Thursday, June 11, 2009
The ragtime boom of 100 years ago
Scott Joplin - Maple Leaf Rag (buy) (pub. 1899)
According to Wikipedia, "Ragtime (alternately spelled Ragged-time) is an originally American musical genre which enjoyed its peak popularity between 1897 and 1918. It began as dance music in the red-light districts of American cities such as St. Louis and New Orleans years before being published as popular sheet music for piano. It was a modification of the march made popular by John Philip Sousa, with additional polyrhythms coming from African music. The ragtime composer Scott Joplin became famous through the publication in 1899 of the "Maple Leaf Rag" and a string of ragtime hits that followed, although he was later forgotten by all but a small, dedicated community of ragtime aficionados until the major ragtime revival in the early 1970s". Please check out the article, it's really well made.
I love the sound of piano rolls and player pianos. Ragtime piano, first a written music, and especially Maple Leaf Rag, sounds better this way than when it's played live. You really get the 1900's picture I guess.
Here's a great jazz cover of this theme, by the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, an excellent white band from the early twenties :
New Orleans Rhythm Kings - Maple Leaf Rag (buy) (1923)
Jelly Roll Morton - Tom Cat Blues (buy)
Cow Cow Davenport - Mama Don't Allow Easy Riders (buy)(1929)
One of the first stars in early jazz, Jelly Roll Morton (photo) wrote some rags too. The second track, by Alabama-born Cow Cow Davenport, is a good example of ragtime when played by blues-boogie pianists : musically simplified but as lively and syncopated. That was really ragtime's main appeal : mixing classical melodies with syncopated rhythms. Like jazz, like the blues. It took what was best from European and African cultures.
Another style to integrate the ragtime idiom was the beautiful Piedmont blues from the Southern Atlantic coast (from Virginia to North Florida).
Guitar players like Blind Gary Davis, Blind Boy Fuller or Blind Willie McTell had numerous rags in their repertoire. But the undisputed "king of ragtime guitar" was Blind Blake, one of my all-time favorite guitarists and musicians, who really made his instrument sound like a piano. We'll come back to him, but everything by Blind Blake is worth buying.
Blind Blake - Southern Rag (buy) (1926)
Learn more about ragtime :
AMG review of The Greatest Ragtime Of the Century