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Coming Soon: Covers For Pending Pieces
Charles L. Johnson
(M) and James O'Dea (L) - 1906
Charles L. Johnson was a friend of
(a.k.a. Neil Moret), and both being the primary Kansas City ragtime composers, it stands to reason they would be in tune with each others work and local trends. Even though it was four years after the orignal "Indian" intermezzo and song Hiawatha
by Daniels appeared, Johnson's entry into the field was no less significant, if at one point the target of a minor controversy. Also, as with Hiawatha
, it was named after the town of Iola, Kansas, itself likely an Indian name, had the train rhythm undercurrent, and lyrics added by their mutual friend James O'Dea. This was also good exposure for Johnson since the second and subsequent editions of the piece were published by Jerome H. Remick, which had considerable distribution. The controversy came in 1940 with the publication and recording of a big band piece called Playmates
, much of which sounded very suspiciously like Iola
. While some may have forgotten the piece, the composer did not, and with current copyright owner Jerry Vogel he did battle against the Santly-Joy company which owned Playmates
. By 1944, Johnson and Vogel did receive a settlement. They probably did not want to be seen as "Indian givers" in this instance.
Don't judge a rag by it's cover? In this case, a strange cover indicates a somewhat strange rag, but still worthy of attention. Shovel Fish
is comprised of more than the usual three or four sections, totalling six in all actually, making into somewhat of a medley of themes. However, given that several of them are only eight measures in length instead of the usual sixteen, this rag is about the same length as your standard issue piano rag with full repeats. Harry Cook was known primarily as a violinist from Louisville, Kentucky, but he was also a talented arranger and occasional composer. Remick published his rag Fluffy Ruffles
around the same time as The Shovel Fish
. As for the fish, however, it is officially called the spoonbill or paddlefish, largely found in Oklahoma, Missouri and Iowa. The spoonbill is a cartoonish remnant of prehistoric days on earth, and it has been postulated that the purpose of the long snout is more for navigation than efficient feeding. It should be also noted that on a scale of 1 to 10, the spoonbill rates a 0 since it has no scales. That explains the fish, but as for the frog band? I find them quite ribbeting, myself.
While Joplin, as a black composer, usually associated with other blacks in Sedalia, his new found celebrity with the local publication of Maple Leaf Rag
and relationship with publisher John Stark elevated his status in open-minded Sedalia, Missouri to a point where he could also mingle with members of white society as well. Having already composed a piece for the recently shut down Maple Leaf Club
, Joplin worked on this piece, likely intended to be titled Augustain Club Waltzes
, for the white Augustain Club
, formed in December of 1899, the same month as the other club's demise. It was not published for over another year, and the club's name was misspelled in the title, but it was still a milestone. Historian Ed Berlin in his book King of Jazz
suggests that the piece was apparently commissioned by the club, and it was possibly performed by an orchestra at a club event in March of 1900. However, Joplin was evidently never asked to perform at the club. Nonetheless, Augustan Club Waltzes
brought him as much respect in the entirety of Sedalia as Maple Leaf
would eventually bring him throughout the country. After a very brief opening, the A section of this relatively short waltz clearly suggests the use of multiple melodic lines in different orchestral timbres. There is a hint of syncopation in the B section with a chord held over the bar of the eighth measure, but that's as close to the ideal of ragtime as the piece comes. As was typical for waltzes of the time, a relative minor section follows, with another chord held over the barline every four measures. The fourth section works with the idea of minimalism, sparsely stating a melody in octaves, each one held for a measure or more, with a lyrical effect, breaking free near the end of the section. This culminates in a fitting grand finale. Some of the ideas in Augustan Club Waltz
would be expanded upon in his inspired Bethena
just a few years later.
Edgecombe Cake Walk
This charming little composition came to me directly from the piano bench of ragtime pianist and apple farmer Marty Mincer
. It was in Marty's family for many years, and he titled one of his albums after it. Lichtenstein attended the University of Cincinatti [Ohio] around the time of the composition, where the publisher, George Jaberg Music Company
, flourished around the turn of the century, doing vanity runs as well as a few distributed publications. Jaberg's 1900 catalog includes many waltzes, galops and ethnic two steps such as Edgecombe
, but no mention of piano rags. This was the last of Gaston's three known compositions, and he went on to be a succesful and important Jewish scholar and Virginia historian. He continued to work for years as a musician in Richmond, Virginia, but no further compositions have been found. In his Edgecombe
, traditional cakewalk rhythmic pattern is closely adhered to with a lot of emphasis on the left hand bass patterns as well. The B section allows for adventurous improvisation, which is explored here. The trio is actually a very smooth contrast to the rest of the piece, even at eight measures for the theme, and is followed by the opening strain in the new key. This arrangement sticks quite a bit closer to the score than Marty's recording (which includes an additional theme of his own design), but there are some of his neater tricks thrown in here with mine for variety.
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