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Saturday, July 23, 2016

Musical Interlude: Ragtime Piano

(For politics, please scroll down)

A little ragtime for this summer weekend:

Nothing says, "Summertime!" better than ragtime piano!


  1. Were you able to to find out when, where and by whom these particular rags were written?

    I can tell just from listening that these lack the technical demands of typical Joplin rags. The left hand parts are scaled down to a bare minimum. They use the narrowest possible range of the keyboard. In Joplin's work the left hand parts cover a much wider expanse. The right hand parts too tend to be more technically demanding and more complex.

    A classically-trained musician with good keyboard facility could easily IMPROVISE pieces like this without taking time to write them down.

    I've had limited experience playing ragtime –– namely The Maple Leaf Rag, the theme from The Sting, whose real name escapes me, and a couple of other selections from a standard Joplin collection. I used to include these in soms of my concerts when the popularity of Ragtime was revived because of The Sting.

    At any rate, I could improvise "Laendler" (slow waltzes of German origin) by the hour, because I've played virtually every one Schubert ever published, and I happen to love the genre. Schubert, who remained wretchedly poor throughout his all-too-brief life, was known to jot down some of his Laendler while eating and drinking in taverns. He offered these as payment for his food and drink.

    Ragtime evokes a summer mood for you, AOW, and I can understand why. The image is strong of big, wide open front porches hung with ferns and furnished with green painted wicker where families relaxed on summer evenings, and sipped iced tea or lemonade fanning themselves while greeting friends and neighbors passing by on an evening stroll.

    However, Ragtime originated in the brothels of St. Louis where Scotty Joplin eked out a living entertaining the customers on an upright piano. Once I learned that, I can never disassociate Ragtime with the always sad images of what life must have been like in the whorehouses of late, nineteenth-century America.

    1. I was unable to discover much of anything about these two rags. I suspect that. They are earlier rags and predate Joplin.

      Life in the whorehouses was terrible. Sadly, however working there was the only alternative to starvation for many.

      We differ on one matter: that of so strongly associating Ragtime with horrible conditions. I myself find it remarkable that such joyous music could spring from those conditions. Testimony to the resilience of the human spirit.

    2. I had a Scott Joplin Songbook years ago and learned The Entertainer (The Sting, FT) and Maple Leaf Rag and a couple others just to impress the chicks.
      But I always enjoyed playing them.

    3. You play piano, Ed? I had no idea. Good for you. If you could play those two pieces, you must be
      pretty good. ;-)

  2. It's GREAT fun to play this kind of music...I, too, relate it to joy and cleverness and a testament to the human spirit!

  3. Early pieces to be sure but a distinct American form.

    Take Maple Leaf Rag, toss in The Ma Grinder and mix with a Fast Santa Fe and eventually voila - Art Tatum.
    American music at its best.

    1. Your superficial bandying about of bits and pieces of acquired knowledge in an attempt to sound "erudite" is absolutely absurd, Canardo.

      The most irritating thing about you is not your incessant sneering or perverse, highly destructive, anti-American politics, rather it's the way you brazenly POSE as a person with superior knowledge and refined sensibilities when in fact you often don't have the faintest idea what you are taking about.

      You may take my word as a qualified expert with three degrees in the field that ART TATUM, one of the greatest piano virtuosi who ever lived –– whose pianistic facility has been considered by many noted classical pianists superior to that of Vladimir Horowitz –– drew little or no inspiration from Scott Joplin.

      Tatum was a JAZZ artist of great renown. His achievements were so remarkable they actually bridged the gap between "Classical Music" and Jazz. For extreme cleverness and sheer brilliance of execution Art Tatum had no equal.

      I have tremendous respect for Jazz –– a great, uniquely-American art form which –– unlike Ragtime, which is rhythmically square, painfully limited harmonically, and typically played at one dynamic level with rigid rhythmic inflexibility, little or no modulation, and without nuance or melodic inflection –– Jazz provides virtually unlimited possibilities for development, growth and expansion that emerged almost entirely from the American Black community. Debussy, Ravel, George Gershwin, Leonard Bernstein were heavily indebted to it, and openly grateful for it.

    2. ZING! Way to singe that quacker's tail feathers!

    3. FreeThinke rag dolled that duck real good!

    4. Oh my, FreeThinke is on the warpath, look out he's going to blow.

      For some reason he doesn't think the Harlem stride style didn't influence Tatum and he had no contact with stride players like Fats Waller or Willie Smith and in turn that stride style was partially rooted in ragtime.

    5. Duck,
      I daresay that FT knows more about music and musicology than you do.

      Besides, he's "Old School" by deliberate choice -- and extensive musical training.

    6. I dunno Tatum that well (I admire him, but I get more pleasure from less ornamental playing), but I think the line back to Joplin can be drawn. Tatum definitely played rags (it was his "Tiger Rag" that inspired a young Oscar Peterson, whom I love, to redouble his efforts), and he was a notable practitioner of stride (which grew from rag). Of course there were many influences and mastered many styles, so there are many such lines which we could choose to emphasise, but I don't think you can credibly deny that this line exists.

      Here's a pleasing bit of stride which might serve as a missing link between Joplin and Tatum


      I've only been talking about technique, but the more interesting side of the question is, might Tatum have been more taken with Joplin's lyrical qualities than with his keyboard style?

    7. Jez,

      It looks as if there is room for debate as to the link between Joplin and Tatum [jazz].

      I'm not a big fan of jazz, but tend to love Ragtime.

    8. Um, link between Ragtime and Boogie Woogie.

  4. Very good stuff. Thank you all!

    I even did a little research on some leads on Youtube and came up with this neat piece of like style ...

    1. That's BOOGIE-WOOGIE, Waylon. More related to JAZZ than RAGTIME. Boogie was all the rage when I was a little boy. I couldn't wait to learn something called BUMBLE BOOGIE, a flamboyant example of the genre very popular at the time. It was very challenging from the standpoint of piano technique.

      Definitely not for amateurs, though many tried it.

      FUN STUFF!

    2. Well, I was impressed by the piano player, Ethan Leinwand, playing in a Brooklyn piano bar. Had never heard of him before. And he doesn't have a lot of views on YouTube either.

    3. FT,
      Oh so long ago, I had a cousin who won piano contest after piano contest in boogie woogie. Benny Goodman offered her a job, but she turned him down because she had found the love of her life and decided not to pursue a career in music. She settled down and reared their children. No regrets, either.

  5. Joplin was the maestro of Ragtime music. I find his Rags much more difficult to play than the other Rags I've attempted. I'm particularly fond of Joplin's "Elite Syncopations" and "Swipsey."

  6. FT,
    Did you know that Joplin wrote an opera named Treemonisha? It didn't success in NYC during Joplin's life but was apparently quite the rage after the film The Sting, which revived Joplin's music in the latter part of the 20th Century.

    1. Who says an education in a whorehouse is of little value?

    2. Oh yes, I knew about "Treemonisha." It didn't succeed at first, because as an opera it just wan't much good. Its value lies in being a Musicological Curiosity to music historians and American History buffs in general.

      The Sting was THE main reason the American Public ever became aware of Scott Joplin and –– fleetingly –– interested in Ragtime music. The publication of E. L. Doctorow's depressing novel called Ragtime was another.

      In my highly-educated opinion the Liberal Media establishment PUSHED Scott Joplin primarily because he was a NEGRO. Treemonisha very likely would never have seen the light of day again after its initial failure , if Scott Joplin's story had not been politically useful to the Civil Rights Movement.

      I don't dislike piano rags, BUT –– based on objective, purely musical criteria the attempt to equate the phenomenon with High Art is ludicrous.

      Joplin was an unusually gifted man, who might have achieved a great deal more than he did, if he had not been held captive to racism and a painfully limited cultural background.

      The attempt to elevate his achievements to those of "America's Answer to Franz Schubert," etc. is politically motivated poppycock at best. It's NONSENSE.

    3. FT,
      I don't recall Joplin's story having been used during the Civil Rights Movement. Perhaps it was, and I don't recall.

      Has anyone attempted to elevate his achievements to those of "America's Answer to Franz Schubert"? If so, I missed that.

    4. Joshua Rifkin, a leading Joplin recording artist, wrote, "A pervasive sense of lyricism infuses his work, and even at his most high-spirited, he cannot repress a hint of melancholy or adversity ... He had little in common with the fast and flashy school of ragtime that grew up after him."

      Joplin historian Bill Ryerson adds that, "In the hands of authentic practitioners like Joplin, ragtime was a disciplined form capable of astonishing variety and subtlety ... Joplin did for the rag what Chopin did for the mazurka. His style ranged from tones of torment to stunning serenades that incorporated the bolero and the tango."

      Biographer Susan Curtis wrote that Joplin's music had helped to "...revolutionise American music and culture" by removing Victorian restraint."

      ~ WIKI

      This in my estimation is pompous, fallacious balderdash dreamt up to aggrandize the reputations of those promoting a politically tendentious, hoked up view of reality.

    5. FT,
      I agree with Rifkin that the music of Joplin isn't like the flashy Ragtime that came later. Joplin cautioned against the allegro playing of his compositions. I suspect that he favored phrasing -- although probably not to the level of Arpin's renditions.

      But the rest of that Wiki entry? WHAT A LOAD!

  7. I highly recommend this performance of Easy Winners by Canadian Ragtime pianist John Arpin.


    1. FT,

      Unlike so many pianists, Arpin doesn't rush the tempo.

    2. YES! And Arpin plays the phrases AS phrases, in other words he BREATHES with the music, and adds graceful nuances unlike most of the other Ragtime pianists who play on a mono-dynamic level with a relentless, mechanical, unvarying, machinelike, almost robotic approach.

      In short Arpin plays MUSICALLY.

      It's a shame his life was cut tragically short by cancer. But then Scott Joplin's life was cut short too –– probably by heartbreak at being forced to life in the dismal, septic environment he inhabited.

    3. FT,
      If I'm not mistaken, Joplin died of syphilitic dementia. He did have a nervous breakdown, which might have been caused by rhe syphilis (not congenital syphilis).

  8. Great choice. Haven't heard a good piece of rag in years.


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