The Golden Age of RAGTIME
13 outstanding early rags – transcribed from piano rolls
Jazz Archives #100(12”)
Stoptime Rag (2:29) (Scott Joplin)
Something Doing (2:37) (Joplin – Hayden)
(a) Pineapple Rag (4:46) (Scott Joplin)
(b) Euphonic Sounds (2:46) (Scott (Joplin)
Kismet Rag (2:36) (Joplin – Hayden)
Weeping Willow Rag (2:45) (Scott Joplin)
Red Pepper Rag (2:27) (Henry Lodge)
Temptation Rag (2:34) (Henry Lodge)
Smokey Mokes (2:35) (Abe Holzmann)
Black and White Rag (2:24) (George Butsford)
Pride of the Smokey Row (2:51) (J. M. Wilockson)
Pickles and Peppers (2:45) (Adeline Shepherd)
Powder Rag (3:01) (Birch)
Ragtime is a musical form whose reputation has not been treated any too kindly by the years, by Tin Pan Alley, or by the various ricky-tick imposters who have used the name of ragtime and a thin caricature of its form to produce oh-so-cute effects.
But this sort of nonsense should never be allowed to obscure the richness and stature of the original, legitimate ragtime. The early rags were, at their best, compositions of great depth and complexity, and they retain historical importance as major formative influences on early jazz. On the other hand, emphasis on history should not lead anyone to dismiss them as mere museum pieces. The thirteen selections that make up this LP can of course readily serve to do away with any such misconception: these clearly remain exciting, compelling musical experiences, still seeming remarkably fresh and alive.
Despite their appearance of eternal youth, this is actually quite old material – quite old, at least, to those accustomed to thinking in terms of the relatively brief time-span covered by jazz recordings. To begin with, of course, these were not recordings. Although it is not easy to determine dates with any real precision, there is no question about the fact that the performances heard here antedate all but the very earliest of phonograph records (for one thing, the tunes were all written between 1899 and 1913). In their original form, these were sequences of oblong holes cut on long sheets of paper, rolled into cylinders, and played in homes and saloons throughout a country that found much of its musical entertainment by pounding the pedals of the pianola. They have now been transcribed directly from the original player-piano rolls, to appear on records for the first time.
Ragtime, which became a national craze during the first two decades of this century and made lasting contributions to both jazz and popular song, most probably evolved – in the gradual way that musical styles are apt to come into being – out of the folk melodies and plantation songs of the Southern Negro. It is related to the cake-walk, and undoubtedly owes a share of the credit for its initial popularity to the fact that this dance was sweeping the country during the 1890s, which is when ragtime was first solidifying itself into recognizable form. It is primarily a piano music, and its basic premise can be stated quite simply. It merely involves syncopation (accents on what are normally the weak beats of the measure) with the right hand, while the left hand plays a precise bass. That much is simple enough; the beautiful and rhythmic rags themselves) often running to three or four different melodic strains) are far from simple. Nor is the skill and brilliance with which these numbers were played at all easy to achieve – as any current pianist who has tried it can tell you.
Although ragtime preceded most jazz and was basically a separate movement, many of the early jazzmen knew and loved rags. They were part of the repertoire of the early New Orleans bands, and pioneer jazz pianists like Jelly Roll Morton absorbed elements of ragtime into the mainstream of their music, so that strong traces remain, if indirectly, in almost all of traditional-style jazz.
Like jazz, this was originally a music played by and for Negroes; like jazz, which first flourished in the red light district of New Orleans, ragtime grew up in an area of honkytonks and brothels. This was the East Main Street section of Sedalia, Missouri, where a foot-loose young piano player named Scott Joplin settled down in the 1890s. Joplin was born in Texas in 1868; he died in 1917, which was just about when the music with which his name is almost synonymous was dying out. Having been watered-down, syntheticized, and whipped into a fad by the Tin Pan Alley boys, it inevitably met the downfall that awaits al fads. But before that came t pas, Joplin and his colleagues had many years of success and satisfaction: their rags played everywhere; the piano roll versions of their melodies in great demand; national ragtime competitions drawing vast crowds at (for example) the great St. Louis Exposition of 1904.
It is entirely fitting that almost half the material in this album is by Joplin, by far the outstanding figure of his era. Although today only his classic Maple Leaf Rag remains well-known, this most serious-minded composer produced a very large number of superior rags. Of the sampling included here, perhaps the most notable are two that were linked together in a single over-sized “medley” piano roll: Pineapple Rag and Euphonic Sounds. Joplin was also the friend, advisor and patron of many younger ragtime composers who gathered around him in New York in the early years of this century (among them Scott Hayden, with whom he collaborated on two of the selections here). Finally, he was a talented interpreter of his own works. Early rolls rarely listed the name of the pianist; so, while it is possibly the composer playing on more than one of these Joplin tunes, we can be certain of only one: Weeping Willow.
Of the other writers represented, some are now only forgotten names (although their music demonstrates that they lived up to the high standards of the period). Others, who earned somewhat more lasting fame, can serve as examples of different facets of the age of ragtime. Abe Holzmann, who was born in Germany, was originally a classical composer. His Smokey Mokes (written in 1899) is, strictly speaking, a cake-walk, and first became popular through a band version performed by John Phillips Sousa. (Rags, although usually composed as piano music, were frequently utilized most effectively by brass bands). George Botsford, born in the Midwest in 1874, was among the first white men to write successfully in the ragtime vein. Black and White Rag, his most famous number, was his first hit, published in 1908. Although he worked largely within the Tin Pan Alley tradition (his Grizzly Bear Rag had lyrics by young Irving Berlin), there is much of the true ‘folk’ feel in his work. Henry Lodge, also white, was among the leaders of a “second generation” of serious ragtime composers. Temptation Rag, which was his best-known piece, was a 1909 effort (at least a dozen years later than Joplin’s earliest work), and he continued turning out rags until as late as 1923.
Other early rags, several of them played by such celebrated ragtime composers as Joplin, James Scott and Joseph Lamb, make up three 10-inch Riverside LPs:
RAGTIME PIANO ROLL, Volume 1, 2 and 3 (RLPs 1006, 1025, 1049)
A group of rags specially arranged for band and trio performance can be heard on a 12-inch LP:
RAGTIME! – Tony Parenti’s Ragtime Band and Ragpickers Trio (RLP 12-205)
Riverside’s “Jazz Archives” series include several 12-inch LPs featuring notable performances by outstanding artists of traditional jazz:
Young LOUIS ARMSTRONG (RLP 12-101)
“N.O.R.K.” – New Orleans Rhythm Kings, with Jelly Roll Morton (RLP 12-102)
FATS WALLER: Rediscovered Early Solos (RLP 12-103)
JOHNNY DODDS: New Orleans Clarinet (RLP 12-104)
JAMES P. JOHNSON: Rare Solos (RLP 12-105)
Kings of BOOGIE WOOGIE – Albert Ammons, Meade Lux Lewis, Pete Johnson (RLP 12-106)
MUGGSY SPANIER: Chicago Jazz (RLP 12-107)
MA RAINEY (RLP 12-108)
The Amazing MR. WALLER – Fats Waller: piano, organ and voice (RLP 12-109)
This material issued by special arrangement with Imperial Industrial Company, makers of QRS piano rolls.
LP produced by BILL GRAUER
Notes by ORRIN KEEPNEWS
Cover designed by GENE GOGERTY; photograph by JANE GRAUER
Piano rolls transferred to tape under High fidelity conditions at Reeves Sound Studios; June 1956 (Audio Compensation: RIAA Curve).
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS
418 West 49th Street New York 19, N.Y.