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Popular Piano Ragtime Pieces from 1916 to 1949
Lucian Porter Gibson
) - 1916
Although Matthews is not specifically cited as the rag's arranger, the fact that he had also arranged Gibson's Jinx Rag
for John Stark
and the content of this arrangement make it clear that it was his hand at work here. There is a lot interesting material to work with as well. The A section, which is more about chords than melody, is a full 24 bars in length, though not in a blues progression. In fact, compare this A section with that of Matthews' Pastime Rag #3
and you will find many similarities. The B section is also 24 bars in length, and has much in common with the B section of Gibson's earlier Jinx Rag
. The transition into the C section may possibly have been added by Matthews, as it nearly identical to the same transition in Pastime Rag #3
. The C section itself is a conventional 16 bars in length, but with some difficult octave work that is similar to that found in Scott Joplin's Euphonic Sounds
. The rag was interesting enough that it garnered a reprint in Axel Christensen's Ragtime Review
magazine of February, 1918, which was potentially paid advertising by Stark, but still good exposure. I did my initial recording of Cactus Rag
in 1992, so it may have been the first one of this unusual rag.
The Midnight Trot
One sure way to sell music was to get it out in front of the public. A popular venue for doing so was with the many professional dancers and dance teams who performed in public and threw private parties/lessons for those who could indulge themselves. In this particular case, this piece was either written for or commissioned by dancer Mazie King
, and titled on the cover as The Mazie King Midnight Trot
. The intended dance was the Maxixe
, popularized and possibly introduced by the premier team of Vernon and Irene Castle
. It is a lovely jaunty piece that easily suggests the type of frisky dance steps that the Maxixe consists of. The A section is inventive in this regard, both in rhythms and harmonies. The B section is more typical of both ragtime and dance music of the time. It is in the 32 bar C section that Cobb's harmonies and mix of rhythms really present themselves. It is not just a repeated 16 bar theme, but fully composed, and reminiscent of popular song of the 1910s. The first theme comes back to finish out the piece, and it is a haunting melody that stays with the listener for some time after the thin lady dances!
Merriam Webster defines pussyfoot
as treading or moving warily or stealthily, or refraining from committing oneself. The etymology goes back a bit before the 20th century, so it was well-known slang at the very least by the time this piece came about. The reference here, during a time of copious animal dances, was likely to how cats dance - with pussy feet, of course. Is it a rag? An instrumental? A song? A dance? All of these. The publishers thought enough of the piece to create a piano version (the band version was Pussyfoot March
) and a song (The Pussyfoot Prance
), so it was recorded and played often. In spite of some conjecture to the contrary, composer White, who was black, was not a member of the famous Six Brown Brothers
Canadian saxophone sextet, who were white, although they did record three of his works, including this piece. The harmonic and rhythmic content lend themselves well to that particular instrumental genre, although not so well to the difficult lyrical version of this piece. The lyrics do reference another icon of the time, singer Eva Tanguay
, known largely for her dismissive anthem, I Don't Care
. The piano version does not sit so well under the hands as it might on C-melody sax. In short, I guess I'm trying to pussyfoot around this particular performance, which I'm entitled to do according to a well-known performance claws.
Jentes was both innovative and talented, as evidenced by a session of listening to the piano rolls he cut, including one of this particular rag. His performance actually goes beyond the boundaries of the printed version and well into the realm of jazz. My performance is somewhat closer to the score than the roll, with a few variations. Although there is little to the melody line, the harmonies and chord progressions, with liberal use of both diminished and augmented chords, carry this piece far. The A section does not seem to establish major or minor until the last two measures, and then tries for the same effect in the B section, which is comprised of the often used 6 2 5 1
progression found in popular music of the era. The score for the trio section has a rather thin bass line, which I beef up on the repeat for interest and variety. It makes good use of an augmented dominant chord, which gives it a jazzy touch. Don't ever be too chicken
to enjoy this rag! Jentes went on to write a few instrumentals, as well as dozens of songs with over 40 different lyricists.
Texas Fox Trot
David W. Guion
Guion was one of those rarities like John S. Zamecnik or George L. Cobb; a classically trained composer - in this case learning in Europe under Leopold Godowski - who made a name in popular music forms starting in the ragtime genre. Born and raised on a Texas cattle ranch with black servants and cowboys all over the spread, Guion had a panoply of musical influences to select from outside of the classics. He eventually made his name transcribing cowboy tunes (including the definitive Home on the Range
) and negro spirituals. But this piece is indicative of a true fusion of Texas folk influence meeting sage classical ideals. Marked as moderato and keeping to relatively soft dynamics through much of the piece, the suggestion that it should be played carefully and poignantly becomes obvious. The beautiful opening minor section has elements of call and response within plus descending scalar patterns and a delicacy reminiscent of Chopin. The B section is more authoritative with an opportunity for a nice building crescendo within. The trio explores a minor theme again with an emphasis on the chord progression this time. The repeat of the B section brings the piece to a lush crescendo before returning, even more softly this time, to the opening strain. Guion first copyrighted the piece in 1915 at age 22, finally getting it published two years later by M. Witmark publishing, giving it a good distribution base. It was recorded to piano roll in 1918 by composer/performer Muriel Pollock, but has only started to gain real popularity since the 1990s. Hopefully this rendition with a number of variations infused into it will help add to that.
George Gershwin played quite a bit of ragtime throughout his teens; indeed some of it was committed to piano roll for future generations to enjoy. In spite of this, he wrote only one rag that we know of, and that in collaboration with co-worker Will Donaldson (whose role may have been primarily as arranger) while both were employed at Jerome Remick's publishing firm in 1916. George had already been writing for musical theater at the time, and aspired to step beyond even that as the jazz age was just underway. Felix Arndt
, the composer of Nola
, took an interest in the teenager around this time, and managed to get Gershwin his first job cutting piano rolls for Standard Music Rolls in New Jersey. Rialto Ripples
, which was recorded to piano roll a year before publication, demonstrates some of his ultimately proven potential within the constraints of the ragtime framework, which he even managed to bend just a bit. It reflects some of Arndt's style and novelty piano influence as well, as Felix had been asked by George to critique and make suggestions for the rag. In order to facilitate individual interpretation in this arrangement, I have included repeats of the B and C sections interspersed with the well-known main theme. There are some Gershwin style chord progressions and riffs reflecting some of his later writing also infused into the performance, although the music as printed is certainly challenging in itself. By the way, the piece was allegedly written in the back of the 5th Avenue bus one evening with Rialto, or road, filling in as a pseudonym for the street named Broadway, and the Ripples referring to rain on his hotel window reflecting the lights of Broadway. Many sources claim the piece was named after a district of Venice, Italy, as is more likely what is reflected on the cover, at least to a degree. Rialto Ripples
was one of the first of many "ripples" pieces that would appear in the 1920s and 1930s.
Rattlesnake Rag (Trio)
Ethwell "Eddy" Hanson
- 1917/ Additional content by
This fun-to-play piece actually did not become popular until 35 years after it was initially published and included on piano rolls. Hanson was a Wisconsin native who focused more on organ than piano works. In his earlier years he played for movie houses on both instruments, then for the stars of many of those movies for war bond rallies while in the navy during World War One. Hanson was also a radio pioneer, starting with regular organ shows on WDAP (now WGN) in 1923. Eddy was later noted for his popular songs and organ work on the radio throughout the mid-20th century. His 1951 composition The Wisconsin Waltz
was made the official state waltz in 2001. Hanson's biggest hit was At the End of the Sunset Trail
in 1924, used as a theme for many years by cowboy singer Gene Autry
. But this first of his commercial compositions, Rattlesnake Rag
, saw limited distribution in the beginning in both rag and song form. A revamped version which was heavily arranged by Hanson Lou Busch
(and used here) was released in 1952 both in sheet form and on a recording by Busch as Joe "Fingers" Carr. Lou excised the repeat of the B section in the new key in favor of the opening theme, and his trio interlude is more "rattler-like" than the original. Busch's arrangement could also be subtitled The Relentless Rag
since it moves along with no real breaks at a pretty good pace. An original 1917 piano roll recording of the piece was also used in the 1980 Warren Beatty film, Reds
. Just don't get too rattled if you try to strike at it yourself.
Ms. Pollock was certainly a gifted pianist and interpreter, although not a prolific composer. This is, perhaps, her best known composition. There are suspicions about parts of it, and while not casting any definitive aspersions on a Julliard graduate, certain things should be noted for overall fairness. The opening section of Rooster Rag
bears a startling similarity to Artie Matthew's Pastime Rag #1
, with only mild differences in syncopation to the melodic line. In all fairness, Pollock presents a slightly more developed version of this strain with the obvious descending harmonic line to the seventh. The double-length B section is more original, and a delight to play with. Then we get back into the controversy. The trio bears a strong melodic similarity to Canadian Capers
from two years prior, although it has some rhythmic and voicing differences. One should take a lesson from the many cases of plagiarism heard in court over the past century (My Sweet Lord
/He's So Fine
comes to mind as does Avalon
) and know that such interpolations are sometimes subconscious. Given the differences rather than the similarities, one might extend reasonable doubt in favor of Pollock, whose performance of this piece most certainly swung a bit more than its predecessors. The repeat of the trio in this performance (a feature not present in the original sheet) is some homage to my friend Max Morath
and his brilliant take of the piece on his album The Ragtime Women
. And that's something to crow about!
Tiger Rag (Older)
Tiger Roll Rag
Tiger Rag (Recent)
Nick LaRocca, Larry Shields
and Henry Ragas - c. 1917
actually has a sort of nebulous genesis. The themes are culled from a well-known set of French Quadrilles, dance music in a structured format to provide variety. Members of what became the Original Dixieland Jazz Band
melded the best of the themes together and threw in a tiger roar at some point. It evolved into the Tiger Rag
most are now familiar with, although the original sheet music contains neither the roar or the oft-sung "Hold that tiger" theme. It has often been reported, without verification, that the tiger roar was derived by pianist "Jelly Roll" Morton
during a performance with the band. Being the creative type that can't stop at just plain adequate, I have added my own "original" introduction; it has little to do with the piece and is there largely to build tension. Listen for the various classical themes interspersed throughout the older and more recent versions of it. There is a much different vibe on my other version called the Tiger Roll Rag
, recorded for my Syncopated Safari
There is a case to be made for Mister Kaufman's works, of which Me-ow
is among the best known. He was able to capture the essence of the one-step, elements of ragtime, and even some novelty ideas, and simplify them to the point where the average pianist could catch on very quickly. While not as full sounding as instrumentals by some of his peers, particularly in the left hand, he still allowed access to the joys of playing dance music to a lot of people who were being faced with increasingly difficult ragtime, and now jazz and novelty piano arrangements. He also actually composed into many of the themes represented in the titles and on the covers, of which this cover is a gem. Even though one can hear elements of an insistent cat throughout the piece, it is explicitly noted that the Me-ows are in the trio, six to be precise. This is underscored in the lyrics by Harry D. Kerr
which were added in 1919. I have, as usual, expanded on the score, particularly in the interesting minor B section (he indicates ff
but I start out much more gently) and the rambunctious trio. By the way, kitties, this is a dance tune, not a rag, so grab your terrified cat and whirl kitty around the floor a couple of times before the fur flies.
Clarence Woods, although born in Ohio, spent his formative years in Carthage, Missouri, where much of my family is from. I managed to find some references to him (and James Scott
) during a search through old Jasper County directories and newspapers. His rag output was limited to but two pieces, of which Sleepy Hollow
is arguably the best. The title refers to an area outside of town near the Spring River that was comprised mostly of blacks. After listening to the A section it should be no surprise that Woods was also a silent movie pianist, in which tremolo was a staple effect. In order to properly execute the B section, the pianist needs to hold certain chords with the middle sostenuto pedal while playing the notes above it. That effect has been emulated here. The C section repeats with a much more lush variation of itself, and a tune that vaguely echoes the yet-to-be-written Makin' Whoopee
Much as was done with Disco in the 1970s and Rap in the 1990s, many composers took well known tunes and adapted them to Ragtime. This is fortunately one of the best and most enduring examples of this practice. Cobb was very adept at not only creating memorable tunes, but arranging them as well. The Russian Rag
, based on the Prelude in C# minor
by composer Sergei Rachmaninoff
, instantly became a hit with stage pianists, as they could display some flashiness while doing what they knew best (this author is guilty of the same!). It was so popular that in 1923 he retooled it as a novelty piece, The New Russian Rag
. I have altered the original a little bit and thrown in some extra Rachmaninoff. The A section starts out with the same theme as the opening of the original prelude. The B section is similarly based on one of the main themes. I have inserted an interlude from the original between B and the reiteration of A. The C section is nothing more than a reworking of the popular three over four pattern found throughout popular ragtime, but returns to an interesting interlude that links effectively with the repeat of the C section played more slowly. I also choose to end it with the original Prelude chords. Word has it that Rachmaninoff was aware of the adaptation, and only mildly amused by it. Nonplussed may be a more accurate description. If only he had been around for the Disco
era and Walter Murphy
Considering the large population of Irish immigrants in New York, Boston and Chicago, all major music publishing centers, and in light of all the great Irish songs and stage plays that were produced during the first two decades of the twentieth century, it is amazing there weren't more Irish rags. As a matter of fact, this is one of the only ones written, but cleverly so, as would be expected from Mr. Cobb. The taste exercised with the title of this piece is a little questionable, as the term Irish Confetti
typically refers to stones or gravel thrown at a demonstration. Billed as a "fox trot," the popular one-step of the day, the tune more resembles a syncopated jig than anything else. It certainly grabs the listener's attention right from the start, and contains enough stereotypical rhythms and patterns that one would agree it has "that Irish sound" about it. The opening strain is very indicative of the dance rhythms of Ireland, but the harmonic progression is actually very advanced, pushing this piece close to the novelty spectrum of writing. The B section uses a clever derivation of the circle of fifths, and the primary pattern can be played in the style of jazz breaks, which were quickly becoming popular, something that is demonstrated here on the repeat. The C section is less remarkable until the end, where it utilizes a jazz chord progression to work back into the opening strain. Shure that I'm green with envy that I didn't write this bugger. Still, you'll all be wearin' the grin before it's over!
Mel Kaufman was making a name for himself at this time, producing mostly dance tunes that were easy to play and easy to say, most (like Me-ow
or the circus standard Stop It
) with terse titles. The simplicity also sold his one-step melodies, of which this is one of his best, not too bad for a guy whose main career at that time was as a ladies undergarment salesperson, rather than as a musician. Initially self-published in New York, publisher Sam Fox
of Cleveland, Ohio, eventually took on a large body of Kaufman's pieces for his catalog. Taxi
has somewhat of an urban feel to it, forecasting a similar feel for the opening of
George Gershwin's An American in Paris
, complete with suggestions of automobile horns. The words "taxi" and "whistle" are actually printed in the score. Whether they were intended for the pianist alone or the audience is unclear. We hail the thing either way.
Vildkatten (Wild Cat)
Gerhard Jacobzon - 1920
With the huge success of Pee Wee Hunt's 1948 12th Street Rag
recording, as well as the world-wide distribution of the Honky Tonk Piano
LP by Capitol, ragtime became an item of great interest in Europe in particular. In truth, it was actually more popular there in the 1930s and 1940s than it was in the U.S. Even earlier than that, Jacobzon, a Swedish composer, came out with this "Fox Trot" which is really a rag, and appears to be the most popular of his composition. It was well recorded in Europe when the tune was republished in the 1950s. The A section is very clearly marked ppp
on the repeat, likely to provide contrast between the Wild Cat (not literally a cat) stalking its prey in the opening, and then pouncing with no mercy on the first two sfz
chords of the B section. Much of it seems to be modeled on George Botsford's Black and White Rag
, particularly the trio which has a similar melody and the same chord progression. Yet it remains original in many aspects. Not too sure what kind of katten that is on the cover, but a bobcat seems to come to mind. The lyrics, apparently added to the re-release (and a bit strong for the 1920s), strongly suggest a female that seduces then mentally devours her men with insanity. Perhaps this should be categorized as a Kat Trot?
James Price Johnson
Other than Carolina Shout
, the Johnson piece that most budding stride pianists clamored to learn note for note, this is one of the most awesome pieces of his early career. Mysteriously, like many great Johnson pieces, this one was never copyrighted or published. A listen to either this recording or his one and only live recording from 1921 may indicate why. While not impossible to notate, it would be difficult to translate many of the subtleties that exist in the recording into printed form. The piano roll is no less easy to follow. The left hand in Johnson's playing was very advanced, as indicated by recordings from as early as 1917. One of his trademark patterns when playing fast was the use of shifting left hand patterns, such as |Octave|Octave|Chord|Octave| Octave|Chord|Octave|Chord|. Johnson makes good use of the part of the circle of fifths in the A section. The B section has little in the way of melody, yet the rhythmic patterns and chord changes carry it through very well. The C section is the most melodic of the three, leading into an interlude comprised largely of chords. I suggest trying to find the Johnson recording of this, which is available on various CDs in current release. Then you will know what I'm up against in trying to emulate his playing!
A Handful Of Keys
Thomas Wright "Fats" Waller
Until March of 1929, Fats Waller was a virtual unknown. He had been doing some recording for the Victor Company in Camden, NJ, but much of his early volume of work was on the organ. Recognizing a musician with outstanding rhythm and talent, James P. Johnson
mentored Waller and help to wean him of the organ and onto the piano. Organists usually depend on their left foot for bass notes, so the right hand is not as rhythmically adept at the stride piano patterns if they don't also play piano. Waller's left hand was admittedly below par when he started with Johnson, but when he burst onto the scene with his initial series of piano recordings for Victor, and a number of piano rolls as well, he instantly drew recognition and a large fan base. A Handful Of Keys
starts out as a musical challenge, and grows in intensity and scope as it moves through. The primary theme is a simple scale pattern with a few improvisations worked around it. The second iteration features more of the left hand bass octave melody in the first sixteen measures. Of note on all of his recordings of this piece is the drive with which he launches into the B section. I have attempted to recreate this here. Believe me, the title is very indicative of the content.
Stompin' 'Em Down
Hill was the son of a pastor from Little Rock, Arkansas, who was trained in the classics and liturgical music. However, he caught the jazz bug in his youth, and to his parents' dismay set out on the road at age 16 to join a band and make popular music performance his career. After some years of struggle Alex found his niche in stride piano and jazz band arrangements. At 23 years of age he recorded this tantalizingly hot number, almost at the same time as his slightly older peer Thomas "Fats" Waller
was setting a new paradigm with his Handful of Keys
. He had the potential to be in the same place musically as Waller, and indeed did play and compose with the stride master (including I'm Crazy 'Bout My Baby
in 1935), but Hill preferred leading a jazz orchestra over solo piano performance. His consistently fine work helped to pave the way for other Negro arrangers, such as Fletcher Henderson
who had been doing similar work. After several years of constant engagements around New York Alex contracted tuberculosis and died at age 31 in his native Little Rock. An attempt has been made here to recreate the essence of his original performance with a few extra licks thrown in.
The Mule Walk or Mule Walk Stomp
James Price Johnson
- 1938 (c. 1913)
It is difficult to pinpoint a composition date for this rompin' stompin' tune, but it is likely that Johnson had been playing it many years before he recorded it in 1939. According to the folio Harlem Stride Piano Solos
, Johnson composed it based on a number of country and square dances while working at The Jungles Casino
around 1913. While it may not have been as developed as is heard by his recording in 1939, The Mule Walk
was certainly a prototype of stride piano, which had yet to develop. The beauty of this composition lies in the absolute simplicity of the A section, which hinges around two repeated notes. Add some attitude, and you've got a rent party ice breaker. The B section is more typical Johnson, similar to Carolina Shout
and Harlem Strut
in years to come, or perhaps adjusted after their composition to fit that mold. The trio is again simple, but more melodic than the rest of the piece. By the time this was first committed to acetate (or vinyl), Johnson was more heavily engaged in composing symphonic works, but renewed fame in the 1940s put him and his music back into the nightclubs playing for a new generation of stride enthusiasts. The number of variations on the A section included in this performance provide only a sampling of some of the best that have been recorded over the years.
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