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Popular Piano Ragtime Pieces from 1897 to 1909
(arr. by Bob Darch) - c. 1898
At around 16 years of age while Hayden was still in high school, and around the time he came under Scott Joplin's
tutelage, he penned the complete melody line and some of the bass and harmony for his only known surviving solo composition. Another Sedalia ragtime musician, Tom Ireland
, came into the manuscript and passed it on to ragtime artist Bob Darch
during a visit to Sedalia around 1960. Bob then filled in the missing pieces and added some harmonic content and a coda. It saw its first publication in the third edition of They All Played Ragtime
in 1966 as part of the centerpiece of the book. Closer to a cakewalk in style and format, Pear Blossoms
nonetheless shows syncopated innovation from such a young composer. While Bob's accompaniment varies rhythmically and harmonically at times beneath similar or identical melodies, it is still a smoothly rendered composition, albeit with some unusual qualities. The A section is a forecast of the one step style that would present itself in the mid to late teens by writers such as Luckey Roberts
and Eubie Blake
. The trio and D section are both in the same key as the opening sections, which might have changed had Hayden reworked this rag at a later time in his life. The rolled tenths were not commonly stylistic for the period, and may have been Bob's idea, or inspired by one of the experts he communicated with on the piece. The D section is followed by an interlude that finally modulates, but unlike most rags it goes down a fourth rather than up, another oddity. The piece finishes with one more section followed by a coda, both in the new key. What is evident here is the young Hayden's grasp on syncopation and the notation necessary to realize it, along with the vibrant originality that would show up in his Joplin collaborations.
Tickled to Death - Why We Smile
This was Hunter's first published rag and one of the most popular pieces by the blind Tennessee composer, outlasting his tragically short life by eons. It became somewhat of a template for his later pieces like Possum and Taters
and Just Ask Me
, and a good example of folk ragtime as he heard it all around him growing up. The white Hunter was able to embrace and actually participate in what was considered ethnically to be a black music form, inherently emulating the talented black musicians of Tennessee he encountered while growing up. While the rag itself is not all that simple to play, the catchy melodic line and harmonies make it a good candidate to stay in your head for long after you listen to, particularly the 32 bar trio. That in itself was not common during the time of cakewalks and early rags, but Hunter would use the elongated trio again in later pieces. Tickled to Death
was a popular on early records of instrumental ensembles and on piano rolls, in addition to sustaining good sales for many years in sheet music format. It is still a staple of ragtime festivals in the 21st century, making for a fine duet as well.
Possum and Taters - A Ragtime Feast
Since Hunter was blind from a young age, if not from birth, he also had the advantage of being blind to many aspects of racism due to skin color in the rural Tennessee environment where he was raised. Having been among the first Southern composers to have rags published, his are noteworthy for how intricate and authentic they are, driven by his keen listening ability which enabled him to fully appreciate and convey the black music in which he was immersed as a youth. Hunter's syncopated lines within lines were at once simple and complex, and even could compel the proper dynamics out of the performer. This is one of his best examples, as is readily explained in the forward to the piece. "A happy time for the Darkies in the South is just after the first severe frost in the Fall. It is then that the Persimmons are full ripe and the 'Possums are all fat. Every Persimmon tree has its 'Possum, so to speak, and 'Possum hunts are of nightly occurrence, until the Persimmons are all gone. Sweet Potatoes are an invariable, and frequently the only accompaniment to a 'Possum feast, which is always an occasion for a general gathering and great rejoicing..." While I can't speak to how tantalizing a dinner of opossum might be, the music itself is enough to make me want to show up for this event.
Somewhat unknown as a composer, but certainly a capable arranger and orchestrator, Kelly turned out a very pleasant rag that saw a lot of exposure for well over a decade. The cover dedicates the rag to fellow Kansas City composer Charles L. Johnson
, but whether in the context of a friend or a mentor is a matter of speculation. It was originally published in Kansas City, where the two had both worked variously for the Hoffman
publishing houses. Peaceful Henry
himself was, reportedly, the Hoffman custodian. However, after the Hoffman catalog was acquired by Whitney Warner (and Jerome H. Remick) in Chicago, a song version was released which has awkwardly retrofitted lyrics by vaudeville performer Seymour Rice
, in which Henry becomes the village arbitrator, still a fitting role. The A section starts out with a strong folk melody in octaves, with a unique harmonic twist in the last four measures. The unusual counterpoint in the B section between the right and left hands is more of a dance rhythm, and provides for some interesting improvisational possibilities. The short trio features the melody in the right hand thumb the first time through, and is followed by an interlude that contains a folk song that would eventually surface many years later in Old Man River
. It creates a layer of contrast, when this soft and placid section is followed by a crashing reiteration of the trio, played in octaves this time. A repeat of the B section in the new key closes out this graceful composition. There were some successful recordings of Peaceful Henry
made during the first two decades of the century, and both John Philip Sousa
and W.C. Handy
presented it in their respective band repertoires.
How much fun can a piano player possibly have with a simple rag that sounds somewhat more difficult than it actually is? Tons of fun, I tell you! This popular ditty, penned by a young pharmacist's assistant from Oskaloosa, Iowa, became better known than its composer. It literally climbed up the publication ladder from Wiley's initial self-published release in 1903 up to that of the far reaching Jerome H. Remick
firm in 1907 (as evidenced by the three covers shown here). It is also interesting to note that the Wiley purposely misspelled "carbolic" using a hyphen, while the later publications removed the hyphen from their covers and kept the spelling (Carbarlick
). While limited in the scope of its content and for the most part technically simple, Car-Barlick Acid
is actually a cakewalk that is entertaining to both play and to listen to. The A section is little more than a repetitive phrase of two notes, varied mostly through different syncopations. The bass octaves that begin the second strain forecast a similar line which would be related to boogie and boogie-woogie styles, both more than two decades off. Particularly clever for the time is the use of the right thumb and forefinger for the primary melody in the trio, underneath treble chords. The last iteration of the B section is written out just as it is heard here, with only half of the strain repeated and a rather obvious tag line. It is hard to take liberties with a piece that often induces the rapid tempo that this one does, so I have taken back a notch or two, playing it as a relatively snappy cakewalk, which is essentially the rhythmic core of the piece.
Just Ask Me
Charles Hunter was a talented blind pianist who had a few published hits to match his reputation as a great player. Just Ask Me
is based largely on folk melodies, and is relatively well developed in both the melodic lines and overall structure. I was first enlightened to the possibilities of this rag when I heard my friend Marty Mincer
perform it in his own inimitable style, a little of which is captured here. The A section is designed to be played as a full 32 bar phrase, and uses a common syncopated pattern throughout. Following it is what could be termed as a transitional phrase or interlude, a repeated section of 8 bars which acts as an introduction to the next section, although there is content enough to tag it as a full section rather than an interlude. It also introduces a new tonality, jumping from the initial key of C to Ab; not unheard of but still unique. The C section is very folk oriented, with a great ending phrase in the last four bars. The trio section modulates again, this time to the expected key of Db. It is a full 32 bar section with an advanced harmonic progression for its time. The rag ends here, but I feel better closure in repeating B and C. It can be played either slower or faster than is presented here, but I chose a comfortably quick clip. Wanna hear it again? Just Ask Me.
James Hubert "Eubie" Blake
Written somewhere around the time he was sixteen or so, Eubie Blake became quickly well known in black areas of Baltimore for this ahead-of-its-time masterpiece. Originally titled Sounds of Africa
, he first recorded and copyrighted it in 1917 as the Charleston Rag
, which it has been known as ever since. It was finally transcribed and put into print in 1974 by pianist and historian Terry Waldo
. At the age of twelve, I had the opportunity to hear Eubie play after a Los Angeles screening of a restored print of the 1925 film Phantom of the Opera
(with actor Lon Chaney
), and then to meet him after his performance. What I remember most was the inordinately long fingers on his spidery hand as he reached them out to me; unusual because I was actually taller than Eubie by that time. He played Charleston Rag
that evening (among other spectacular originals), and it made an impression on me. For a piece written around 1898 it was quite innovative. The bass line in the opening was a precursor of musical styles to come, such as boogie-woogie. There are also breaks in the B section and the trio, another feature that would not become widely used in ragtime for at least a decade. The interlude in the trio is a precursor of interludes or "dog fights" later found in both ragtime and early traditional jazz. Eubie kept playing piano to the end, dying just days after his 96th birthday. I have beefed up a few of the transcribed passages here with additional syncopation and more octave passages.
Saint Louis Tickle
Theron Catlan Bennett
(as Barney and Seymore) - 1904
In 1904 the Louisiana Purchase Centennial Exposition
or World's Fair was held in the current hotbed of ragtime, St. Louis, Missouri. Composers and players from Scott Joplin
on down the chain clamored to perform there, or in any venue nearby, and many wrote commemorative rags, such as Tom Turpin's Saint Louis Rag
, James Scott's On the Pike
, and Scott Joplin's The Cascades
. This particular piece was quite a hit at the fair and with local pianists as well. Although the composition credit does not include Bennett, he was known to have been the first to play the tune in Chicago. He was also a staff composer for the publisher, Victor Kremer Company
, who put out several tunes in conjunction with the fair. The Saint Louis Tickle
became well known largely because of the B section, which was a quote of a rather bawdy tune with lyrics not to be repeated in mixed company. It has a similar history of the KMFA or Sister Kate
strain, having been derived from a street melody known as Funky Butt
, which was later used as the basis for Jelly Roll Morton's
version of Buddy Bolden's Blues
. The lyrics for the tune at that time were notoriously raunchy (for that time), yet most every schoolboy had learned them somehow. The mere presence of that melody was enough to compel parents to cover their children's ears. New lyrics were composed for a song version of the Tickle
the following year, but elements of the original piece still remained. It otherwise has lasted on its own merits over the years.
William C. Polla
(as W.C. Powell) - 1904
Composer/bandleader and publisher Polla was one among many who took advantage of the lively musical environment of the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Centennial Exposition
in Saint Louis by adding yet another piece of sheet music to commemorate the event. Strangely, however, there is no direct reference to the fair in the music. The cover depicts what is likely the famous mile-long pike, and the title allegedly refers to the perception of the many foreign visitors and exhibitors at the event, so the reference is implied at the very least. This is actually more of a cakewalk than a rag, utilizing the classic cakewalk rhythm throughout the A and B sections. The trio breaks more into a ragtime format, typical of the time, before going back to the stricter B section. Polla was very skilled at writing great intermezzos as well, but this unique rag does allow some room for joyful interpretation, and even a little more ragging than original score suggests.
One of Giblin's earliest pieces and one of the most fun of hers to play, Chicken Chowder
speaks well as to how simple ideas properly organized can make for a memorable composition. It also brought attention to a female composer in a male-dominated market - ragtime piano composition. Giblin was right out of high school at the age of 17 when she was employed as a music demonstrator in a Saint Louis department store. In that position playing the piano several hours every day, it was natural for someone of her creativity to also write some of her own works. It starts out with a cute little chicken cluck. The opening section is nothing more than downward chromatic patterns followed by a repeated syncopated line. The 32-bar B section shines with melodic interplay between octaves and some ambitious left-hand work in the last eight measures. The shift to the sub-dominant key (up a fourth) for that section is unusual for any rag, but works very well here. The introduction to the trio is the same as the opening, and the trio itself is the A section turned on its head. In the end this makes for a very filling bowl-full of ragtime that even a chowder-head can enjoy.
The Black Cat Rag
Ethyl B. Smith
Somewhere along the line, the poor feline who just happened to be born black got a bad rap (why does that sound familiar?). They were associated with witchcraft and dark arts. Baltimore writer Edgar Allen Poe did not help much with his 1843 story about possessed black cats and their horrid fate. Yet they remained popular as the cat one loves to hate. The creepy cat pictured on the cover of this piece is actually closer to a tuxedo cat, since it has some white on it, but we will overlook that inconsistency. While we only know of one other rag that Miss Smith composed, Wooster accumulated a few along the way, and had his own publishing company for a time which was eventually acquired by Jerome Remick. Who wrote what part of Black Cat
is unclear. While it is mostly unremarkable (yet popular enough that it is even available now as a ring tone), the trio is quite engaging with a hint of early boogie found within it. Hopefully you won't object as it crosses your path.
Fred St. Clair Stone
Stone was in the enviable position of not only being one of the earliest black composers to see his cakewalks and rags in print, but also to be a major leader in the Detroit, Michigan music scene during the first twenty years of the 20th century (considered to have also been Canadian by some historians). He and his colleagues actually provided most of the musical entertainment in the city almost to the exclusion of local white musicians. When Stone finally helped to form a musicians union there, similar to New York's famous Clef Club
, it was the white musicians that needed to lobby to gain acceptance into it. While he was more a bandleader than a writer, the few works of his in print are fairly memorable. Belinda
is more of an intermezzo than a rag, as it contains virtually no syncopation. It does contain an early form of what would eventually be termed a break in the A section. The B section is more song-like in nature, and its simplicity allows for some improvisation, which is exploited here. The trio, which is my favorite section, is constructed with a single line primary melody, followed by a secondary melody of supporting chords. It builds up from pianissimo to a triple forte through three iterations with an interlude. All in all, it's a pleasant piece that is very much worth a listen.
Cannon Ball - A Characteristic Novelty
Joseph C. Northup
Thomas R Confare
) - 1905
Very little is known about Northup, who was a newspaper journalist for the most part, and only a little more about the arranger, who followed up this catchy tune with the Bombshell Rag
. Cannon Ball
was labeled as a "Characteristic Novelty", although the meaning of such is nebulous at best as the rag is largely "characteristic" but contains little that could be termed "novelty". It was a very popular piece from early on in the ragtime era, and was featured on the first all-ragtime LP brought out by Capitol Records
in 1950, Honky-Tonk Piano
. The A section is largely derived from a folk tune that was also found in a few other pieces of the day. The trio stands out the most due to a rapid downward progression of triads in the middle of it, a high speed challenge for pianists still. It is possible that Confare was actually the primary composer of both Cannon Ball
as evidenced by marked similarities in construction and melodic content. I have added a couple of repeats and variations expanding well beyond the original piece just because it is fun to do so.
Thomas H. Trenholm - 1905
A little-known self-published piano rag by an even lesser-known composer, this piece actually translates into an interesting work. Although a bit redundant in the first section, it is mildly challenging to interpret, and seems to also capture the spirit and motion of the auto car during its first decade of curious experimentation in advance of the coming of the Model T Ford. The B section has a wide variety of syncopated patterns, similar to the better rags of that period, which might make one wonder what else Trenholm would have been capable of if he had composed more rags. But it is also one of those rare rags that contain lyrics for the trio. Since they are not applied throughout it does not qualify as a song but more of a hybrid. Then again, the lyrics (not included in the performance) such "My auto girl, you're all the whirl, with a click click click click a click, and a tick tick tick..." clearly demonstrate that Mr. Trenholm was better at composing music than pushing prose, which does not bode well when one finds out he was listed as an advertising manager in the 1910 census.
Clarence H. St. John
How Clarence St. John, a printer from Michigan, got involved with John Stark in spite of how many publishers there were in Detroit or Chicago, both closer to him, is unclear. However, it turned out to be a happy and logical pairing, with Stark publishing a handful of St. John's works. This was the first of them, and arguably the most memorable. In spite of the cover image, which could implicate either the tended fire or the color of the man in front of it, I am of the opinion that this might have bee intended as a train tune. There are some rhythmic clues within to indicate as such, and I infuse a bit of musical extrapolation to further exploit this possibility. The opening strain starts in a clear minor strain, cleverly reverting to the relative major as it concludes in a mashup of challenging syncopation. The interesting B section is similarly worthy of a good listen. The trio calls on a folk strain like that heard in Peaceful Henry
E. Harry Kelly
, or later in Jerome Kern's Old Man River
. The final strain is ebullient to say the least. I follow it up with a reiteration of the opening section, and playing with whether it will resolve in major or minor mode. In the end I chose... well, play it already and you'll find out my train of thought.
Louis Mentel - 1906
Gasoline was not used for all that much until the internal (or infernal) combustion engine started sucking it in on a regular basis in the early 1900s. So as soon as cars started proliferating, oil became a big business in the U.S., as did ownership of fueling stations (later known - for a while at least - as service stations). That has nothing to do with the music, but a lot to do with the popularity of the petroleum product which would soon bring on a famous song named Gasoline
, already showing it as a reviled necessity in the United States. This is a pretty nice example of a rag, albeit likely with a random title (how do you emulate gasoline in music?) capitalizing on the motor craze in an original way. Mentel was a Kentucky-born composer who had several moderate hits to his name, and ran a relatively successful music publishing company in Cincinnati, Ohio, for several years as well along with his older brother William Mentel
. This particular Mentel work received three copyrights and issuances, including 1906, 1911 and 1913.
Pickles and Peppers
If one looks back through music history before 1895 they will have difficulty finding all but a handful of women composers. During the ragtime era, there was a sudden increase in publications by women, who were among the largest group of ragtime sheet music consumers. This was among the best of those publications. Pickles and Peppers
is just as rousing as many other mainstream rags, but better developed in spite of Shepherd's lack of formal training. The notated syncopations throughout the A and B section sound almost improvised. But from there on, nothing repeats in the traditional sense. The hymn-like trio (some historians contend it may be based on an old Methodist melody) starts as a subtle cakewalk, then after an interesting minor interlude transforms into an intricately syncopated barn burner. The second minor interlude is related to the first, but twice as long with a somewhat altered structure. The final iteration of the trio is like the second one, only an octave lower. Pickles and Peppers
became widely popular when William Jennings Bryan
used the trio for his 1908 presidential campaign. (You remember President Bryan, right?) It's popularity obviously carried on much longer than his! Ultimately, Pickles and Peppers
became the best-selling rag ever composed by a woman, outselling most piano ragtime compositions as a whole.
Theron Catlan Bennett
(as George E. Florence) - 1907
In spite of the original cover and inside credit citing George E. Florence
as the composer, subsequent editions revealed Bennett as the true creator of this interesting folk-style rag. The title could possibly have been a response to Charles L. Johnson's Dill Pickles
, initially released the previous year. Sweet Pickles
has an unusual structure throughout. The first section is only 8 measures instead of the traditional 16, although it is later used as the second 8 measures of the 16 measure B section, and that actually balances things out. The trio moves to the relative minor (Cm) of the expected key (Eb), as opposed to the more likely Eb, or even the relative minor of the original key (Fm). The D section explodes into a bubbly melody that sounds like the finale, only to be interrupted again by an interlude styled E section (again in Cm), and a repeat of the D strain. Bennett really shines with this piece, and was consistently a feather in the cap of the Kremer Company
All the Candy
Candy usually refers to something sweet that is not necessarily good for you, but who cares! For example, good-looking people on film with minimal acting skills are "eye candy." So in the context of 1907, All the Candy
could be interpreted as something fun or desirable ("Ain't she all the candy?"). Known more as an arranger than composer, but also as author of the successful Peaceful Henry
, Kelly was grounded in Kansas City, Missouri, which was full of folk-flavored ragtime. Just the same, the airy opening theme for this rag is lightly classical in nature, with a little Kansas City sound infused. The B section reverts to the folk style is very similar to the same section in Peaceful Henry
. The trio is melodically fun to work with, although it requires some octave transposition to give the performer room to play with it. It is followed by a minor interlude of the type commonly heard then, then a stronger reiteration of the trio. The rag closes with a triumphant repeat of the B theme. While this is not an outstanding rag when played exactly as written, it does demonstrate the promise of the composer, although he may have been content working a steady job arranging the works of others. And ain't that All the Candy
One of his best known rags, The Smiler
clearly indicates Wenrich's gift for simple melodies made into something interesting. It is subtitled "Joplin Rag", which while it may potentially be a indication that the piece is intended to be in the style of Scott Joplin
, it more likely alludes to the style of playing from his home town of Joplin, Missouri, the claim he stuck with. Although it is nicely constructed, The Smiler
is a mere shadow of a Scott Joplin rag. The A section is very energetic, with a folk melody as it's basis, later reincarnated in part in the song Goofus
. The B section makes good use of the melody switching between hands, and contains a break, an element that was just starting to see popular usage. The trio is pretty much a paraphrase in identity of Joplin's Peacherine Rag
, but fits in nicely with the style of the rest of the piece. The cover with the unfortunate stereotype was common for its time, and is included here primarily for historical reference.
Julia Lee Niebergall
Ms. Niebergall was part of the school of Indiana Ragtime composers. She was inherently musical, often whimsical, and spent most of her life as a professional pianist, some of it playing the Midwest vaudeville circuits. She also taught music on and off at Manual High School and worked as a film pianist for the Colonial Theater in downtown Indianapolis. Max Morath
has noted that Julia was one of the first women in Indianapolis to own her own automobile. "Hoosier" is, of course, the nickname for Indiana or anybody from there. It's origin is nebulous, but may come from a word that means anything large of its kind [Merriam Webster]. In spite of dynamic markings that indicate a somewhat forceful approach, Hoosier Rag
comes across very well when played more lightly at a leisurely pace. The opening section consists of a very pleasant harmonic pattern. The trio contains nice examples of both sustained and extended melodic lines and a few harmonic surprises as well.
May Frances Aufderheide
A producer of some very fine Ohio Valley ragtime, Dusty
was Aufderheide's first piano rag. Although May had been properly schooled and cultured, she still had a passion for music. With her friends
, who drew the cover, and
who arranged and engraved the work, it saw its initial publication, which actually collected dust due to poor distribution. However, this single effort was enough to convince May's banker father,
that he could make some money publishing her pieces, as well as those of other composers in Indiana. Dusty
soon became a "hit" instrumental through his efforts, and May's rags eventually became nationally known on their own merits, thus helping to break down another barrier that had previously been as hard to break for women as for blacks. The cover of Dusty
, while not blatantly offensive, perpetuates a caricatured stereotype that was an unfortunate product of the period, but which also subliminally suggests the content of the piece within to be in line with "authentic Negro ragtime". This is a relatively simple folk rag with a C section that stands out for both its sparseness and cleverness.
Hot Chocolate Rag
Malvin A. Franklin
and Arthur Lange - 1908:
Franklin and Lange were both successful New York-based composers who came together for this rousing Tin Pan Alley rag. As was common during this time, the title is steeped in entendre. It possibly refers not only to black people or children (the chocolate), or that nature of the piece (hot), but likely to the beverage itself. Until the middle of the 19th century, most cocoa drinks were closer to coffee in taste and texture. It wasn't until the process of extracting cocoa butter was perfected that a powder was available for consumer use. By 1900 cocoa powder was commonly used for home recipes, but even into the 1940s, sugar had to be added to it to make a palatable drink when mixed with milk. So it was certainly more of a special treat to children in the days before Swiss Miss and Nestle's Instant. While the opening section and the one following are nothing out of the ordinary for folk or commercial ragtime, the trio actually forecasts the Charleston rhythm that was still more than a decade off. Hot-cha-cha.
The Stinging Bee
The sub-heading under Bernard's name is "The World's greatest Rag-time Player." Actually, Bernard was among the first to win a championship in one of the many cutting contests run by the famous pink-covered Police Gazette
, a magazine that had everything to do with ragtime lifestyle and little, if anything, to do with law enforcement. After winning his most celebrated title on January 23, 1900, Bernard's reputation quickly spread, and even his contemporaries often admitted to his pianistic prowess. He was also among the first pianists to record rousing piano ragtime on disc in 1912 (although there were some cylinders that preceded his debut). As good as his playing was, Bernard was merely a competent composer. There is little extraordinary about this piece, but the trio contains an interesting variance on climbing the scale, and is a through-composed 32-bar section, not often used in lieu of the convenience of repeats. The last four bars of the interlude before the variation on the C section resembles a Mozart-like cadence. Average overall, but really, in some ways, a honey of a tune!
Black And White Rag
Botsford was somewhat gifted when it came to picking out tunes that people would respond to. Black and White
(which I often call the Monochrome Rag
) has been wildly popular since its inception. The original cover is basic and stylish. The alternate version shown here is from an Australia issue of the piece, and is mildly racist but still humorous. While it looks like a holdup, it is actually a black chimney sweep brushing soot on a white baker about to cover him with flour. Black and White
is a classic example of the three over four pattern (a.k.a. secondary rag) that exemplified so much of Tin Pan Alley ragtime, including 12th Street Rag
, Dill Pickles
. The trio can be described as rollicking, and perhaps the best strain of the piece. There is something about Black and White
that has kept it in the public's ear for so long. It was found in late 1920s and 1930s cartoons, and was one of the most recorded tunes during the 1950s ragtime revival. Jo Ann Castle
made a hit of it on the Lawrence Welk
show in the 1960s. I still hear it frequently at contests and festivals, including one performance by a ten-year old. I remember him saying, "Mr. Edwards, I've learned a lot from listening to your recordings." I asked him "So do you play like me, then?" The answer: "No, um, but I used to... I said I've learned a lot!" Kids!
Snyder was better known as a publisher than as a composer, although his Wild Cherries
was quite a hit during a time when there was a literal cornucopia of fruit and vegetable rags flooding the market. It was so popular that it was also released as a "coon" song in 1911, an unfortunate genre of the times, with lyrics by no less than
while he still worked as a staff writer for Snyder's publishing house. The tempo marking is Tempo di Marcia
(March Tempo), which was typical with most rags, but this rag actually works better as an instrumental when played a bit faster. The A section starts with an interesting chord progression that is a slight variation on the Pachelbel Canon In D
and later used in "Jelly Roll" Morton's Perfect Rag
. In the B section, the bass line frequently interrupts the "oom-pah" flow of the left hand with a measure of syncopated solo, similar to the B section of Dill Pickles
. The trio and associated interlude are the most memorable aspect of the composition, and provide some interesting possibilities for melodic and rhythmic variations, which I have tried to utilize here. Wild Cherries
was a favorite of pianist and entertainer Jimmy Durante
early on in his career playing in Coney Island dives.
Lemons and Limes (A Sour Rag)
This cute rag appears to be another one of many one-shots by a virtually unknown composer, yet well-known Midwest vaudeville entertainer of the era. More notable was the talented violinist she both groomed and traveled with around this time, one Benny Kubelsky
. Later in life, as Jack Benny
, he often paid homage to Cora and what she taught him about the stage. As for the citrus on the cover, lemons and limes were first revered for their curative powers during tests aboard the H.M.S. Salisbury
in 1753, where it was found that they were able to both combat and prevent scurvy, an ailment common to sailors. This was done without the benefit of scientific knowledge, which later determined that the ascorbic acid in each fruit was the nutrient that facilitated good health. The allure of the odor of each has also been a factor in their popularity over time. Hopefully this piece might become a bit more popular itself with this exposure. While it is brief, it is also cute and innovative, lacking only in an introduction (which has been provided for here). The main theme of the rag is driven by a pattern of rapidly descending thirds. The pounding minor strain that follows is almost classical in nature. The trio is as good as many written for this style of piano rag. Hopefully this performance won't leave you feeling too sour.
May Frances Aufderheide
Spurred on by the success of her first rag, Dusty
, and by the encouragement of her father, John Aufderheide
, who started a music publishing business as a result of that success, Miss Aufderheide responded with two rags, the Buzzer Rag
and The Thriller
. The latter became a very popular seller, partially due the success of Dusty
, and largely on its own merits. As with Dusty
cover in the manner of the times is mildly offensive, linking Negroes with watermelon. The Thriller
contains more elements of classic ragtime than its predecessor. The A section uses a repetitive theme in the same manner that Scott Joplin's The Entertainer
does. The B section contains instrumental elements and effects, including a melody in thirds over a sustained pedal tone, most effectively played on a grand using the middle or sostenuto pedal. The trio harkens to the works of James Scott
with the use of call and response, except alternating between hands, and not just octaves. The name likely came from a roller coaster with a similar name in the Indianapolis area. Overall, while not too thrilling, it is very pleasant, and mildly challenging to interpret as well.
Temptation Rag Tango
Thomas Henry Lodge
Lodge was characterized as a good pianist who had a great deal of public performance experience in drinking venues and on the vaudeville stage. He also spent some time as a bandleader. Lodge was reluctant to depend on composition as a mainstay career, and was cautious in his success once it came. Temptation
was Henry's first publication, and probably his best-known and most recorded rag. The cover art is also quite unique; an intriguing picture of a red-haired beauty that appears to have been done in colorful chalk or pastel crayon. Is she the "temptation?" As was often the practice with pieces that showed good sales potential, the A and B sections were used to create a song of the piece. Unlike other rags that traditionally went to a new key a fourth up after the first two sections, this rag never wanders out of the realm of three flats, alternating instead between Eb and C minor. The A section is made up of a repeated descending motif that requires some help from an upward scale in the middle to get back up for another descent. The B strain utilizes a very pleasant and coherent logical chord progression that plays as important a role as the melody. In the trio, we hear a subtle stop-time pattern that is immediately offset by the interlude (or D section according to some musicologists), which is another simple and mostly chromatic pattern. This also makes for a nice habanera or tango, which I recorded for my Tangoz
album. Somehow, I'm always tempted to play this piece again.
Egbert Van Alstyne
Although Van Alstyne is ultimately better known for his many songs, he also created some innovative and effective rags and similar instrumental compositions as well. This was his first after a six-year hiatus from piano rag writing, time taken up in part with writing many hit songs with his lyricist partner Harry Williams
. The rhythmic and thematic elements of the A section were often used in folk and commercial rags up to that time, but Van Alstyne applies some unusual harmonic direction that gives it some sophistication, and room for extrapolation as well (which I could not resist). Following that, the B section is very song-like, giving some indication of the melodic style that Van Alstyne and others applied to their Indian-themed pieces. The use of held notes while others are played around them again adds some sophistication. This element is expanded in the trio by including a second descending melodic/harmonic line in the thumb, creating a layer effect. The expanded repeat of the trio is written using the upper octaves, leaving little room or need for improvisation. And you must know that I can't go without saying "It's a honey of a rag!" Drip. Drip.
Rubber Plant Rag - A Stretcherette
Cobb had recently graduated from the music school at Syracuse University
in New York when he submitted a rag called Buffalo Means Business
to a Buffalo music contest in 1909. He won the prize, which was publication of the rag. Spurred on by this, George became bold and submitted his next rag to the Walter Jacobs
in Boston, Massachusetts, the Rubber Plant Rag
. It is full of rich harmonies and subtle textures, which are indicative of his attention to detail and the knowledge obtained while in school in Syracuse. On paper, as at first listening, it sounds much harder than it actually is, the complex patterns of the first section actually fall very nicely under the hands. The use of advanced harmonic progressions is the standout feature of the B section. Both A and B are fairly unrelenting in terms of notes, a methodology often used by silent movie accompanists to keep some scenes moving ahead through the use of music. The trio starts out as what seems like an introduction, and is largely comprised of arpeggios interlaced with short chord patterns. No matter how infrequently I play it, I keep bouncing back to it from time to time.
That Poker Rag
There were quite a number of talented women composers during the ragtime era, in spite of occasional difficulties they had with getting published. Charlotte Blake could be considered part of the Ohio Valley school of composers, as she hailed from Detroit, Michigan. She wrote a variety of songs and a few rags throughout the 1900s and 1910s, of which That Poker Rag
is one of the most memorable. The opening rhythm can be established in either a straight four, or with a lilting swing rhythm, which is what Max Morath
used on his recording of the piece on his album titled The Ragtime Women
. I choose something that varies a bit more and is in between the two. The A section theme is very simple and depends on chordal changes to carry it. The bass line in the B section would surface 41 years later in the song The Old Piano Roll Blues
, which was written as a promotional jingle for new player pianos in 1950. It is a durable melody, and this section bears some similarity to sections of Artie Matthew's Pastime Rags
. The trio is the most melodic, and contains several references to themes from both A and B. It ends with a repeat of the B strain in the new key, but this time marked as a "Slow Drag", which accounts for the tempo change at that point. You can bet I've never felt it was a gamble to play this rag.
The Cutter - A Classy Rag
This is one of those interesting one-shot rags by an otherwise unknown female composer, although a relatively talented one at that in spite of her singular output. It was difficult for all but a few women to make inroads into what was still a male-dominated profession 1909, but by this time there were enough successful women in the field that they were paving the way for others to be taken seriously. This piece is somewhat of a challenge right from the beginning, with an introduction suggesting the possibility of both major and minor modes. The A section contains a variety of syncopated passages that are harder to play than they may appear to sound. The B section shifts into the already suggested G minor, with a beautifully melodic flirtation with the relative Bb major. It then leads into an awkward shift fully into Bb major in the C section. This, however turns out to be as good as many trios from better known classic rags. The piece closes with a logical return to the poignant opening strain. Although McClure, who was later Elma Lane, did not compose again, she taught piano in her native Memphis, Tennessee from the 1920s to the 1950s.
King of Them All Rag
William Murray Simpson - 1909
The imposing cover suggests an imposing piece inside, and Simpson does deliver to some extent. The composer is hard to find any information on, and the only other piece of his that could be confirmed is the fairly common Salome Waltzes
. This may well be his only rag. While not so dynamic as the yet-to-come forceful opus Lion Tamer Rag
by Al Marzian
, King of Them All
does have some interesting elements. The opening section utilizes a repeated chord bass in the primary theme, something that was used sparingly by composers like Joplin and Scott. Simpson also imposes a key change up a fifth for the B section, another less-frequently used device by the better-known piano rag composers. The opening to this section also suggests a syncopation or hesitation by not having bass octave on the opening beat of every other measure, another forward-looking element. After a trip back to the A section the challenging trio begins. It starts with a series of chord changes supporting syncopated octaves in the right hand. Murray goes beyond suggestion embellishing the trio repeat by actually mapping it out in a higher octave. After this dynamic section one would actually hope for more, but it ends there. It also leaves an enigma as to why such a promising composer seems to have fallen off the ragtime sphere. He deserves a latent roar of appreciation, and I ain't lion. Listen for a couple of familiar "lion" snippets towards the end of the trio.
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