Tag Archives: Ragtime

James Reese Europe, ragtime hero

James Reese Europe was a composer, conductor, and organizer of the Black community. A pioneer in jazz, he led the Clef Club Orchestra and other organizations in New York, and during World War I his 369th Infantry Regiment “Hellfighters” band was among the first exporters of jazz to Europe.

Working with Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake, Europe was a prominent figure in Black musical theater. He also worked with Harry T. Burleigh and Will Marion Cook, as well as the dancers Vernon and Irene Castle. His career was cut short in 1919, when he was murdered by a member of his own orchestra.

This according to A life in ragtime: A biography of James Reese Europe by Reid Badger (New York: Oxford, 1995).

Today would have been Europe’s 140th birthday! Below, one of his signature hits—W.C. Handy’s Memphis blues.


BONUS: A brief documentary focusing on Europe’s military career.

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Filed under Jazz and blues, Performers

Eubie Blake’s second act

eubieblakeEubie Blake enjoyed a rewarding career in the 1910s and 1920s with his lifelong friend and lyricist Noble Sissle, both as the duo Sissle and Blake, the most successful black act of their time, and as songwriters for landmark musicals—most notably Shuffle along (1921), which included their most enduring number, I’m just wild about Harry.

Blake continued to compose songs for revues through the 1930s and 1940s, although none of his ventures reached the level of success that he experienced in the 1920s. But the ragtime revival of the 1950s kindled new interest in his talents, and he began playing and composing ragtime pieces.

In 1969 Columbia issued a two-LP set, The 86 years of Eubie Blake, featuring both his ragtime and his show music (along with a reunion with Sissle), which helped to renew interest in his work. During the last decades of his life Blake had his own record label, and his songs returned to Broadway in the anthology revue Eubie!(1978), which ran for 439 performances. The show’s namesake attended several times and performed a few songs on opening night.

This according to “Eubie Blake” by David A. Jasen, an article in Tin Pan Alley: An encyclopedia of the golden age of American song (New York: Routledge, 2012, pp. 47–48); this resource is one of many included in RILM music encyclopedias, an ever-expanding full-text compilation of reference works.

Today is Blake’s 130th birthday! Below, performing in 1972.

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Filed under Jazz and blues, Performers, Popular music

Jelly Roll Morton and Frog-i-More

jelly roll morton

Jelly Roll Morton probably wrote Frog-i-More rag in 1908 to accompany a fellow vaudevillian known as Frog-i-More, a contortionist who performed in a frog costume, but he did not deposit the music for copyright until 1918 for fear that any form of public record was an invitation to purloin his ideas.

Morton’s piano style and musical greatness are nowhere better demonstrated. All of the most typical features are abundantly evident: his wealth of melodic invention and skill in variation; the tremendous swing; his feeling for formal design and attention to detail; his effective use of pianistic resources; the contrasts of subtle elegance with hard hitting drive; and the variety of harmony yet freedom from complication and superficial display.

This according to “Jelly Roll Morton and the Frog-i-More rag” by William Russell, an essay included in The art of jazz: Essays on the nature and development of jazz (New York: Oxford University Press, 1959, pp. 35–36).

Today is Morton’s 135th birthday! Below, a performance of the piece via mediated piano roll.

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Filed under Jazz and blues

Sit down, shut up, and listen to ragtime


The ragtime pianist Bob Milne described a typical moment in his career during an oral history interview at the Library of Congress in 2004:

“I recently—well, three years ago or somethlng—played in Billings, Montana for the installation of the Shriners’ Grand Potentate. And the Shriners were all out there sitting at round tables; it was all black tie and tuxedo and gowns, and I’m up on the stage playing. Well, there’s this one table of Shriners that must have stopped somewhere else on their way to the dinner, because they were a little bit out of control; they were laughing and joking and slapping each other on the back…and I’m playing the piano, and these guys are a distraction. “

“So…I could see the Grand Potentate sitting there, and he was obviously concerned with these guys, so I decided, well…. See, something in the piano business is that, whenever someone like this appears on the scene, all the customers want…they want to see someone handle the situation. They don’t want to themselves; they’re too timid. So I realized a long time ago, it’s the job of the piano player—deal with it! So I have never been afraid to deal with these people on any level. “

“So what I did was, I was up on a stage, and they were over there, and I had a cordless mic. So, I stood up after playing this tune, and they’re all over here, ‘Wah-ha-ha, Ha haw haw…’ going on like this; they’re standing up.”

“So I took the mike, and I said ‘Ladies and gentlemen, the next tune that I’m going to play for you is the St. Louis Rag. It was written by Tom Turpin, who owned the Rosebud Bar in St. Louis; from 1900 to 1908, Scott Joplin hung out in the bar.’”

“And as I was saying this, I was walking over to this corner of the stage—there are little stairs going down—and I said, ‘The Rosebud Bar was an Institution in St. Louis, because people would come up the rivers, down the rivers…people would all go to the Rosebud’—and by now I was standing next to these guys—and I said [getting louder on each word until he is shouting] ‘They would go to the Rosebud, where they would all SIT DOWN, SHUT UP, AND LISTEN TO RAGTIME!’”

“They sat down and shut up. The Po­tentate almost fell over backward in his chair laughing, and I just went back up on the stage and continued. But to me, that’s just business as normal!”

This according to “‘Sit down, shut up, and listen to ragtime’: Bob Milne and the occupational folklore of the traveling piano player” by Jennifer Cutting and Stephen Winick (Folklife Center news XXIX/1–2 [winter–spring 2007] pp. 15–17). Above and below, Mr. Milne plies his trade.

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Filed under Humor, Jazz and blues

Ragtime rants

A pair of brief unattributed articles appeared in the July 1901 issue of American musician to articulate opposing viewpoints on ragtime, which had become increasingly popular since the late 19th century.

War on ragtime denounced the genre in no uncertain terms: “The ragtime craze has lowered the standards of American music as compared with other countries…we will not give way to a popular demand that is degrading.”

Suppression of ragtime expressed a more lighthearted view:

“Last week a national association of musicians in convention at Denver solemnly swore to play no ragtime, and to do all in their power to counteract the pernicious influence exerted by Mr. Johnson, My ragtime lady, and others of the Negro school…

“But the people do not want to be educated all the time…Their great desire with music is to be pleased—to forget for a time that there is anything in this world but sunshine and laughter, and birds and flowers and purling brooks.

“And they find all those things in the homely and catchy pieces that quicken the heart-beats and make the nerves tingle with delight; yes, in ragtime, bubbling, frothing, sparkling; as light as a summer breeze and as sweet as woman’s kiss.”

This courtesy of “War on ragtime and Suppression of ragtime” in From jubilee to hip hop: Readings in African American music, edited by Kip Lornell (Upper Saddle River: Prentice-Hall, 2010), pp. 23–25. Below, Jelly Roll Morton plays the ragtime classic Shreveport stomp via piano roll.


Filed under Jazz and blues, Popular music, Reception

Grooves: Edizioni di Musiche Audiotattili

Libreria Musicale Italiana inaugurated the series Grooves: Edizioni di Musiche Audiotattili in 2011 with Jelly Roll Morton, la Old qaudrille e Tiger rag: Una revisione storiografica by Vincenzo Caporaletti. The book explores the longstanding question of whether Morton composed Tiger rag, which he claimed he adapted from an old quadrille, despite its having been copyrighted by Nick La Rocca.

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Filed under Jazz and blues, New series