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

Comparison of Ragtime styles and interpretations
March 5, 2007

They all played the Maple Leaf Rag

“They all played the Maple Leaf Rag” is an album that both ragtime enthusiasts and those new to ragtjme will enjoy. There are 15 different interpretations of Scott Joplin’s 1899 Maple Leaf Rag, all recorded between 1907 and 1969. If you aren’t familiar with the original tune, I recommend listening to Ralph Sutton’s 1950 version first. Although none of the recordings on this album follow the sheet music score exactly, this is probably the most accurate. There are a variety of artists who have been captured here including Jelly Roll Morton, Willie the Lion Smith, James P. Johnson, Eubie Blake and my favourite, Sidney Bechet’s New Orleans Fleetwarmers with Bechet doing a killer job on soprano sax. Jelly Roll Morton also provides an interesting insight in the different ragtime styles that existed within America. He first plays it in the traditional Joplin style, popular in and around St. Louis and then in his own New Orleans style, quite different but equally as good.

I recently saw an extended CD version of this album at David Jasen’s Archive Productions website.

You don’t have to know anything about ragtime to appreciate this collection!

Definition of ragtime
February 14, 2007

Ragtime flourished from the mid 1890’s until around 1920. It was predominently sheet written music and was distributed before the days of recording. Pianos were as common as TVs are today so sheet music sales were huge.

I play “Classical Ragtime”, a structured style developed by several composers including Scott Joplin, Joseph Lamb, Tom Turpin and James Scott.

Although not the first rag written or published, Maple Leaf Rag did become the first instrumental piece to sell over one million copies The rag was named after the Maple Leaf Club in Sedalia, Missouri.

Sales of Maple Leaf and subsequent rags earned Joplin his “King of Ragtime” reputation, and enabled the publisher John Stark to move his company to St. Louis, then later New York.

Scott Joplin was the most famous ragtime composer. Scott Joplin lived from 1868-1917. He wrote many rags, marches, waltzes and even an opera.

His music was featured in the 1973 movie “The Sting” including the song “The Entertainer” as well as many others.

Wiki’s view

Ragtime is an American musical genre which enjoyed its peak popularity between 1899 and 1918. It has had several periods of revival since then and is still being composed today. Ragtime was the first truly American musical genre, predating jazz. It began as dance music in popular music settings years before being published as popular sheet music for piano.

[Source and more:]

Ross the artist
February 13, 2007

I have performed at many functions in the Kingston area for over 20 years. I developed a love for Ragtime in 1982 when I became hooked on the Classic Piano Ragtime book by Rudi Blesh. I studied under John Arpin, Toronto’s great pianist and President of the Toronto Ragtime Society at the time.

One of my highlights was playing for Princess Diana on her visit to Kingston in October 1991.

I have worked several drummers in the past and I still work occasionally with Doctor Drums. I have been a member of the Ragtime Society in Toronto and the Kingston Musician’s Union Local 518.

In 2009, I finished a 20 year gig as “The Ragtime Kidd” performing as the house pianist at the Holiday Inn Kingston, Ontario, Canada.

I look forward to sharing my thoughts and appreciation for ragtime with all of you!