RLP-1025
RAGTME PIANO ROLL (VOLUME 2)

Jazz Archives #1000(10”) 

More great rags, as they were originally played

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RLP-1001  LOUIS ARMSTRONG PLAYS THE BLUE
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SIDE 1

1. Maple Leaf Rag (3:56) (Scott Joplin)

2. Evergreen Rag (2:45) (James Scott)

3. Grizzly Bear Rag (2:56) (George Botsford)

4. The Cascades (2:04) (Scott Joplin)

SIDE 2

5. States Rag Medley #8 (2:26) (unknown)

6. St. Louis Tickle (2:30) (Barney and Seymore)

7. Jungle Time (2:25) (E. Phillip Severin)

8. ‘Possum and ‘Taters (2:07) (Charles Hunter)

This is the second of Riverside Records’ collections of the remarkable ragtime music of the turn of the century, reproduced on record exactly as they were first played. Together with the first volume of RAGTIME PIANO ROLL (Riverside RLP 1006, this comprises a unique and important addition to the annals of American folk music. But these are most certainly not musical antiques; they are exciting performances that are every bit as alive and compelling today as when they were first created.

To begin with, of course, these were not recordings – they antedate all but they very earliest of records. Originally, they were 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 the original player piano rolls, to appear on records for the first time.

Digging deeply into the vast treasure-chest of ragtime performances, this LP includes some selections by composers whose names have been completely forgotten. And in all but one case, the pianists, having been unlisted on the roll, must remain anonymous. (When a celebrated ragtimer made a roll of one of his own numbers, it was of course an exception to this rule, and the fact that the version of Maple Leaf Rag included here was “played by Scott Joplin” was duly printed, in fair-sized letters, on the box.) The customary omission of credit – often enough, not even the composer’s name was given – is frustrating, but it in no way implies any reflection on the abilities of either pianist or song-writer, as these rolls quickly prove. For this is authentic ragtime at its best, and it makes it easy to understand why this brilliant musical style became a national craze during the first two decades of this century, and why it was able to make lasting contributions 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 this dance was sweeping the country during the 1890s, when ragtime was first solidifying itself into recognizable form. It is enough to describe. 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 the measure) with the right hand, while the left plays a regular, precise bass. That much I simple enough: the beautiful; rhythmic, complex melodies, with three or four different strains to each, 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 certainly tell you.

Although ragtime had long been considered a sort of branch of jazz, it now seems clear that it was quite separate movement. However, many early jazz musicians knew and loved rags. They were part of the repertoire of the first New Orleans bands, and the earliest jazz pianists took over elements of ragtime and fused them into the mainstream of their music (Jelly roll Morton is, of course, the prime example of this), so that strong traces remain, if indirectly, in almost all of 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 era of honkytonks and brothels. This was the East Main Street section of Sedalia, Missouri, where a footloose piano player named Scott 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 by the song-mechanics of Tin Pan Alley. But before this came to pass, Joplin and his colleagues had many years of success and satisfaction: their rags played everywhere; piano roll version of their melodies in great demand; national ragtime competitions drawing crowds at the great St. Louis Exposition of 1904 and elsewhere.

Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag, named in honor of a Sedalia honkytonk, is undoubtedly the most celebrated and durable of ragtime numbers. Published in 1899, it has been played, adapted and/or mutilated by countless hands. Here it is offered as its creator once performed it, in all its brilliance and beauty. The Cascades (1904) obviously named for its rippling, ‘waterfall’ effects, is a lesser known Joplin piece, but one that many another composer would be proud to claim as his major effort.

James Scott, who died in 1938, was a small and shy man who was known to his friends as the Little Professor. He spent many quiet years as organist in a Kansas City theater, but he was probably second only to Joplin as a ragtime composer; Evergreen Rag (1915) ably represents the charm and grace of his many works. George Botsford’s Grizzly Bear Rag (1910) had lyrics by a young fellow named Irving Berlin, but its chief merits nevertheless seem to lie in its rollicking melody. ‘Possum and ‘Taters is an early (1901) piece by a blind, white ragtime composer: its subtitle of “A Ragtime Feast” indicates that Hunter intended it to evoke a colorful sight of his native Tennessee that he had never been able to see.

The Medley that opens Side 2 is an unknown pianist’s rapid-fire compound of strains from some ten pieces of his day; it was one of several such potpourri that made up large-sized rolls. Four of the numbers here (#4, 6, 7, 8) come from an even more gigantic roll, one designed for the old 65-note pianolas. (It was reprocessed to be played on a standard player piano by J. Lawrence Cook, the veteran creator and editor of innumerable rolls who is responsible for the faithful and authentic transcription of all Riverside piano roll LPs.)

Lastly, but far from least significant, it should be noted that St. Louis Tickle is one of those old numbers that are a folklorist’s delight. Jazz fans will easily recognize, one of its themes as identical with Jelly Roll Morton’s later tribute to a legendary New Orleans cornet player, Buddy Bo’den’s Blues: the same strain has been traced back to a fairly obscene work song of Mississippi River levee roustabouts, and also turns up in other places, including a non-ragtime song by Joplin.


   OTERH RIVERSIDE PIANO ROLL LPs INCLUDE:

Rediscovered Jelly Roll Morton Solos (RLP 1018);

James P. Johnson (RLP 1011);

Rediscovered Fats Waller solos (RLP 1010);

Ragtime Piano Roll, Vol. 1 (RLP 1006).

Issued by special arrangement with Imperial Industrial Company, manufactures 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