RAGTIME: Piano Roll Classics
SCOTT JOPLIN, JAMES SCOTT, TOM TURPIN, others
Jazz Archives #100(12”)
All selections on Side 1, and #1 and 2 on Side, probably played by their composes: others by unknown pianists
1. Grace and Beauty (2:21) (James Scott)
2. Ragtime Oriole (2:25) (James Scott)
3. St. Louis Blues (2:48) (Tom Turpin)
4. American Beauty Rag (2:42) (Joseph Lamb)
5. Scott Joplin’s New Rag (2:41) (Scott Joplin)
6. Original Rag (2:51) (Scott Joplin)
1. Fig Leaf Rag (3:35) (Scott Joplin)
2. The Entertainer (2:56) (Scott Joplin)
3. States Rag Medley #1 (3:53)
4. St. Louis Tickle (2:42) (Barney Symore)
5. Jingle Time (2:54) (E. Phillip Severin)
6. ‘Possum and ‘Taters (2:07) (Charles Hunter)
The recordings that make up this LP comprise a unique and important segment of the history of American music. But they are most certainly not mere musical antiques: they are exciting ragtime performances that are every bit as alive and compelling today as when they were first played – which was in some instances more than half century ago.
To begin with, these were not recording at all – they antedate all but they very earliest of records. They were originally a series of oblong holes but on long sheets of paper, rolled into cylinders and played in both homes and salons throughout a country that found its musical entertainment by pounding the pedals of the player piano. That, of course, was back in the first decades of this century, before the phonograph, and then the movies and radio all pushed the player piano and its rolls of music out of the spotlight and into (at best) obscure corners of dusty old attics. But this is music that deserves a much kinder fate than that, and so this material has now been transferred directly from rare copies of the original piano rolls to make its reappearance as an LP album.
The works presented here include the compositions and (as far as can now be determined) probably the performances of the greatest exponents of ragtime piano: Scott Joplin, Tom Turpin, James Scott, Joseph Lamb. Except perhaps for Joplin, these are now names only dimly remembered, if they are remembered at all, and their music exists only in the form of distorted, ‘ricly-tick’ parodies. But what they created was in its day a nationals craze and a brilliant musical style, and it made a lasting contribution to both jazz and popular music.
Ragtime 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 cakewalk, and probably owes credit for its initial popularity to the fact that this dance was sweeping the country in the 1890s, when ragtime was first solidifying itself into recognizable form. It is primarily a piano music, and its basic premise is simple enough to describe. It merely involves syncopation (accents on what are normally the weak beats of measure) with the tight hand, while the left plays a regular, precise bass. That much is simple enough; but there is nothing simple about either the beautiful, rhythmic, complex, multi-strain melodies or the skill and brilliance with which the early ragtime artists played – as any current pianist who has tried to play true ragtime can surely testify.
Although long considered a sort of jazz, ragtime was actually a separate and somewhat earlier movement. However, many pioneer jazzmen knew and loved rags. They were part of the repertoire of the first New Orleans bands, and the earliest jazz pianists (most notably Jelly Roll Morton) fused elements of ragtime into the mainstream of their music.
Like jazz, this was first 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 honky tonks and brothels. This was the East Main Street section of Sedalia, Missouri, where a footloose piano player named Scott Joplin settled down in the 1890s. Joplin was born in Texas in 1868, he died in 1917, at just about the time when the music with which his name is almost synonymous was dying out – stifled and watered-down and worked to death by the song-mechanics of Tin Pan Alley. But before that came to pass, Joplin and his colleagues had many years of success and satisfaction: their rags played everywhere, their piano rolls in great demand, national ragtime competitions drawing great crowds at the great St. Louis Exposition of 1904 and elsewhere.
Just after the appearance of his first published piece, Original Rags (1899), Joplin met a Sedalia music publisher named Tom Stark, who immediately fell in love with ragtime, moved on to St. Louis and New York with it, and for many years worked with single-minded fervor to put across this remarkable music of all of America.
If Sedalia was the birthplace of ragtime, St. Louis became its capital. There the big man (in more ways than one) was Thomas Million Turpin (1873-1922), a six-foot, 300-pound saloonkeeper of legendary good humor, who wrote few rags but played many, and who fathered the more brilliant, swift and showy “St. Louis school” of ragtime. His rhythmic St. Louis Rag was written in 1903.
James Scott (1886-1938) ranks with Joplin and Turpin as a major ragtime figure, but he was in every outward way Turpin’s opposite. Small (about 140 pounds and just a few inches over five feet tall) and shy, he was know as the Little Professor, and spent many quiet years as organist in Kansas City theater, Grace and Beauty (1909) and Ragtime Oriole(1911), which have power as well as beauty, were among his most noted compositions.
Joseph Lamb, born in 1887 was a white man, which is a startling fact when you consider that authentic ragtime was so thoroughly a Negro style and then note the true ragtime feeling of his American Beauty Rag (1913). Lamb, who met Joplin in New York in 1907, was undoubtedly helped by him, but wrote rags that were fully his own.
Of the last four selections here, the Medley is an unknown pianist’s rapid-fire compound of strains from some ten pieces of his day; such potpourri often made up special extra-large-sized piano rolls. The remaining three selections, also by unknown performers, serve to indicate the high level of ‘average’ and now totally unremembered ragtime composition. It should be noted that St. Louis Tickle is one of those old numbers that is a folklorist’s delight, Jazz fans will recognize one of its strains as Jelly Roll’s Buddy Bolden’s Blues; the same strain also appears in a Mississippi River levee work song, in a non-ragtime sung by Joplin, and elsewhere.
(These selections have previously appeared on two 10-inch Riverside albums – 1006 and 1025 – but are now made available for the first time on 12-inch LP.)
Another collection of similar material is –
The Golden Age of RAGTIME (RLP 12-110)
Other 12-inch LPs in the Riverside “Jazz Archives” series offer recordings by such major figures as –
Louis Armstrong (RLPs 12-101, 12-122)
Fats Waller (RLPs 12-103, 109)
Bix Beiderbecke (RLP 12-123)
Jelly Roll Morton (RLP 12-111)
Jelly Roll Morton Library of Congress set: 12 Volumes (RLPs 9001 through 9012) (available singly)
LP produced by BILL GRAUER
Notes by ORRIN KEEPNEWS
Issued by arrangement with Imperial Industrial Company, manufactures of QRS piano rolls
Cover photograph by SHEILAGH COULTER
Cover designed by PAUL BACON
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS
553 West 51st Street New York 19, New York