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!

What is Classic Ragtime?
June 11, 2007

Classic Ragtime is essentially sheet written ragtime music that peaked in popularity around the period 1897-1917. Classic Ragtime resembled classical music in that it was what I call "note perfect". i.e. you could interpret the composer’s work but it would not be considered "Classic" if you improvised on it. Invariably the left hand marked time by playing even eighth notes while the right hand added syncopated melodies.

The pieces are usually broken into 4 sections or strains but there are exceptions. The first strain would repeat once in the middle.

The most standard structure of a Classic Rag followed this format:

A / A / B / B / A / C / C / D / D /

Scott Joplin
Scott Joplin

Almost all Scott Joplin Rags adopted this structure. Other prominent ragtime writers like James Scott, Joseph Lamb and Tom Turpin tended to stay closely to this structure.

Scott Joplin wrote many rags, marches, waltzes and even an opera.

It is interesting to note that almost all jazz standards that followed in the 30’s and 40’s also adopted a standard format. In that case the format was:

A / A / B / A /

The sheet music was accompanied by a colourful and eye-catching cover. Entire books have been written documenting the stories behind these covers. Here are a few examples:

Classic Ragtime Covers