Archive for the ‘rag’ 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.


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!

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

Spotlight on Nightingale Rag
September 21, 2007

The Nightingale Rag was published by Joseph Lamb in 1915. It is Classic ragtime at its finest.

Note: The Illustration contains the name Nightingale Rag but the Sheet Music is titled Ragtime Nightingale.

I first heard John Arpin perform the Nightingale Rag on CBC Radio some 25 years ago. I was moved by the lyrical beauty of the tune and Mr. Arpin’s interpretation.

Nightingale Rag

Joseph Francis Lamb (December 6, 1887 – September 3, 1960) was a noted American composer of ragtime music.

Joseph Lamb was interviewed and recorded in his home August 12 and 22, 1959 on Folkways Record FG 3562. In that interview he says he was influenced by James Scott’s Ragtime Oriole so he thought he should be able to write about a Nightingale. He "borrowed" an 8 note bass phrase from one of the selections in The Etude magazine to begin his piece. He said he didn’t have the slightest idea of how a Nightingale sounded but he added some bird noises. He was particularly fond of some "bird" sounds he heard in Ethelbert Woodbridge Nevin’s Nightingale Song and used that as the introduction to the last strain.

Like Joplin’s rags, the Nightingale is separated into strains but instead of the traditional 4 strains, Lamb used 3 strains, repeating the first strain as per usual but closed with the majestic second strain.

The piece has a very classical sound and is more difficult to play than it sounds. Interestingly enough, it is now included in the piano syllabus for the Royal Conservatory of Music (Canada).

Listen to Nightingale Rag