. It is also played in the same key throughout, another rondo characteristic. The repetitive theme is a variation on the three over four pattern, with the third beat not sounding. The B section has an interesting improvisational line included in the score for use in the repeat by advanced players. In the trio, I take inspiration from Glen Jenks'
interpretation, which is repeated 2 octaves higher instead of just one. In a final salute to the rondo form, the coda is the introduction rewritten with a resolution. So if you ever see me in concert, ask for this by name... er... no name?
Jack Rabbit Rag
Donald Garcia - 1910
Vandersloot Music was consistent in their output in both the look and feel, thanks to Walter J. Dittmar's
innovative but simple covers, and in average to better quality, which was largely guided by music head and staff composer Harry J. Lincoln
. This piece falls right into that groove, although searches trying to yield more information on the composer were fruitless. Jack Rabbit Rag
seems to be the only piece of Garcia's that was published. It may also be a pseudonym, for Lincoln if for anybody, but the content seems inconsistent with Lincoln's body of work. While this rag does not jump right off the page initially, it hops right along as we get into the trio. The opening bars are actually a quote from the notorious melody Funky Butt
, also used in St. Louis Tickle
, which is followed by a typical B section for a Vandersloot publication. Then comes the trio for which many fun folk/country-style variations are possible. Of note is the full-sized interlude which is repeated, reminiscent of some of the classic rags of Scott Joplin. For continuity and variety I have instead chosen Trio Int Trio Int Trio, more common for that time period, and had some fun with it towards the end. So perk those ears up, and maybe the rabbit pace on this one will get your hare standing on end.
Leon Block was not a heavy hitter in ragtime, but this is one of his most memorable pieces. I first heard it played by Paul Lingle
on a Herwin
album of 1950s ragtime. It bears some similarity to the Pastime Rags
in its use of folk melodies and basic structure. The A section is definitely a folk tune set to a powerful ragtime bass that pervades throughout. The B section is a simple but effective play on the circle of fifths, using the classic 6 2 5 1 progression. Listen for the common pattern in the trio, which is similar to the Maple Leaf Rag's
second theme. An interestingly sparse interlude is followed by a repeat of the B section in the new key. Played at a stately tempo, this makes a great showcase for the left hand. Block spent his life as an itinerant musician, largely centered in either his home state of Missouri or neighboring Arkansas.
That Tired Rag
That sleepy feeling is what the title refers to, even though the figure on the cover looks like they have the weight of the world on their shoulders. This is a clever piece both in conception and execution. The Detroit-based composer was perhaps better known for some songs she helped write, but this piece is as deserving of attention, even though it might be viewed more as a novelty. The opening section (Tempo di Fatigue) discards the normal ragtime bass line for more progressive moving lines. The B section is where the fun starts, with descriptive captions (Yawn! gap! asleep? No! stretch; sigh! snoring? No!
) every other measure. There is some interplay between the hands and an anticipatory hold in a couple of spots. In the trio (Sweet dreams
) there is a mix of swing rhythm in a counter melody with straight sixteenths in the resolution. This is repeated (Getting Rested
) much louder and an octave higher, followed by a forceful reiteration of the B section ("Done woke up"
) and a resolute ending (What time is it?
). While not an entirely memorable rag, it was a worthy experiment that certainly has not tired me out. Yet. Y a a a a w n * * *
Harry Austin Tierney - 1911
Tierney was known in the late 1910s and beyond as a fine composer of Broadway music, including his big hit Alice Blue Gown
from the record-breaking show Irene
. Born into a musical family, he was trained as a concert pianist, including courses in theory and harmony, so had the tools to compose. While touring the United States and Europe as a concert pianist in the early 1910s, he also took some time to compose a few fine piano rags, of which this was one of the more interesting ones. The A section is repeated with a first and second ending both before and after B, making it a full 32 bars both times, an unusual structure for a rag since most just allowed for 16 bars for the last repeat. While there is no obvious canary call, the main motive of the A section could be akin to a repeated chirp of that bird. The B section contains some unusual missing first measure beats, adding distinctiveness to it. The gentle trio is lyrical in its first iteration, then bold on the repeat. This should prove to be a favorite of songbirds everywhere!
Sweet is known mainly for his body of a few songs, most notably the prohibition gems At the Drugstore Cabaret
and Prohibition Blues
, and as a cornetist and leader for the Ringling Brother's Circus band (1905-1911) as well as his own groups. Albert also helped form the famous Brown Brothers clown saxophone band, pictured on the cover of Russian Rag
. He is known to have written just two rags, Keep-A-Movin'
and Rotation Rag
. There is a desire to hear what else he would have come up with in this genre, particularly after playing through Rotation
. The dramatic introduction, which I have expanded in the style that Marty Mincer
did on his recording of the piece, leads into a very light and enjoyable first strain comprised of a simple syncopation broken up with some innovative and advanced (for the time) breaks. The shorter B section moves the break from the middle to measures 3/4 and 11/12, providing even more variety before returning to the full 32 bar A section. The trio is full of all kinds of neat little tricks, some of which could easily be traced to a few patterns found in circus recordings of the time. However, with a little swing added as it is here, a pianist can easily make it his own. What the title refers to is unclear, except that it may be a reference to the perpetual motion found in the A theme. In any case, you're bound to come around to this "sweet" music again and again.
Panama - A Characteristic Novelty
A great many musical ideas and themes in ragtime were derived from Spanish rhythms, largely due to the rising popularity of the tango
, but also because of a number of Mariachi style musicians from Mexico who had infiltrated the New Orleans music scene. This made sense, because the tango
was actually born out of the much older habanera
, a rhythm export of seventeenth through nineteenth century Africa utilized by Spanish settlers in Central and South America. Both rhythms are prevalent throughout the works of Ferdinand "Jelly Roll" Morton
, and are even found in pieces by more traditional composers, such as the habanera in Scott Joplin's Solace
no doubt capitalizes not only on the popularity of these "Spanish tinge" pieces, but also on the public's fascination with the newly built Panama Canal. Virginia-born Tyers was composing Spanish-tinged pieces as early as 1896, this one being his best known. It has since become a popular traditional jazz piece, but usually with the inherent tango rhythm excised. The A and B sections complement each other nicely in both structure and progression. The C section starts a new rhythm, and the pattern lends itself to a long crescendo into the D section. Here we find a foundation for some delightful improvisations including many very familiar Latin rhythms and melodic devices. The closing after the repeat of A brings the dancers (or the listeners) to a very relaxed conclusion.
Down Home Rag
Wilbur C. Sweatman
Rarely has any composer made so much from so little. The persistent and oft-recorded Down Home Rag
, Sweatman's signature piece, is essentially a set of variations on two simple themes. Composed entirely in pint-sized eight measure sections, Down Home Rag
depends on repeats and the performer's embellishment skills to infuse variety and length. Yet it was highly popular when first published, and remained so in cartoons of the 1930s as well as during the 1950s ragtime and honky-tonk revival. Sweatman himself made two recordings of the piece for Emerson in 1916. The son of a black Missouri barber, piano was not his primary instrument, but one at which he had some skill. Wilbur initially gained notoriety as a clarinetist in circus bands and in vaudeville, using a special mouthpiece attached to two, then later three clarinets welded together allowing him to play all of them at one time in harmony. He was also the first to record Maple Leaf Rag on a piano, but unfortunately that cylinder, recorded in Minneapolis, Minnesota, is long lost. By the time Down Home Rag
was released he was a fairly big musical star in Chicago, Illinois, soon to move to New York City where he would spend much of the rest of his life trading on this piece and his musical talent.
Black Wasp Rag - A Stinger
Harry Augustus Fischler
Yet another of the easily recognized Walter J. Dittmar's
single-colored covers graces this Fischler entry from Vandersloot (Dittmar was color-blind, thus his preference for the single shade). This particular cover is comic without being so offensive as some of the Vandersloot output of that time was. Fischler turns in another pleasant and playable rag - actually a bit more challenging than usual - which really bears no thematic tie-in to the cover. The genus name for the black wasp is actually Sphex pennsylvanica
given their early concentration noted in the Pennsylvania colony. So the local connection can be understood considering Vandersloot's location in Lycoming County in the central part of the state. The A section actually romps a bit after the opening. The B section (also D) has some awkward left hand progressions, which you will hear in the first iteration, but which have been supplanted thereafter. The rapid left hand runs were infrequently used to this degree in ragtime, but provide a nice dialogue between the hands. You will hear several variations on this within. Control is the key for the trio, which continues the same general motive as the B section but more subdued. All in all, it's not quite a hornet's nest of notes, and it won't give you hives, so what's to lose by listening?
Once Dakota Territory native Botsford had established an obviously successful formula with his second syncopated work published in New York City, Black and White Rag
, he often duplicated it with succeeding compositions. Hyacinth
breaks those bounds a bit, but you can ascertain that it is still written by the same composer. Right up front is an extended 16 bar introduction, which is balanced by no repeat for the A section (although I do take one). Both the introduction and B sections feature a long melodic scale figure, the counterpart to the arpeggios in the same section of Black and White
. The trio is simple but effective. It retains continuity with the previous sections through use of the scale figure, and follows a chord pattern similar to many of his other trios. The rag closes with a slightly fuller version of the B section in the new key. In addition to his rag output, Botsford would become known both for a couple of successful songs, and a foray into a form he referred to as "miniature opera," which was essentially a one act musical done entirely to music.
Even though this rag follows patterns similar to his previous endeavors, this Botsford piece stands out for a bit more originality and an interesting melody. It was written at a time when Botsford was experimenting with both orchestral and vocal styles, creating a form known as miniature opera, utilizing a minimal set of performers. Even so, his publisher (Remick) was still referring to him as the 'composer of "Black and White Rag"
.' The first section, in a minor key, mixes a steady beat and secondary three over four figure both in the right hand, with the melody underneath a repeated eighth note figure. There is a break both in the middle and ends of this section, both well-constructed. The B section is simply fun to play, and contains some patterns similar to those found in Jay Roberts' Entertainer's Rag
. The trio follows a pattern similar to the same section in both Hyacinth
and Black and White Rag
, but holds the chord over a third measure in measures 7 and 8, breaking the pattern of two measures per chord change. In addition, it is in the same key as the B section, making the final repeat of that section unaltered and providing better continuity.
was known as a publisher with his own mildly successful firm, a conductor with the Louisville Symphony orchestra, a high school music teacher, and a composer of waltzes, intermezzos, and what could be termed mood pieces. Why he released this single syncopated opus using another publisher is unknown, but based on research by Dick Zimmerman
and Tracy Doyle
, plus a little more by this author at the Library of Congress
, here is a likely motive. Marzian wanted to be known more as a publisher and composer of serious works, as a glance at his catalog would show. To publish some faddish rag under his own name would spoil the continuity of that perception. So this piece went elsewhere. It was more recently surmised that he is the likely composer of three ragtime pieces by Mark Janza
, the only rags released from within his publishing house. Further note that his heritage goes back to Russia, where his father's original name was possibly Marjanza
, from which the pseudonym would have been derived. Listen to many of the unusual patterns in this rag, particularly the last four measures of each section and the makeup of the 32 bar C section. Then compare them with Lion Tamer
and Aviation Rag
, both by Janza. You will likely come to the same conclusion. The tempo marking reads slowly
, but sometimes a composer or publisher can be wrong! This one just moves along more gracefully when taken at a good clip. And I'm hungry enough to eat an entire Angel Food Cake every time I'm done playing it!
Peanuts - A Nutty Rag
For many years this was thought to be another rag of its publisher, composer
Charles L. Johnson
, using what seemed to be a rather humorous pseudonym. However, new information uncovered in 2006 by myself and Nora Hulse, at the suggestion of ragtimer Terry Parrish, has revealed that Ethel Earnist was a real person, playing piano professionally in the region for a living at the age of 22 when this piece was published. Earnist now becomes one of a handful women composers writing one-shot rags that were published by the prolific Johnson. Peanuts
was released with many others of the period through his new Johnson Publishing Company
, after having sold his previous concern and earlier copyrights, and also in concurrence with rags sent to other publishers throughout the Eastern United States. It's hard to quantify why, but this piece does have a certain whimsy about it that would qualify it as somewhat "nutty" in nature. Parrish believes that there is some Theron C. Bennett
(St. Louis Tickle
) influence in it as well. In a nutshell, the opening pattern in the first strain is a common one except that it starts on an offbeat. The last four measures, which are the same as the introduction, are almost vaudevillian in nature, suggesting a short interlude between the olios presented on stage after the main show or perhaps a melodrama. Within the context of an intermezzo of the period, this versatile phrase could even be taken with some accelerando for emphasis. Most of the B section consists of either bass melody or chords where melody might otherwise be expected. The trio is not modulated up a fourth as with most Johnson rags, another clue indicating the real Earnist's probable authorship, and it also lacks strong melodic content, but it retains overall consistency with previously stated patterns. The ending was so much fun I did it four times!
Harry C. Thompson - 1911
The loving and loyal domesticated dog has been a part of American as long as there has been America, so the happy aspects of canine personalities were often a great topic in literature as well as music. Even when it comes to the tail end of the creature. Thompson was a talented composer who had already made a name for himself with A Black Bawl
and The Watermelon Trust
. In this instance he veers away from the ethnic stereotypes for a fresh and innovative piece that features early incarnations of a swinging rhythm that would soon pervade vaudeville music in anticipation of jazz a decade later. The emphasis on the sixth in the opening strain is also looking forward to that harmonic being used in later music forms. The trio in particular has two sets of four measures that lean towards the idea of a break, albeit not in the correct place, and are descriptive in many ways. While this composition is very full in its printed form, there is still room left for some fun improvisations, the result of which left me wagging my own tail. Well, if I had one, that is.
Rag Time Chimes
Although Wenrich, who was known to some as the "Joplin Kid" owing to his hometown of Joplin, Missouri, is mostly known for a number of enduring hit songs, he also wrote some interesting instrumentals, including rags. One of a handful of pieces with similar titles or themes, this Wenrich number clearly takes on and succeeds in recreating the essence of chimes using a piano. The trick for the performer is largely how the sustain pedal is handled, since chimes have a longer sound envelope than most upper octave piano notes. The general content of the A section has since been reiterated in bluegrass music with mandolins or dobros. It is the simple breaking of a chord with minimal movement. The use of the broken bass in the B section is unusual for the time, and would show up soon after in some of the works of Artie Matthews
. In the trio, a single note represents the ringing chime, while treble notes play a counter melody above. All in all, this piece rings true.
Tres Moutarde (Too Much Mustard)
Too Much Mustard Rag
Cecil Macklin - 1911
One of a series of "too much" pieces, such as Too Much Jinger
and Too Much Raspberry
, Too Much Mustard
(the English translation) is essentially a non-syncopated two-step. Macklin was a British composer who wrote a few dance tunes intended for orchestras at society gatherings. Nonetheless, it was a popular hit in both the U.K. and the U.S. that was accompanied by a sequel, Plus Moutarde (More Mustard)
by Louis Mentel
. The charm of this piece is in its simplicity, in which the primary theme is comprised of short themes of essentially two repeated notes. The B section slips from F major into F minor, a device used to great effect in some of the best piano rags, and returns to the initial strain. This is followed by two short eight measure strains, one in the relative D minor, and another that is oddly enough notated but not signatured in Bb. The tune closes with a return to the opening trio of sections. I have, of course, interjected a bit beyond the range of the original publication in the first version. The rag version is loosely based on a take by Lou Busch
in 1951 that syncopates the thing, and I expand even on his idea. The piece is short either way, but then again, do you really want "too much" of such a good thing?
Unlike some of Lenzberg's later compositions, this is not specifically oriented towards ragging a particular genre or melody. The title, Haunting Rag
, is more likely in the context of a "haunting melody" than of ghosts and the spirits as represented on the silhouette cover. There can be a temptation to play this melody fast, and it does work well that way, but I have taken the notation "not too fast" to heart in order to bring out the "haunting" elements of the tune. The A section starts with a very common lightly syncopated pattern. The B section is similarly simple, using a chromatic scale over a moving bass line, and another common pattern found in many rags composed by
. The trio displays the most originality, and is followed by an interesting minor interlude. The piece ends with a variation on the C section. I hope I stand a ghost of a chance of pleasing you with this rag.
That Madrid Rag
One of the first published rags by Baltimore, Maryland, native Lenzberg, it is a Spanish-themed piece in title only, as there are no stylistic elements (other than what has been introduced in this performance) to suggest otherwise. There are indications of the virtuosity of Lenzberg's playing here, as well as what was in store from his later works, and while That Madrid Rag
is not overly challenging, interpretation can certainly make the difference in the performance. The A section actually resembles to some extent the trio of his later Hungarian Rag
. In the next strain, liberal use is made of left hand octave runs, giving it a great deal of forward motion. The trio is unusual in the sparseness of the left hand, using only bass notes and no chords for more than half of the section. This is one of those hidden gems which allows for, and even relies on creativity on the part of the performer.
A Bag Of Rags
Around the time this piece was written, the movies, or "flickers" were becoming big business. There were very few features of the scope of D.W. Griffith
films being produced. The majority of films released at this time were two reelers, about 20 minutes long. One of the things that sold best was comedy. Mack Sennett
caught on to this quickly, and produced films featuring Charlie Chaplin, Ben Turpin, Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, and the Keystone Kops
, named for Sennett's Keystone Studio
. The majority of theatres in the country employed one or two pianists or organists to accompany the films, and a handful had orchestras. It was often the musician's job to produce music that would properly accompany the mood of particular scenes in a film. On occasion, the film company would recommend various pieces. A Bag of Rags
was reportedly the unofficial theme of the Keystone Kops, and it certainly has fit the mood for some of their films that I have played it with. The A section could be described as whimsical, and the B and C sections more melodic. The D section contrasts with a very full and lively sound. Try it against a silent comedy of your choice.
Until 2005, this piece was assumed to have been composed by
Charles L. Johnson
. However, a former student of Ms. Woods put this notion to rest, and her identity as a real person was revealed. Sweetness "Ragtime" Sue Keller
first turned me on to this rag in the 1980s, when we both initially recorded it. Fannie, a talented pianist and organist from Louisville, KY, composed this at the age of 19 and dedicated it to her future husband. Like many of the popular rags of the 1910s, the initial theme for Sweetness
is the three over four note pattern, found in pieces like Johnson's Dill Pickles
and Crazy Bone Rag
among others. The circle of fifths harmonic progression of the A section, along with an interesting break of chromatic sixths, helps to distinguish the character of this rag. The B section is essentially a variation on the A section, with the almost same harmonic progression and a simplified melodic pattern, but again with an interesting break on a diminished chord. The trio is the most melodic, following a descending scale similar to the famous Canon in D by Pachelbel. It is followed by a reiteration of the B section in the original key. The nature of Sweetness
requires that it moves along at a pretty good clip to keep momentum, so hang on for a sweet ride.
Vandersloot publishing, largely managed by composer Harry Lincoln
, was consistent if nothing else with their output of rags, songs and instrumentals emerging from their little corner of Pennsylvania. With the exception of a couple of Charles L. Johnson
rags, the content of most of the Vandersloot pieces was pretty fair if nothing else, this one included. The covers were also consistent for their piano rags and rag-based songs, often showing racial (sometimes racist) caricatures on the cover. The one for Fashion Rag
is hardly as overt as many of the others, but still with elements of favored artist Dittmar's signature caricature style. Binghamton, New York composer Charles Cohen's rags were fairly easy to play, making them marketable even if not inspiring. But a good pianist could certainly look at the framework of what was included in such an average rag and find room for improvement simply through how the work was performed. Such is the case here. The A section is barely syncopated and modeled a bit in the style of simplified Johnson pieces. Expansion on the bass line helps in this case. The B section, however, a play on the circle of fifths, provides a nice opportunity for some fun embellishment, as does the more rhythmic trio. An inspired performance where the pianist has fun with piece will make sure it is rarely out of fashion.
Black Diamond Rag - A Rag Sparkler
Thomas Henry Lodge
To some extent a rewrite of Lodge's earlier Temptation Rag
, this piece still shines in places. The name Black Diamond
most likely refers to an eastern train line of the era, a speculation reinforced by the cover art. Occasionally the content of pieces did not necessarily reflect the title, and the covers were designed simply to catch the browser's eye with a popular theme. The A section is largely an inversion of its predecessor, but does not remain entirely in the minor mode. The melodic theme is a very nicely constructed rise and fall pattern. The B section is rather low in the treble spectrum, but feels more comfortable in its reiteration in the new key as the D section. The trio is a variation of the rising progression, and is complimented by an interesting interlude. While typical of ragtime interludes from a variety of composers, it leaves some latitude for variation, as expressed in this rendition. While this was not quite the big hit hoped for, it has seen a great deal of circulation through the decades.
Thomas Henry Lodge
For a time during his stint in New York as a stage pianist and composer, Lodge had the good fortune of playing for performances and perhaps even dance clinics given by Vernon and Irene Castle
, the famous husband-wife dance team. They were the darlings of society, and held many private dance sessions for the inner circles of the Manhattan elite. So that position was a lucrative one in terms of exposure for Lodge. Prior to his employment with them, Lodge composed this little piece in response to the tango, which was very much in vogue at the time, and inscribed it to the Castles. In reality, it is more habanera than tango in its rhythmic nature, a common error in perception. The left hand patterns are quite specific in their execution throughout, although the chord progressions fall outside of those often associated with tango pieces. The suggested tempo of 88 doesn't quite fit with the request to Play slowly in Spanish style
, so it is a little more reserved in this performance. A few liberties have been taken on repeats, but for the most part it reflects the intended simplicity of Lodge's writing. So grab your cape and castanets, stick a rose in your teeth, and dance away to Tango Land
Morrison was based in Indianapolis, Indiana, and was self-published, so this unusual rag did not find quite the circulation it might have deserved but did sell fairly well. In an attempt to cash in on the fruit and vegetable rag craze of the time, the composer carefully crafted an interesting and challenging piece, which is evident in spite of a few typographical errors in the score. The opening section is a study in right hand octave leaps made from a hand position that is not entirely conducive to such a leap, but the effect is worth the effort required. The last four measures have great anticipatory syncopations. The B strain is typical for the time, outside of a marked syncopation in measures 1/2 and 9/10. The trio is reminiscent of Al Marzian's Aviation Rag
from two years before, with a little more hesitation effectively introduced. It takes a bit of practice to play this rag well, and if that doesn't suit you, well, that's just Sour Grapes!
The Turkey Trot
J. Bodewalt Lampe
(as Ribé Danmark) - 1912
Animal dances were popping up everywhere in the teens, including the Grizzly Bear, the Bunny Hug, the venerable Fox Trot, and the wildly popular Turkey Trot
. Lampe had a secure position as an arranger with Ted Snyder's
publishing company, and had established himself years earlier with the million-selling Creole Belles
, a cakewalk that was popular with pianists and orchestras alike. As with many other dances, sheets were published along with the music, or available separately, that described the dance in detail. In spite of, or possibly as a result of these sheets, dance instructors were doing very well during the 1910s. There is little in the tune that could be interpreted as emulating the mannerisms of a turkey, save for the introduction, which is also the end of the B section. The trio is a smooth call and response pattern, and falls more into line stylistically with the One Step or Fox Trot style, both at least two years off. The format is more indicative of a song, since there are only three sections, and no expected reiteration of the A section. The introduction to the C section is marked for a trumpet fanfare, followed by trombone slides. This section is not repeated like the previous two, but written out in full, notated rather simply the first time, and much more broadly the second time.
Fried Chicken Rag
One of a handful of rags that originated in the state of Texas, a state in which there was a large output by women composers as well as men, this one seems to typify the Texas ragtime attitude. The writers and players down there evidently took their time at the piano, as most of the recorded or published ragtime was notably slower than in other parts of the nation. There are a few interesting features about this tasty dish that make it noteworthy. In the A section (with no introduction), the fourth and twelfth measures feature an unusual pattern for a rag, further reinforced by the unusual use of the relative minor the first time that pattern is used. The rhythmic pattern in measure eight is similar to one used in the virtuosic trio of the Lion Tamer Rag
. A series of challenging moving octave chords in the B section help to justify the necessity of playing at a slower tempo. Rag pianist Marty Mincer
, who first played this rag for me, tried to musically describe the act of eating and dropping a piece of slippery fried chicken in the trio by accentuating the unusual bass patterns interlaced within it. While I haven't consciously gone so far as to do that, the music does suggest that clumsy scenario to some extent. All in all though, it's a nice picnic rag if I ever heard one. And have you heard one lately?
This was the first of two published rags composed by the Carthage, Missouri boy who grew up with James Scott
, three years his elder. Living in Fort Worth and traveling through Texas as a melodrama pianist at the time, Woods most certainly looked back on his Carthage days when composing this elegantly simple rag. both the introduction and opening measures of the A strain suggest a very laid-back attitude that forces even the most bombastic pianist to take it slowly. The B section contains many bass octave passages that create a feeling similar to the early blues. The trio is most unusual in that it contains two non-symmetrical breaks in the first eight measures, also indicative of a blues style. The second eight measures contain a few "blue" notes and chord progressions. The ending is a repeat of the B section with the last measures altered for a stronger ending. Although the underlying dynamic of this piece is p
, this performance interprets the dynamics as relative, creating a slightly broader range, but never overbearing.
Over five decades before Herb Alpert
made it big with the Naomi Neville
piece of the same name, driven in part by a very seductive cover, Percy Wenrich
didn't do too badly with the original rag by this name, also with a seductive cover, some versions which had the infamously seductive Evelyn Nesbit
as a featured performer on the front. The title was an innovative diversion from the more common fruit and vegetable rags being touted at the time, and most certainly provided more than a subtle suggestion of things sweet and tasty. It is also prescient in its description of what is inside the highly collectible cover. From the introduction on the pianist and listener alike are whipped into a frenzy of delight. The A section has a lot of parallel left and right hand scale passages with only a scattering of traditional ragtime bass. It really takes off in the B strain with a clever buildup to two otherwise standard cadences. The simpler and more traditional trio allows a great deal of room for liberties, which are taken here, of course. The final section, which resolves from the trio, is similar to some familiar Charles L. Johnson
themes, but is still well executed. Wenrich had a gift for melody, and even though this is not one of his most memorable pieces, it still displays his skill at maintaining continuity and form. Now if only cover artist Starmer had been able to conjure up that girl from the Herb Alpert album...
The Lion Tamer - A Syncopated Fantasia
Albert F. Marzian
(as Mark Janza) - 1913
One of the great Ohio Valley rags, recent information has reinforced the contention that the Lion Tamer
was actually penned by publisher/musician Al F. Marzian
using the pseudonym of Mark Janza. Marzian had a hit with his Angel Food Rag
, but otherwise did not publish it or any other rag with his name listed as composer through his own company. Add to this that the Czech-born Marzian's father emigrated there from Russia in the 1880s, where his last name had likely been Marjanza, or a slight variation thereof, and you have a case for a composer. Lion Tamer
is extremely descriptive in nature, and one of the most fascinating rags of all time. The B section actually contains an intricate variation on itself, making it a full 32 bar section. The C section features some difficult left hand off-beat syncopation in measures 15 and 16 of the 32. The use of advanced chord progressions in the D interlude lends credence to the "Syncopated Fantasia" descriptor under the title. My interpretation here includes a little bit of the famous circus theme, March of the Gladiators
, as well as a very distinct lions roar in the D interlude. Since I first introduced this rag at the World Championship of Old Time Piano in 1987, I have heard it in several venues, including a piano roll arranged by ragtime player Mark Lutton
of New Hampshire.
Eatin' Time Rag
This is one of only two commonly available ragtime pieces from this little-known Kansas City composer, who is earlier wrote the Affinity Rag
. It is an interesting combination of old and new rag styles melded together. There is a very folksy quality about many of the rags that evolved from Kansas City, particularly those published by J.W. Jenkins
. This one opens a bit like a Charles Johnson
tune, then features a simple melody over an early ragtime bass in the first strain. The chord changes are certainly interesting at pivotal points, and the A section does not resolve immediately. The second strain provides contrast with melodic elements reinforced by repeated chords in the left hand, and an unusual fermata-notated pause in the middle. After the repeat of the A section, which finally resolves, the innovative C section shines through to the end. Forecasting a one-step style that Eubie Blake
would use in Fizz Water
a year later, this is a 32 bar strain in which the melody slows to half speed over the consistent oom pah pah oom
bass pattern. The cover of this unique rag is equally delicious as well, and mildly but not overly steeped in stereotype. If there had been a watermelon on the table instead of a pie... well, it's still good eatin'.
The Baboon Bounce
Cobb was well-established in New York by this time, and was gaining ground as a songwriter with his partner Jack Yellen. Yet he still enjoyed writing clever instrumentals such as this one, infused with his sense of humor. It would be a few years yet before he would be turning out his clever novelty pieces like Russian Rag
, but there are stirrings of what was to come within the covers of The Baboon Bounce
. One of those was the swing feel notated within the piece infused with many triplet figures. It translated musically very well into the image of the large simians playing at the zoo or even in their natural habitat. The shortened B section starts with what might be called a lumbering feel. The trio has the makings of, and was perhaps intended for, a dance craze associated with the title that would have indeed been fascinating to watch in those days. It would not have been hard to contrive clever lyrics for this section. In spite of any perceptions of frivolity in his music, it became clear that Cobb knew when he had something good going, and typically didn't monkey around with it.
Good Gravy Rag (A Musical Relish)
Finding a definitive or even vague entry point of the expression "Good Gravy!" into the American English lexicon is a near-futile endeavor. In short, it is an exclamation of surprise, delight, or frustration, which was likely coined to replace the more offensive (to some at that time) "Good God" or "Oh My God." By 1913 it was in regular use in this context, but the cover suggests the context of mealtime almost to the point where gravy is the main course. Many composers met with frustrations where the title picture did not match the intentions of their title, but they were still usually happy to be in print. Belding was a performer than composer, spending time on the vaudeville circuit throughout the Midwestern U.S. in 1913 and 1914 before he disappeared. Anyhow, Good Gravy! this is an ambitious rag from the start. The introduction is more or less lifted from Peaceful Henry
, but the melodic A section rips into a series of ambitious octaves in a swing pattern that makes this an easily identifiable piece. The B strain is no less ambitious but less memorable and made up of common patterns of the time, including one from Beets and Turnips
. The C section (not quite a trio) is very short and subdued compared to what is around it, and leads into a song-like final section that clearly comes out of Belding's vaudeville experience. I try not to pour it on too thick in this performance.
That Dawggone Rag
This is one sleeping dog I'm glad I didn't let lie. Once in a while you find a sleeper like this which seems like a personal discovery. While this interesting rag is certainly not the caliber of a Marzian or Cobb piece, it is still full of exciting possibilities. For starters, it was published in Los Angeles, where there was virtually no ragtime. In fact, other than San Francisco, there was little ragtime written or played in the west until the revival of the 1940s. A search on this composer found only one other rag, The Hookworm Rag
. Given the content of Dawggone
it can be surmised that Smith was possibly a movie pianist with some good ideas. The A section certainly harkens to classic chase music, something I emphasize rather obviously at one point. The double-sized B section has some unusual harmonic direction in it, and allows for swinging improvisation. The trio not out of the norm for the ragtime era, but again encourages expansion, something I can never resist. The whole thing just fits together so well, and doggone it, no bones about it, I just like this rag.
Banana Peel Rag (Some Slippery Number)
In spite of the lack of more obvious cover art, which may have helped this piece sell better, Banana Peel Rag
monkeys around just enough to live up to its name. Winkler was an Austrian born immigrant who had a few successful hits during a short-lived career as a composer and arranger. He also clearly had a musical sense of humor. The opening theme might best be described as a raggy jig of sorts, and is reminiscent of monkeys dancing to a Chicken Reel (well, I have some
imagination!). The non-repeated B strain is not terribly original, but provides contrast to the spotty A section. The trio pulls a reversal on the commonly used call and response pattern by stating the response an octave lower
, making it easier to bring out a counter melody line. There are a few slippery spots that have been intentionally placed into the performance. The piece closes with that a-peel-ing jig pattern. Try dancing The Slide to this one. It's bunches of fun, the type that grows on trees.
The Elephant Rag
Malvin M. Franklin
Unlike many of the animal dance tunes of the time, this piece appears to be intended more as a descriptive rag than a dance. Franklin had an interesting style that was both in tune with the times and perhaps forecasting of future trends. As with his Hot Chocolate Rag
, there is a distinct Charleston feel that can be discerned in the trio. The opening and the A section provides the most descriptive aspect of the piece, emulating the lumbering (depending on the speed at which it is performed) of one of these ungainly beasts. Elephants were actually fairly popular attractions by this time from venues ranging from the Bowery at Coney Island to the International Expositions held in Chicago, Buffalo, St. Louis and San Francisco. There was a famous Chute the Chutes attraction at Coney where trained (and likely horrified) elephants slid down a wooden chute of water into a pool to delight the obviously easily-entertained masses who came there. Hopefully this tune will be a viable substitute for our era, and one that won't annoy PETA or similar entities when they hear it.
was well known for playing, and occasionally writing knock-offs of popular classical themes spun into rags. This is one of his best, incorporating themes from Franz Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody #2
for piano. I have added a part of the original to the introduction, largely in an effort to remind the listener of the nature of the original Rhapsody (and also to show off a bit). The A section is largely made up of the ubiquitous three over four pattern found in Black And White Rag
, 12th Street Rag
, etc., but is unusual that it ends on the dominant (5) rather than the tonic (1), and is not returned to after B. The B section contains one of the primary bass themes of the Rhapsody, one that fans of the Bugs Bunny cartoon, Rhapsody Rabbit
(1942), will know well, and essentially completes the idea started in section A. The trio bears little resemblance to any part of the Liszt original, but the trio interlude contains two of the prominent themes. As a result of the tempo that I play this piece at, and the fact that the A section is not repeated, I go through most of the rag twice to give it more content and variety. Of notable interest, in England and Australia via Francis, Day and Hunter publishers, this was released as Rhapsody Rag
, not to be confused with the more common piece by Harry Jentes. There may have been a problem with "Hungarian" part, or perhaps the name was just more high-brow for that audience. Either way, it's always been at the top of my Liszt!
Before there was Hooked on Classics®
there was Julius Lenzberg. After a big success with his clever Hungarian Rag
based on Liszt themes, Lenzberg decided to go after opera, and in no small way. As a result, this piece is more disjointed in nature owing to the number of operas quoted, which includes themes from classics such as Rigoletto
. Following the dramatic introduction, the first section loosely follows Felix Mendelssohn's Spring Song
, itself the topic of similar rags by other composers. It plows into a fragmented 24 bar section that creates the equivalent of a development in the piece. The third section is very much Lenzberg in nature, with an interlude that includes a large snippet of the march from Bizet's Carmen
, leading into a big closing (uncharacteristically happy for opera). While never the success that Hungarian Rag
was, it nonetheless warrants a curtain call on occasion. Orchestrated versions of both Operatic Rag
and Hungarian Rag
were performed by his Harmonists
on the East Coast vaudeville circuit.
Kendall was a somewhat prolific and original composer who performed on a few piano rolls as well. He was also a music teacher and organist in New York City, and worked as an accompanist in a vaudeville troupe in the 1890s. He also worked as a piano salesman, and then publisher's representative in the early 1900s, an employee of M. Witmark and Sons when Rig-A-Ma-Role Rag
emerged under the rival banner of Jerome H. Remick. This particular rag stands up well over time for a number of factors. The opening section is insanely simple, essentially using a slow trill in thirds as the melodic theme, yet it requires both finesse and stamina to execute. It is unusual that the B section and trio utilize the same key in relation to the opening strain. It is the trio of the rag that gives the most latitude for improvisation. Some of the licks I use are variations from a recording of this piece by pianist Lou Busch
on the Capitol album Bar Room Piano
from 1951, in which he plays a shortened version of Rig-A-Ma-Role Rag
at a rather frenetic pace. The colorful and whimsical cover depicts a popular swing ride found in early amusement and trolley parks.
That's-A-Plenty (Original version)
That's-A-Plenty (Jazzy version)
Lew Pollack - 1914
This is one of my most requested pieces, one that has come down through the years with a dual personality of sorts. Much like other traditional jazz band favorites Tiger Rag
as most people know it does not resemble the original sheet music all that closely. Introduced as a rag/one-step in 1914 (it is much more one step than rag), the piece achieved greater popularity in the 1920s as a jazz standard, and was still favored as an instrumental even after the jazz-age lyrics
were added. Oftentimes one particularly "hot" band might record a piece in their style, and others would quickly imitate that style rather than work from the original source. In that regard, this piece that many listeners may remember from years ago as Jackie Gleason's
"And away we go!" theme has been altered in a variety of ways from the composer's original. For that reason, I have included two recordings here. The first reflects the sheet music for the most part. The second is a stylistic rendition based on some of the better hot jazz recordings of the piece. Among the biggest contrasts are in the A section syncopations, as there are none in the original score but quite a few in the popular version. The original non-syncopated B section consists of a right hand pattern that has been smoothed out in the popular version, along with some variances in the chord progression. One of the interesting merits of the original version is the return of the A section which is recast on the page using an ambitious treble triplet pattern. It is the trio that most jazz bands have used as their improvisational section, and in which the original version has been most altered, which is made clear in the second recording. The interlude of the original lacks punch, but is still the most famous model for the "dogfight" found in many traditional jazz pieces. After having done both versions so many times over the years, well, That's REALLY a Plenty!
Apple Sass Rag
After a great success with the previous year's Good Gravy Rag
, Belding tried a different type of sauce for his next topic, and with good success. Apple Sass
has a lot of the dotted note "swung" that made Good Gravy
somewhat infectious, and some down home musical fun infused as well. After a typical introduction, the first section is entirely original in execution, and sticks to you like good "apple sass" might. The B section features a pattern common to other rags, most notably Anoma
. It is the trio that raises the eyebrows of the seasoned rag listener, since it appears to be a paraphrase, identical in places, of the final strain of Something Doing
by Scott Joplin
and Scott Hayden
. Since the Iowa-born Belding was based to some extent at that time in Kansas City, Missouri, it is possible he had been exposed to this rag years before. Whether the quote was conscious or not, there are still some original elements introduced to this section. The final strain is fairly high quality and works very well in this context. So if you don't like it that much, don't give me any sass, please!
piffle: to talk or act in a trivial, inept, or ineffective way
(Merriam Webster). It is a word that is obviously not commonly used nowadays, but an interesting title for a rag, perhaps even chosen by Miss Yelvington. Piffle Rag
represents pretty much the Indiana native's entire known published output, but it is a very worthy and unique piece. She likely came up with while working in her late teens as a silent film pianist in Elwood Indiana. The A section is reminiscent of Dill Pickles
and similar three over four patterned pieces. But the B section comes off, in places, like a James Scott
composition, particularly with the repeated call and response patterns in different registers. Unusually, the first three chords of the C section, which is technically 17 measures long as a result, are marked tenuto for emphasis. Playing them this way pretty much forces the trio to be played more slowly. But listen to me; just piffling along here.
From Soup to Nuts
A British culinary tradition that became an inclusive American saying, From Soup to Nuts
refers, literally, to meals as they were often served in the 19th and 20th centuries in England. They would start with a soup course, then finish off with a glass of port and some nuts, with the bulk of the meal in-between. Why the saying and not the protocol caught on in the US is unclear, but it has come to mean inclusively everything from beginning to end, A to Z, etc. How it applies to this early near-novelty by Arndt is unclear, but it does embrace some rather unique phrases for its time, forecasting the greater things yet to come by this genius composer. There is simplicity in the first section along with rhythmic variety. Given the feel of the B and C sections, it is not a rag but an innovative syncopated one-step with harmonic progressions that were unique to the genre. It should be no surprise to find out that Arndt was an early mentor to no less than George Gershwin. Had he lived longer he would likely have approached his protégé's level of extraordinary musical composition - writing everything from "soup to nuts!"
) - 1914
Matthews, in his capacity as an arranger for publisher
clearly added his individual touch to any piece he arranged. A comparison of his Pastime Rags
to pieces he put down on paper for other composers will verify some of his musical signatures. In the case of Hampton's Cataract Rag
, he had virtuosic material to work with. Hampton evidently played the piece with even more flourish than is presented in Matthew's challenging arrangement. The Cataract
referenced here is a cascading waterfall, as represented on the cover. There are varying degrees of musically representing this idea throughout the score, the most notable in the C and D sections. The B section represents "trickles" of water through the use of descending triplets, very similar to some Pastime
passages. There are cascading octaves throughout in both hands, adding to the difficulty of performance. Since the D section is only played once as per the score, I feel that repeating it helps to balance the ending, and so I do after the first iteration of the closing E section. A note to possible detractors: Cataract
is often played exceedingly fast for purposes of flashiness, but many of the subtleties can be missed. I follow the clearly marked direction at the top, Mod.-Slow
, and am much more satisfied with the results. Your opinion is welcome in this, and comparison is always valid!
) - 1914
Thompson was one of the most robust players that lived in the Ragtime era. It has been said that he even intimidated the great Mike Bernard
, who was a long-time holder of the Police Gazette
"newspaper" Ragtime Champion title. In fact, during one grueling two-week long competition in St. Louis in 1914, Thompson came out very much on top. His playing skill and writing complexity is clearly demonstrated here in this detailed arrangement put down by Artie Matthews. The A section is a full 32 bars long, with a repeat sign at the beginning but not at the end. I believe that it is sufficient in length, so no repeat is executed here. There are a variety of melodic motives used in just this one difficult section. The left hand action in the B section creates a unique texture, with rolling chords where there would normally be octave notes. I fill them out with rolled tenth chords in the repeat. It also has some challenging right hand octave work. The trio is a good precursor of the jazz era, which was not too far off. Sustained seventh chords with riffs played above them were commonly used in the 1920s. The use of the opening pattern as the coda helps to tie together this singularly published composition of Thompson's.
12th Street Rag (Original-ish)
12th Street Rag (Extended)
All right. Everybody plays the 12th (proper spelling) Street Rag. But that only proves its lasting popularity, including its resurrection by Pee Wee Hunt in the 1940s. Named after a street in Kansas City where Bowman had spent some time playing, and based on a simple three note theme, when played slowly in its original form, it is actually quite pleasant. Written as early as 1900 during Texan Bowman's travels as an itinerant pianist throughout the Midwest, he first self-published it in early 1915 (with a 1914 copyright). The first publication contained a variation of the A theme that could only have been executed by a pianist with three hands or a piano roll. He rearranged it in a more executable arrangement within months, and continued to try and sell it to music stores or whoever he may have met. Not having the necessary distribution capabilities to guarantee a best seller, Bowman sold the rearranged version and the copyright for this and two other original compositions to the
J.W. Jenkins Sons
publishing house in Kansas City. Bowman literally suffered as he watched the piece become a perpetual hit without any real recompense. In 1942 when the copyright was available for renewal, he was able to retrieve ownership. The fast-selling Hunt recording came right before his death, so the composer saw little benefit from this huge hit. Ragtime and honky-tonk masters of the fifties, such as Lou Busch
(Joe "Fingers" Carr) and Dick Hyman
("Knuckles" O'Toole) generally played it at an accelerated rate, rather than with the full octave chord passages. I play both slow and fast tempos here using the octaves, then the single note passages. The piece starts with a non-related 16-bar introduction (A section), expanded here to 32 bars in the "original" version. The C and D sections are nothing more than variations on the famous B section or main theme. I have added a little bit of Chopin
between the A and B sections for fun. Part of the "extended" arrangement is culled from Liberace's
published interpolation. Enjoy it for what it is. For contrast, check out the Song Version
of the rag.
Blame It On The Blues
Charles L. Cooke - 1914
Cooke may be better known for his recordings made during the jazz era under the name of Doc Cooke and his Doctors of Syncopation
(or Dreamland Orchestra
) than for his Ragtime output. The title of "Doc" was well earned, as Cooke was one of the few black musicians of the time to earn a Doctorate in music. Predating the Novelty Piano Piece by just a few years, Blame It On The Blues
has a few elements within it that suggest the coming of that genre. In spite of the title, it is not a Blues piece, nor does it contain any riffs that suggest that. The A section starts with a simple but clever repeated harmonic pattern followed by a chromatic melody line. The B section is an advanced form of stop-time built around a diminished chord, with the equivalent of a jazz/stomp break in the middle. A challenging bass riff starts off the trio, which is almost an inverse variation of A. I first heard this song when I was five, as recorded by Paul Lingle
at his single Good Time Jazz
session, and had learned it fairly well by age ten. Then a few years back I saw the music for the first time. Close but not quite! Now I've re-learned it correctly!
Castle House Rag
James Reese Europe
The famed couple Vernon and Irene Castle
were New York dancers who originally became known to European audiences with their stage dances. After some time in Europe they came back to New York City in 1913 to find that the dances they were performing had caught on in the U.S. They quickly became the darlings of New York society and the elite Four Hundred. Reportedly having originated the Fox Trot at some point, the Castle's dancing required catchy syncopation to accent the visual aspects of their performance. It was then they found James Reese Europe playing for a society ball. In 1910 Europe had formed the Clef Club, a considerable force of African American musicians who provided the most sought after bands and orchestras in New York, and later opened to white musicians who met Europe's high standards. Personally and through members of the club he became the Castle's musical source, also composing several specialty pieces for them. This particular one is in reference to their private dance school, The Castle House, where Europe's Society Orchestra often provided the musical backgrounds. In return, the Castles (who were white) helped Europe break through some of the barriers of New York prejudice, and it was through his association with them that he was the first African American with an orchestra offered a major recording contract, in this case with Victor Records. The orchestra made a rather brisk recording of Castle House Rag
in 1914 that strays from the score in some regards. It retains the interesting minor/major relationship in the A section and the B section is not far from the score. However in the trio, there are bells filling the space in the stop-time patterns, something not indicated in the piano music. Then after the trio the recording segues into another Europe number titled Castles in Europe
, composed around the same time. This and the Castle Half and Half
are among the best pieces written for the dancing duo.
Steeplechase Rag (a.k.a. Over the Bars)
James Price Johnson
The term steeplechase
was associated both with what was essentially an equestrian hurdle event imported from the United Kingdom. and a pseudo-coaster that emulated that experience, particularly the famous ride at George C. Tilyou's
iconic Steeplechase Park
on Coney Island (pictured at right). Johnson's rendition may go as far back as 1914, when he was just 20 years old, and it may have even been played on Coney Island in one of the many music venues found there. His first piano roll of Steeplechase Rag
was rendered in 1917. Later, Johnson revisited the same piece under the title Over the Bars
, which constitutes the 1924 copyrighted name, but recorded it under both names over the following years. It was not in print until transcriptions of Johnson's various recordings of the piece started to appear in the late 20th century. This rag provides ample opportunity for showing off both ragtime patterns and early stride riffs, particularly in the ebullient trio and its final iteration of rapid-fire staccato chords.
A lesser known composer with only limited but high quality output, Boston-born Nat Johnson wrote a few good rags, and managed at least this one interesting exercise in ragtime, which is essentially a flashy showcase for arpeggios. Not to deride his other fine works, including Frisco Frazzle
and Gold Dust Twins Rag
, both of which remain viable among some ragtime performers of the 21st century. But Calico Rag
is a barn-burner of sorts that often captivates the listener, in spite of its inherent simplicity. Although scales have been used quite often in many other rags of the era (and Hanon exercises more recently), this is one of the few that effectively uses arpeggios (broken chords) throughout. Of note is the trio which runs through a gamut of major chords in a 1 3 6 2m 5 1 2 5
, well established in the key F but never staying in that tonality for more than two measures at a time. A lot of credit for salesmanship and the high collectible value of this rag needs to be given to the innovative cover, featuring a "gal in calico" that blends in with the background of calico. This tune also makes for a great duet.
The Chevy Chase
James Hubert "Eubie" Blake
The Chevy Chase
was published nearly in tandem with Fizz Water
by Joseph Stern
. One of the practices and sometime handicap of publishers of the day was to ask the composer or arranger to simplify pieces for easier acceptance by the buying public (and likely the store demonstrators). Having heard Eubie play this and other pieces of his from that time, I can imagine where this request is frustratingly valid, as there is so much that exists within the framework of his ragtime compositions that is clearly difficult to quantify on paper. I have given this interpretation a shot at some of those ideas. The A section opens with a rhythmically clever theme over a staggered left hand line, including a break that provides some relief from the first pattern. The first ten bars of each half of the B section employ a chordal pattern in pseudo stop-time that ignores the standard oom-pah bass. It is simple harmonically, but ultimately intricate in its structure. A repeat sign is at the beginning of this section, but not the end, (which is correct?) so it is typically not repeated. The C section is where Eubie truly shines through in his unique style, and in spite of its thirty-two bar length, begs to be repeated. I caved in to the begging. Whether this was named for the still-operating Chevy Chase Country Club
bordering Washington, D.C. (and near Baltimore, Eubie's home turf) is unclear, but the cover art suggests that possibility.
James Hubert "Eubie" Blake
As with The Chevy Chase
, published at the same time, this piece was likely simplified for notation because Eubie's playing style was very hard to emulate on paper. Fizz Water
, however, is much more of a dance tune along the lines of a Fox Trot or more specifically a One Step. Part of the appeal of the latter dance was its simplicity, since it was essentially a high-class foot shuffle. This piece certainly helps to establish Mr. Blake's versatility as well as adaptability to current trends. He was playing a lot at that time for clubs in Atlantic City, New Jersey, but also making in incursion into the New York performance scene, where he would become one of the reigning black composers and performers. The notable differences from ragtime in this piece are the double-time feel and the 32 bar sections. The trio is more orchestral in nature, comprised of a melody intertwined with a counter line in a higher octave. The introduction to this section is expanded in an interesting interlude, similar to the one in Baltimore Todolo
. Based on the title, this must have been a predecessor to "pop" music.
Beets and Turnips
Cliff Hess and Fred E. Ahlert - 1915
As the end of the ragtime era started to loom, the title of "rag" became more loosely applied. There were many songs that were not rags, yet they had a title such as That (Whatever) Rag
. Then there were many themed dances with minimal syncopation that reflected the current craze, such as animals, fruits or vegetables. In this case, Beets and Turnips
was written as a vaudeville number to accompany stage dancing, most specifically the Fox Trot. One of the tricks to interpreting this number is to avoid playing too fast, as many of the subtle intricacies can be glossed over. The level of swing infused into the forward motion can also affect the interpretation. The introduction, which is part of the A section, is a catchy triplet-driven phrase. The A strain uses a lot of static bass movement which is similar to some of the left hand work of Jelly Roll Morton
in years following this piece. The B section is cast in what would eventually become a novelty piano styling with only minor modification. It is in the trio where the originality of the composers is shown, particularly in the harmonic progression of measures 9 through 16. The chordal interplay between hands is tricky, and yet deftly handled in the writing. It's way too much fun to not recap the opening section. The cover by
is also a great example of imagery. You never know what will turn-up, but this one is hard to beet.
The Kangaroo Hop
It is hard to say what the first animal dance song of the ragtime era was, but starting with the success and the often-negative press about the hideous inappropriateness of the Grizzly Bear
, which involved touching shoulders
of all things, they were a runaway hit with both composers and the more adventurous element of the public. While in many cases the standout element was the dance, like the Turkey Trot
or the ubiquitous Fox Trot
, the attraction of The Kangaroo Hop
is the delightful tune. It was fun enough for even young George Gershwin to do a take on the piece for a piano roll. Morris was a British import who left behind very little repertoire, Morris was able to catch the general spirit of the hippity hop feel that Americans associated with the strange marsupial from Down Under. Enough sales were generated to prompt a song version the following year with lyrics by Gus Kahn. There are a lot of fun things to play with here, such as the obvious lower octave hops in the A section, and the delightful trio full of harmonic movement. For those adventurous enough to learn the dance and others of the era, there are DVDs available to show you how. Even if you don't want to go to that trouble, just play it for a five year-old and they'll likely show you some way to dance to this tune. Hop hop.
What a nice cup of coffee this is. Actually it was named for the composer, but could certainly apply to the revered beverage as well. Lily Coffee published this and her only other known work, Regal Rag
, in Houston, Texas. Coffee Rag
was soon bought by the W.C. Munn
company, a dry goods department store in downtown Houston, but it still received a largely local limited release. There is a good probability that Lily worked as a music demonstrator for the store, thus the association. Coffee Rag
is a representative piece of Texas ragtime from the mid-1910s. The introduction and parts of the A section might remind one of the famous Pastime Rags
with its stop-time feel. The B section has little to commend it, and is typical for the time and region. The trio, which is kept in the same key, is very song-like, and has a similar ending to the B section. The simplicity of the piece also makes it a joy to add some tasteful improvisation, mostly in the trio. So take a relaxing breath of this slow cup o' Coffee.
I can name that rag in four notes... Actually, others have named or renamed it in this case. Morgan's unusual and less-than-stellar rag was nonetheless quickly popular, spurring performances and recordings for years. Perhaps it was the unusual style, particularly of the trio, and the quick meter that made it a nice one-step. It was composed, after all, for the dancing team of Vernon and Irene Castle
in the wake of the defection of their former composer/conductors James Reese Europe and Ford Dabney. However, it was not Morgan's original incarnation that made the tune famous. In 1922, pianist Charles "Cow-Cow" Davenport
(who stated he got his name from his Cow Cow Blues
, originally a railroad song, in reference to the cow catcher on a locomotive that some brakemen used to board the train) committed an altered version of what is still obviously the same rag to piano roll, calling it the Atlanta Rag
. It was performed more in the barrelhouse style that was emerging at the time. Not content (as a cow, of course) with that rendition, he incorporated parts of it into his early boogie-styled piece, the aforementioned Cow Cow Blues
, and then he even boldly changed Morgan's name as composer to Charles Davenport for yet another rendition of the piece, this time titled Texas Shout
. Fortunately for historians, pianist Wally Rose
helped us rediscover the original tune on his 1953 Columbia release, Ragtime Piano Masterpieces
, but adding yet another title for the piece, Silent Movie Rag
. In any case, each subsequent performance of the piece has improved on it in some regard, yet retained the interesting trio section with its interesting bass line and static right hand repetition. One of the parts dropped from most Davenport performances is the interesting minor interlude in the trio, restored here to its almost-original glory. A trilby, by the way, is a British felt hat with an indented crown, which was in turn named for a stage play in which it was worn, based on the 1894 George du Maurier novel Trilby
, named after its heroine. So why isn't there one on the cover?
The Georgia Grind
There are disagreements on whether ragtime piano pieces were intended for dancing by the general public (as opposed to stage performers), but that really should be evaluated on a piece by piece basis. In the case of The Georgia Grind
, it was clearly intended for dancing, as the "grind" in the title refers to a type of dance of the day with a name that is actually a little more suggestive than the dance itself. It was considered to be a slow drag allowing couples to have a bit of a rest on their feet, slowly grinding (not necessarily against each other) as they move, during an evening of otherwise lively dancing. Dabney designed this piece with a light swing that is hard to avoid in performance, and adds to the grind action suggested by the title. The Georgia Grind
is bookended by a matching introduction and coda, and the innovative trio uses a left hand thumb melody for contrast. I switch it in part to the upper octaves in the right hand on the repeat before reverting to the original. Currently this piece is largely associated often with the ragtime surgeon Dr. Steve Standiford
of Philadelphia, who deftly performs it at most ragtime events that he attends.
This clever piece, while not a rag, does capitalize on what was quickly becoming the most popular dance of the 1910s and 1920s, the Fox Trot
. From the day that Vernon and Irene Castle
introduced the dance, composers from all cross-sections of popular music rushed to pen their own entries into a growing catalog of Fox Trot sheets and disc recordings. While Rabbit's Foot
is inherently simple, it still provides an original look at a way to accompany this simple one-step. It is also one of the first popular pieces to include the venerable "shave and a haircut... two bits" theme, and possibly the first time it was used with the triplet figure in the place of "and a..." While the A and B sections are standard dance fare of the time, and do not suggest anything descriptive relating to the title, the trio breaks rank in this regard. The first two measures suggest a rabbit hopping, much in the manner of the later popular tune, The Bunny Hop
. There are wonderful parallel and contrary motions throughout this section with some advanced thinking applied towards chord patterns in measures 7 and 8. I can't resist going back to the opening section and having a little fun with the . . . . . . . . . ending!
Ragging the Scale
Edward B. Claypoole
Piano exercises or fundamental elements of music have long been fair game for clever composers. They range from the Calico Rag
(based on arpeggios) and the Chromatic Rag
to my own entry, The Hanon Rag
. In the hands of the right composer the end result can be quite engaging. Such is the case of Ragging the Scale
, which is based entirely around the basic major scale. What is clever here is the effective use of harmonic variety underneath the scales in each of the three sections. The chord changes are constant. I have added a couple of layers of counterpoint in places, mainly in the section repeats. I also choose to extend the end with one more iteration of the interlude and the trio. Claypoole was a Baltimore, Maryland, composer who spent most of his life working as a court clerk, just as his father had, but also became a local celebrity for his handful of compositions, this one being the most notable of them, published in no less than three editions over time, the first two with clever covers by the talented artist
André De Takacs
. I first heard Ragging the Scale
on an early 1960s recording by Dick Hyman
in the guise of Knuckles O'Toole
, and made a point of learning it as soon as I could negotiate scales. Pianos with scales? Well... you can tuna piano but you can't tuna fish. (Sorry about that)
Gus Chandler, Bert White, Henry Cohen (M) and Earl Burtnett (L) - 1915/1921
This is one of those pieces that simply doesn't go away, and has been in more or less continuous publication since its inception. Originally conceived as an instrumental by the trio of Chandler, White and Cohen, it was quickly brought out in a song format a few years later with lyrics by Earl Burtnett, and perhaps the others, although Burtnett has often been uncredited. What exactly those capers are we don't know, but one might imagine it as some sort of Eskimo Lambada if one's imagination were allowed to run away. The melodic parentage of all or part of Canadian Capers
has been in dispute on occasion, with credit often going to West Coast, or more specifically Barbary Coast (an area near the San Francisco waterfront) pianist named
Sid Le Protti
. Some historians say the trio plagiarized the melodic concepts and even the title from Le Protti, as the player mentioned in some sources as being derived from his own composition. Without a recording from that time it is difficult to discern the absolute facts, but all five men should receive some honorable mention for being associated with such a durable piece. So let's give them all the Canadian Cheer (with good tidings and humor intended to my northern neighbors). Give me a C (eh?). Give me an N (eh?). Give me...
) - 1915
This beautiful melodic rag, with no deference to Hampton's compositional ability, is clearly the end product of
careful arranging. He managed to leave his individual touch on any piece he worked with. As with other Matthews arrangements, a comparison of his Pastime Rags
to Agitation Rag
will verify that it is every bit as much a Pastime
rag as are his own tunes. Hampton was known as an accomplished pianist who played with a lot of flourish. As with his Cataract Rag
, this also could deal with water, as a stormy sea is represented on the cover. However, it is more likely that John Stark
named this piece, or that he chose the cover image by artist
at the very least. The A section contains a repetitive yet attractive melody over changing harmonies using limited syncopation. The B section is notated specifically to provide the effect of sustained chords accompanying the moving melody, similar to the effect of strings under winds in an orchestra. The trio can be played in tempo, but suggests the possibility of interjecting some tasteful rubato, as demonstrated here. The structure of the trio allows for a great deal of dynamic latitude as well. The D section is most innovative, with a homophonic syncopated melody consisting completely of chords. The structure of this section suggests some wonderful classical works of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. I have heard (and attempted) Agitation
at a fast tempo, and find that it is infinitely more lyrical when played slowly. Besides, (nay to the expected nay sayers) the tempo marking is clearly marked Slow
with no other modifiers. You decide!
Lucian Porter Gibson
) - 1911/1915
It was common for many ragtime pianists to write their own material but not have the necessary skills to notate it for publication. This was compounded by the fact that most authentic ragtime playing was difficult to notate to begin with. Such was the case with Gibson. Jinx Rag
was a fan tribute to the St. Louis based comic strip Penny Ante
(aka Eddie's Friends
) which had a character named Jinx, drawn by cartoonist Jean Knott
. He actually published a simplified version of Jinx Rag
late in 1911, including a cover by Knott. In 1915, either through Porter's contact with publisher
, or potentially even at the behest of Matthews, Artie rearranged Jinx Rag
for publication by Stark. A previously sparse bass line expanded to octaves became the main melodic element of the A section, along with a more complex syncopated right hand chord pattern. The B section, which is to be played "as if in a dream", is very indicative of Matthews' writing style. The dream, however, is interrupted by a jolting nightmarish sforzando chord right in the middle. The trio is full of lively octave work. In this performance I add another typical Matthews' touch by including a tango rhythm on the repeat. It closes with one more iteration of the distinctive A section.
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