Archive for the ‘piano’ Category

Greatest Ragtime Album of All Time
March 16, 2011

The greatest ragtime album of all time (in my opinion) is John Arpin’s "The Kings of Ragtime".

To fall into the "greatest of all time" category for anything demands a superb musical performance and John delivers that. What I like most about the album is that Arpin has selected a broad spectrum of composers that significantly influenced the ragtime era.

Kings of Ragtime

Composers include Joseph Lamb, James Scott, Eubie Blake and Scott Joplin among others.

John Arpin

John Francis Oscar Arpin (3 December 1936 – 8 November 2007) was a Canadian composer, recording artist and entertainer, best known for his work as a virtuoso ragtime pianist.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Arpin

John starts the album off with Eubie Blake’s "The Chevy Chase" from 1914. Eublie Blake came to the Toronto Ragtime Society’s annual Bash just before he passed away. I remember John playing the Chevy Chase back in 1983 with the same energy he put into this recording. He follows that with some Scott Joplin rags and then a very classical rendition of Joseph Lamb’s Ragtime Nightingale. Eubie Blake pronounced John Arpin "the Chopin of Ragtime" and you will hear why on this tune.

John then really mixes it up with George Gershwin‘s Rialto Ripples. Who knew Gershwin was into ragtime? He continues on with a variety of composers and then a two part rendition (blues/boogie) of W.C. Handy‘s "St. Louis Blues", a highlight of this album and of John Arpin’s concerts. Besides the St. Louis Blues, perhaps my favourite selection is William Bolcom‘s "Graceful Ghost". This modern day (1971) rag is so beautifully executed I would imagine that any pianist hearing it would add the Graceful Ghost to their bucket list of must learn songs.

The Kings of Ragtime is one of those rare albums that you never tire of hearing because of its variety and top notch performance. I highly recommend this album to ragtime enthusiasts and welcome comments from you about your favourite ragtime albums!

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A rag for Barack Obama
January 26, 2009

A rag for Obama? Why not? James Scott wrote the New Era Rag in 1919 in anticipation of the roaring twenties. Scott Joplin dedicated rags to specific people. Tom Turpin wrote the St. Louis rag for the World’s fair in 1904. This is my contribution to the exciting stage America and the world is entering. I have renamed my Vitality Rag to the Obama Vitality Rag in honour of this time.

More info:

Obama Vitality Rag

Ragtime is truly an American music that originated before the Great Depression. In the face of the current political and economic situation there have been many references to this period of time and to the first 100 days after President Franklin Roosevelt’s inauguration and the “New Deal” he pledged and delivered to the American people. President Barack Obama has overcome enormous obstacles to get where he is today and yet he faces even bigger challenges.

I hope you enjoy the tune!

A Blind Ragtimer?
February 7, 2008

Many of you have heard of blind pianists like Ray Charles, George Shearing, Ronnie Milsap and Art Tatum but did you know there was a blind ragtime composer?

Charles Hunter (1876-1906) was an American composer of ragtime music who was born almost totally blind.
He attended the School for the Blind in Nashville, Tennessee, where he learned the piano tuner’s trade. He went to work at the Jesse French Piano Company in Nashville.

Absorbing the folk strains of Nashville, he published his first rag, "Tickled to Death," in 1899, which became a hit. This was followed 1900 by "A Tennessee Tantilizer," and in 1901 by "Possum and Taters," "Cotton Bolls," and "Queen of Love."

Of these fine rags, my favourite is the "Possum and Taters". It is quite different than a Scott Joplin rag in that it relies more on melody than rhythm.

Possum and Taters Rag

I find the prominent single note melody that Hunter uses similar in style to that of Earl Hines "trumpet-style" piano-playing made famous in 1928.

The rag should be played with a clear statement of melody. The left hand should be present but slightly understated so as to not detract from the melody. Adding rubato, especially between strains, will give the piece a lilting character like a classical romantic piece. The piece sounds easier than it is to play properly, however, if you are a beginning ragtimer, this is a good introduction.

Charles Hunter lived only 30 years and produced a handful of rags, but the Possum and Taters will be remembered as a delicate piece of folk ragtime, a pleasure to play and hear.

Listen to Possum and Taters