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 Sourcing Ragtime   Books on Ragtime   Ragtime Folios   Ragtime Broadcasts   Ragtime Links 
"Perfessor" Bill Edwards Guide to Ragtime and Old-Time Resources

As you look through this page, please keep in mind that a great deal of work has gone into what I do, and what other artists have contributed to ragtime performance and the advancement of the knowledge of this indigenous American music. With that in mind, know that your input is invaluable to any of us. Also, know that your patronage of any of us that have recordings or music for sale well help perpetuate future high-quality reference sources.

Thank You  'Perfessor' Bill Edwards


Often when I perform, one of the questions that has been most asked of me, other than "Can you play Deep in the Heart of Texas and take the piano with you?", is about where I am able to find the wealth of material that I'm able to present. Without intentionally duplicating anybody else's effort, I hope to present at least a primer here that answers that very question. I started collecting ragtime music in the late 1960s (yes, I was very young...    very!) and at that time the resources were scant. There were several reasons for this.

  • The second "Ragtime Revival" was just beginning, so interest was still light.
  • Much of the music had never been collected into an organized format.
  • Even more of the music was not known to be collectible yet as demand had not risen to the level of supply.
  • A great deal of the music was not in circulation, and would be disseminated largely through estate sales as their owners and/or heirs would die.
  • New discoveries were still coming to light, as evidenced by the fact that They All Played Ragtime was still being updated, and Silver Swan (presumably composed by Scott Joplin) had just been discovered.
  • Ragtime piano, in particular, was highly regionalized, so with the exception of a handful of popular rags, they were rarely available outside of a specific publisher's sales area, which may include several states. Songs generally saw much wider distribution.
  • A great deal of music was still under the 78 year copyright restriction (now extended), and not in the public domain, so inclusion in a folio or as a single sheet was an often expensive proposition.


A good example of the latter problem involves the release of the Vera Brodsky Lawrence edited version of the rags of Scott Joplin, which initially was called the "Collected Works" (Vol. 1, as Vol. 2 contained the songs with lyrics and the score to Treemonisha). Jerry Vogel, the single copyright holder for Searchlight Rag, Rose Leaf Rag and Fig Leaf Rag was not amicable to releasing the copyright at the time of publication (1971). As told to me by to historian Edward Berlin, he did not want to simply give the rags to the project, but wanted some form of compensation for publication rights, as he was still publishing the works in sheet music form, which was a fair request from a business perspective. It is possible that he was never offered compensation as such to his liking, but his sales for those three pieces thrived as a result of the other publication. So there are two distinct sides to that story. When Vogel died in 1980, his family released the rights (they were about to enter Public Domain anyway), and the book was re-released as the "Complete Works". Even now, much of the material that has become recently available in collections has just been released from copyright restriction (now dating to 1923 and holding due to recent legislation in the U.S. Congress).

Now, with the Internet and other electronic resources at our disposal, access to many of these pieces is easier. I will do my best to not only present sensible and easy sourcing, but to update this page whenever necessary. Understand that by necessity, some of the sources here will be links to more detailed link sources, rather than directly to the large number of growing resources directly. Comments and additions are always welcome (see below).

An additional note to this section on pricing. Over the past decade, many of you have asked me how I ascertain prices and why many pieces seem to be much higher in estimated value than they used to be. I use a combination of factors, including what I pay either on-line at auctions or at antique malls/shops, and the books like those of Marion Short that have pricing within the last few years. A development that is both flattering and mildly alarming is how ragtime sites such as mine have actually impacted pricing, particularly on eBay. In the early 1990s, pieces like Lion Tamer Rag or the Pastime Rags were rarely heard by the average ragtime collector or enthusiast, and were therefore easier to obtain at single-digit prices. The exposure given these pieces by the few ragtime sites that post them, particularly those with cover images, has raised the demand because musicians and other buyers now have a better idea of what they are getting. The "Perfessor" finds himself quoted quite often in eBay, with a reference to some recordings that are on his site. It is not my intent to create this phenomenon, as I also occasionally suffer the consequences when looking on-line for items of interest. It is even worse when the bids suddenly rise because of a certain few bidders like myself who show interest in an otherwise obscure piece. The best bet is still out there on the road in the little shops or the out-of-the-way antique malls and other places listed below. The on-line price peak seems to have been reached for the time being, particularly now that we are in a recession, but some auction pieces are still a bit overpriced for the average collector, and for that I apologize for whatever impact my colleagues and I have had on this. There are still good deals out there. You've just got to channel your passion into the effort to find them.

"Perfessor" Bill's Tips For Sourcing Music
  1. Make friends with a dedicated musician, preferably one who has eccentric tastes. They are usually more than willing to share pieces of their collection. They are also more likely to know your taste, or suggest a few tunes. As for the eccentricity, this provides an increased possibility of discovering great tunes that might have otherwise gone unnoticed. You could also follow the links I have on most of these pages to other ragtime musicians and write to them. They should gladly respond to any reasonable request that does not violate copyright laws.
  2. Don't discount old records and tapes as good sources. If one song out of ten on a record is good, then it's probably worth the purchase. Transcribing or copying is not all that hard for someone with basic musical training. In addition, you get a chance to hear the pieces and peruse them beforehand. This also applies to player piano rolls, if the necessary player piano is available to you.
  3. Sheet Music Magazine has many rare gems as well as contemporary tunes. Invest in a subscription, and an index to past issues. There also many other music magazines in library stacks that contain either printed music or sources for good songs. Some older issues of Sheet Music pop up often on eBay (see below). Sheet Music Magazine can be reached online or at P.O. Box 58627, Boulder, CO, 80322-8627, or by phone at 1-800-759-3036.
  4. Libraries in both small and large cities contain many surprises. Don't just look on the shelves though; try the stacks, or get permission to look through rare or stored material. The Library of Congress has a loan program with many municipal libraries, and will often send out materials or copies (or even microfiche printouts) of pieces. The Smithsonian American History Museum is currently working on a similar program with a large private collection, which would place images and/or MIDI files of rare music on-line.
  5. Get a reference book of songs or rags (some are listed on my Books on Ragtime page). These contain titles, composers, recordings, and occasionally the current publishers of pieces and folios. The best available source online is the Ragtime Compendium, assembled by Michael Mathew with help from many prominent ragtime researchers like myself.
  6. Visit your parents or grandparents, or friends thereof, more often. Offer to inventory or clean their attic or other storage area. If anyone in the family was ever a musician then many surprises may await you. I obtained some of my earliest acquisitions as well as musical instruments in this manner.
  7. Many small towns have historical homes or buildings that contain private music collections. Browsing, and sometimes, copying or scanning privileges are usually obtainable if sought in earnest.
  8. Look for antique stores, antique sales in the paper, and listings of estate auctions. On occasion, you may end up buying a reed organ for $50, or a box filled with oodles of rare sheet music for around $5. As for the stores, try those that are not on main thoroughfares, and in some antique malls. About one in ten antique stores and one in two antique malls will have some old music, often in large format. Here's a better hint: Some of the best bets are usually discovered in stores specializing in old books.
  9. Look for standard sources in catalogs or in music stores. The best source of older music had been and is still Dover Publications, as listed my Ragtime Music Folios page. However, there are many other collections available in print. This is an inexpensive way of obtaining a good library of standard and lesser-known pieces with only a modicum of duplication and financial outlay.
  10. Utilize the many sites and archives which universities, libraries, and even people like myself have laid out on the web. If you are a good listener, or have the proper MIDI sequencing program, you can easily decipher MIDI files for notes, and listen to them for style. There are also an increasing number of sources that have printable .JPG or Adobe .PDF picture files of music, many of which are listed below.
  11. A hint about search engines. While my favorite (since 2000) is Google.com, usually returning the most complete results, most of the other major search engines can do a decent job of narrowing down what you are looking for if properly utilized. You can either use their advanced capabilities, or learn how to enter a relevant search. The best tip is to search on phrases, such as song titles, by enclosing the phrase in quote marks. (Make certain that you are sure of your spelling). This instructs most of the engines (there are a couple of exceptions) to search on the exact phrase rather than just for the inclusion of each word in the phrase in a particular site. You can also use the + and - signs to explicitly include or exclude something from a search. For example, "weeping willow" +wenrich -joplin will search for sites that contain Weeping Willow by Percy Wenrich and have no mention of Weeping Willow by Scott Joplin. Adding words such as MIDI, lyrics, composer, etc., can further narrow down searches for better relevance. Learning these few tips will increase your odds of finding what you are looking for in less time, and will answer most of the frequent questions sent to me concerning finding items on the internet.

Note: Remember not to discount old-time songs as well as ragtime. If entertainment is your goal, then remember that many people are just as or more entertained by these than by piano rags because they can participate (quietly or otherwise) with the performer, enhancing the experience for each listener. But, to make the songs interesting, try to find the original sources so you can include the verses, and occasionally make corrections to melodies that have often been altered through public dissemination over the years. Oh... also make certain that you do an honest assessment of your singing ability and vocal salesmanship skills. Trust Me On This!


Remember this suggestion when listening and learning what you have sourced: Try to develop your own style, even if it is a conglomeration of all those who influence you. I can play exactly like Paul Lingle and Joshua Rifkin. I can even imitate the licks of Lou Busch and Butch Thompson. It is an affable imitation of someone else, but it is not me. When I integrate these and create new ideas from my creative side, what comes out is "purely 'Perfessor' Bill." So, be original, but don't be afraid to lift good ideas where they occur - just make them your own! It's not plagiarism, it's simply research. For more detail on this, see my article on Playing Ragtime.

Recommended Ragtime and Old-Time Web Resources


I always welcome your comments, questions, corrections, and/or requests for further information or additional resources. I also will be glad to engage you in discussion about these topics if you want to mail me directly on email. Also take a quick look at my FAQ page to see if your question might be answered there. Thank you so much. Remember that I can't respond to you without your e-mail address, and be CAREFUL to enter it CORRECTLY or no response will be forthcoming. This will only frustrate both of us. I will NEVER SPAM, so consider it between us only.

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Ragtime Webring-Dedicated To Scott Joplin

The Ragtime Webring-Dedicated to Scott Joplin and the music of the Ragtime Era, this ring is an invaluable resource for jazz music lovers, musicians and historians. Sheet music, midi files, afro-american history, record collectors...

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There are lots of great ragtime recordings by top artists available from
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Including some of my recommended favorites:

Max Morath Dick Hyman Dick Zimmerman
Paul Lingle Wally Rose Lu Watters
James P. Johnson Tony Caramia Squirrel Nut Zippers
Marcus Roberts Butch Thompson Jelly Roll Morton
Glenn Jenks Sue Keller Fats Waller
The Good Time Jazz Catalog and Bill's personal favorites, The Firehouse Five+2!

And don't miss these movies which include some ragtime music:

The Jazz Singer The Sting
Alexander's Ragtime Band Scott Joplin
The Legend of 1900 Ragtime
For Me and My Gal Meet Me In St. Louis
In the Good Old Summertime Take Me Out to the Ball Game
The Jolson Story Jolson Sings Again
Cheaper by the Dozen San Francisco
Somewhere in Time Titanic (1953)
The Other Pretty Baby
42nd Street Reds
The Son of Kong Story of Vernon and Irene Castle
Cheyenne Social Club The Shootist
How To Dance Through Time - Dances of the Ragtime Era

Or just search their site using the search engine below!

     

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