Tuesday, March 20, 2007

This morning I was listening to a new Ragtime CD I picked up in the grocery store the other day. One piece in particular caught my ear and sent my spirits dancing. It is called Black and White Rag, and was written by George Botsford. In my opinion there is nothing like Ragtime to lighten dark clouds and make the sun shine brightly! When Husband came in to lunch I played it for him, and he liked it, but criticized "the vamping in the bass". He was startled at his choice of words, - the term "vamping" had entered his mind unbidden and from some knowledge from the time when he played the piano "piano roll style".

How fortunate we are to have Google, - immediately looked it up to find that "vamping" is indeed the art of providing rhythm back-up, and that the chick-boom beat is particular to ragtime. Although the right hand melody of this performance had a wonderful lift, and was played at a dizzying speed Husband's great ear picked up a weakness in the bass. Now my ear is not as good as his, and so I will probably continue to enjoy The Black and White Rag with more gusto than he will.

Ragtime is medicinal in this household. It acts like an anti-depressant. The Brand we use by preference is the Scott Joplin product, but any Ragtime is joy to our hearts and causes twinkling toes and racing fingers.

Scott Joplin was not the originator of Ragtime. It was already played by many musicians, and other composers had already published piano rags before Joplin. But the piano rags of Scott Joplin were of such high quality that they were popular for decades. Many of the best-selling rolls for player-piano were ragtime, and this is where Husband learned to play many of the popular 1920's pieces that were in his repertoire, - Alexander's Ragtime Band, You made me Love You, The Dark Town Strutter's Ball, - and many more.

Scott Joplin, whose ragtime is classified as "Classical Ragtime" and who was first introduced to me by Husband's Sister. She played his music with great technique and marvelous abandonment. When she sent me a book of his complete music I immediately started practising - much more slowly than she played, but gradually with increasing skill. This book is never far from the piano, and always available as a pick-me-up when we begin to feel weak and aged!!!!

For a while, beginning in the twenties when jazz was the genre of the day, Ragtime was less popular, but it continued to be performed and recorded and had a major influence on early jazz greats. In the 1940's there was a slow revival until in 1973 the movie "The Sting" reintroduced ragtime to the general public and it has become once again popular with musicians and audiences.(ah, the music and the men in The Sting - Solace, The Entertainer, Robert Redford and Paul Newman (sigh) Ragtime has also "gained respect and recognition as an art that produced works of true genius." And it's so much fun!!!!

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