RAGTIME PIANO ROLL
Jazz Archives #1000(10”)
Eight great authentic rags played by the creators of the style:
SCOTT JOPLIN – JAMES SCOTT – TOM TURPIN
– JOSEPH LAMB
Grace and Beauty (2:21) (Scott) (1910)
Ragtime Oriole (2:25) (Scott) (1910)
St. Louis Rag (2:48) (Turpin) (1903)
American Beauty Rag (2:42) (Lamb) (1914)
5.Scott Joplin’s New Rag (2:41) (Joplin) (1912)
6.Original Rags (2:51) (Joplin) (1899)
7.Fig Leaf Rag (3:35) (Joplin) (1908)
8.The Entertainer (2:56) (Joplin) (1902)
The recordings that make up this LP comprise a unique and important addition to the annals of American folk-music. And it is just as important to note that they are most certainly not musical antiques: they are exciting ragtime performances that are every bit as alive and compelling today as when they were first played – which was as long as fifty-odd years ago.
Strictly speaking, there are not “recordings” at all. They were originally a series of oblong holes cut on long sheets of paper, rolled into cylinders, and played in homes and saloons throughout a country that found its musical entertainment by pounding the pedals of the pianola. They have now been transcribed directly from those organized piano rolls.
This LP marks the first authorized issuance on records of the compositions written and played by the greatest Tom Turpin, Joseph Lamb: their names are now only dimly remembered, if at all, but the music they created was a national craze and a brilliant musical style for the first two decades of this century, and has made a lasting contribution to both jazz and popular song.
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 cake-walk, and probably owes credit for its original popularity to the fact that the cake-walk was sweeping the country during the 1890’s, when ragtime was first solidifying itself into a recognizable style. It is primarily a piano music (although it can be, and was, played by full bands) and its basic premise is simple enough to describe. It merely involves syncopation (accent on what are normally the weal beats of the measure) with the right hand, while the left hand plays a regular, precise bass. That much is simple enough: the beautiful, rhythmic, complex melodies created by the great ragtimers, with three or four different themes to each song, are far from simple. Nor is the skill and brilliance with which those men played their rags at all current pianist who has tried to imitate them could certainly tell you.
The spirit of the music is also something special and inimitable. Until fairly recently, it had been assumed that ragtime was a sort of branch of jazz: but it now seems clear that it was an entirely separate movement (although many early jazzmen knew and loved rags, and the earliest jazz pianists took over may elements of ragtime and fused them into the main stream of their music). Like jazz, it 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, the town where a footloose piano player named Scott Joplin settled down in the ‘90s.
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 – stifled and watered-down and commercialized by the song-mechanics of Tin Pan Alley, who obviously could read its notes but not understand its qualities. But before that came to pass, Joplin and the others had many years of success and satisfaction: their rags played everywhere, their piano rolls in great demand, national ragtime competitions drawing crowds at the great St. Louis Exposition and elsewhere.
Joplin had met a Sedalia music publisher, Tom Stark, who immediately fell in love with ragtime. He moved on to St. Louis and New York with it, and for many years did much more than any other man to sell this remarkable music to all of America. Joplin’s first published effort, Original Rags, appeared in 1899 and predates this long association, but most of his other compositions were brought out, and promoted with single-minded fervor, by Stark in the decade that followed.
There were many other great and colorful rag-timers. If Sedalia was the birthplace, St. Louis became the capital, and there the big man (in more ways than one) was The six-foot, 300-pound Tom Turpin – full name, Thomas Million Turpin (1873-1922). He was a saloon-keeper and pianist of legendary good humor, who wrote few rags but played many, who taught the equally-legendary Louis Chauvin, and who fathered the more brilliant, swift and showy ‘St. Louis school’ of ragtime. He is represented here, aptly enough, by the rhythmic St. Louis Rag, written in 1903.
James Scott (1886-1938) ranks with Joplin and Turpin, but he was in every outward way Turpin’s opposite. Small (about five-foot-four and 140 pounds) and shy, he was known to his friends as the Little Professor, and he spent many quiet years as organist in a Kansas City theater. But although his famous Grace and Beauty (1909) and Ragtime Oriole (1911) live up to the promise of their titles, you’ll find nothing delicate or fragile about their beauty or the way in which Scott performs them.
Joseph Lamb, born in 1887 and the only ragtime great still living, is – surprisingly enough – a white man (which was not generally known until Rudi Blesh and Harriet Janis dug him out of obscurity during the course of research for their recent and excellent book. They All Played Ragtime). The fact alone is startling enough: authentic ragtime was so thoroughly a Negro style. But it also evident that Lamb’s rags are completely imbued with the ‘feel’ of true ragtime (or imitative, but unquestionably steeped in the tradition and ranking with the best – a circumstance that knocks large, piano-roll-sized holed in any racist musical theories). He met Joplin in New York in 1907, was helped by him, but created rags that were fully his own. His American Beauty Rag (1913) most certainly belongs in this first collection of great ragtime music as it was originally played.
This material is issued by special arrangement with Imperial Industrial Company, manufactured of QRS piano rolls.
Produced by Bill Grauer
Notes by Orrin Keepnews
Cover by Paul Bacon
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS
125 LaSalle Street New York 27, New York