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Dicty's on Seventh Avenue
After a long career that started with writing ragtime and supposedly ended after a string of successful songs and musicals co-written with partner Noble Sissle
, Eubie retired from performance and composition in his sixties to a life of leisure. Really? The renewed interest in ragtime that was prompted by the Rudi Blesh
and Harriet Janis
book They All Played Ragtime
(1950) in which Eubie provided much valuable information about ragtime and those who created it, may have also renewed Blake's interest in the genre as well. Rolling back to 1945, one of Eubie's first goals in pseudo-retirement was to become more musically educated. So he went to school to learn music theory and ended up taking classes learning the Schillinger composition system. Joseph Schillinger
(1891-1943) had created an innovative theory of composition in which certain elements of rhythm, melody and harmony were simplified into mathematical and geometric relationships. In fact, he actually created a catalog of all of the possible results of these relationships. Eubie took quickly to the methodology and completed the four year course in two years. To codify this knowledge Eubie composed what he called his thesis paper on the topic, Dicty's on Seventh Avenue
. This and They All Played Ragtime
sparked the beginning of his second career as a professional ragtime pianist that would last until his death at 100. Dicty's
is full of interesting chord progressions and voicings, but also has a great deal of that "Eubie touch" that is so distinctive. While I have heard it played (even by the composer) at a pretty good clip, I have found that slower performances (as I first heard it) actually allow the harmonic complexities to better present themselves. I also include a return to the A section to present a tidier ending, including the cool riff that opens the piece. Incidentally, a "dicty" was described by Blake as a social "swell" or "dude" that hung out on the corners along Seventh Avenue, although for what purpose is unclear.
Born Gilbert Lieberknecht in the south of the Bay Area in California, Gil Lieby was part of a musical family. Both of his parents played the zither and other assorted instruments. After his mother died when he was 14, Gil and his father Henry moved to Omaha where he stayed for the rest of his life. He discovered ragtime during the mid-1950s and the honky-tonk piano craze, and after hearing Bob Darch
play ragtime live decided to play and write his own works. When the second ragtime revival was just gaining some footing in the mid-1960s, Gil wrote this triumphant and vivacious piece to commemorate the famous Goldenrod Showboat
built in 1909, which had been restored in the early 1960s through the efforts of Trebor Tichenor
, Dave Jasen
and others. It was seen on the Mississippi River around the St. Louis area for many years, hosting ragtime festivals and always featuring good times and good music, which is reflected in this rag. While this performance if fairly respective of the score, I do throw in one key change suggested by Marty Mincer
, one of the first to record this piece on a CD commissioned by the composer. Incidentally, this was, according to some reliable sources, the very boat that inspired Edna Ferber
to write her novel Showboat
, which became the famous Jerome Kern
musical in the 1920s. After three decades in St. Louis the Goldenrod was moved to the Missouri River in 1990 and renovated once again. It was also registered as a National Historic Landmark. Sadly, as of 2008, the year that Gil passed away, the Goldenrod was sitting on the Illinois River with its future in doubt, perhaps to be burned to its hull. Continued court battles keep the status of this ship up in the air, and unless some other concern purchases it this piece of American and Ragtime music history may disappear. Hopefully through the efforts of Gil and others it will still be long remembered.
Graceful Ghost Rag
Pianist and composer William Bolcom has been responsible for a large volume of music in many different realms, including neo-classical, stage, orchestral and choral. He currently continues to perform with his vocalist wife, Joan Morris
, with whom he has recorded some marvelous interpretations of ragtime songs and contemporary art song selections. Mr. Bolcom has even distinguished himself by winning the Pulitzer Prize
for music with his 12 New Etudes for Piano
in 1988. But ragtime devotees admire, more than any other piece Bolcom has composed, including many piano rags, Graceful Ghost Rag
. This marvelous piece, which has a story behind it of course, was first published separately in 1970, then as part of a suite of two other rags from the same time frame in 3 Ghost Rags
in 1981. All three of the rags are presented here in the same order as they appear in the published suite.
Graceful Ghost Rag (1970)
was composed, as Bolcom states it, "as a reminiscence of" his father. It was designed to expand on possible extensions of composer Louis Chauvin's
French Creole qualities, as scantly displayed in that composer's sole existing publication, Heliotrope Bouquet
. The rag begins with no introduction, suggesting both Db major and Bb minor tonalities until the very end of the first section, when it settles into the minor. I offer an alternately suggested progression in the repeat. The second ending is an elision, or a shared measure, that is both the end of A and the beginning of B. A number of syncopations forecast the harmonic changes that follow providing a fascinating trip through varying temporary keys until it works its way back to Bb minor. Then the fun begins in the gentle Gb trio, a key rarely seen in rags since Joseph Lamb's Excelsior
in 1909. This section never fully resolves back to its tonic, yet still provides a truly graceful flow evocative of the title, subtly leading us back into the opening theme. I tried to give my own composition The Necromancer
some of the same flavor found in this landmark piece. There has long been the issue of how to play this piece; with swing or without swing. Sitting on the fence where this topic is concerned, I choose - both, which is used effectively for contrast here, since both work, and both reflect varying performances by the composer as well.
The Poltergeist - A Ragtime Fantasy (1971)
was composed near a graveyard during a visit by Bolcom with a girlfriend of the time (an odd date, but who am I to say?) It picks up where Graceful Ghost Rag
leaves off, which is six flats (augh), moving to seven halfway through (eew), but it actually falls nicely under the hands. It is fascinating in the use of coherent yet wide-ranging chord changes and deliberate dynamic contrast throughout. The closest one might come to describing style would be somewhere in the realm of techno-rag. Of note is the use of stop-time in parts of the rag, particularly latter part of the piece, one of many variations on the B section, where the repeat omits phrases played the first time through. The effect of the piece as a whole is disarming to say the least, and can leave both listener and pianist stunned if done properly. I know that if I heard this piece coming out of my piano by itself that I would be very wary of what was IN the piano.
Dream Shadows (1970)
is a rag with multiple personalities. Played straight it is a modernistic sounding syncopation. Add a little swing, as was done here, and you have a piece that evokes slow stride bass with jazz textures and harmonies ranging from Bix Beiderbecke
to Thelonious Monk
, with heavy emphasis on Monk. As with the other two ghost rags, it is very carefully and deliberately notated, which can be challenging, but also facilitates a more accurate interpretation of the composer's intent. I am fortunate to have a span of an eleventh when stretched, necessary for some of the left hand chords in the B section. The trio is evocative of 1930s ballads in many ways. Tacked on to the reiteration of the B section is a fascinating extended coda that seems to contain thoughts that perhaps the composer couldn't fit in elsewhere. The entire piece is marked by relatively soft dynamics, which gives a beautiful palette of lush sound evocative of the title.
Rhapsody In Ragtime
When Terry Waldo sat down with Eubie around 1973 to put together a portfolio of some of his pieces with an accompanying bio, it was in some ways similar to the "rediscovery" of Joseph Lamb in the late 1950s. Eubie played many pieces for Waldo that were written well after his peak during the decades of ragtime and early jazz, and even after a successful career as a composer for stage shows. Among them were Eubie's Classical Rag
, Tricky Fingers
, and Rhapsody in Ragtime
. Blake said he had long been appreciative of several facets of classical music, and tried to incorporate them into some of his later pieces. There are lots of interesting motifs throughout this "rhapsody", liberal doses of rubato, and a consistent return to the initial theme. This recording of Rhapsody
is a paraphrase of the transcription, which was taken from a piano roll that Eubie had cut of it. It is a challenge due to a large number of tempo changes and some rather hefty patterns of moving tenths in the left hand. If you want to know how a 90-year-old man could play it, just look at the accompanying cover picture. I recommend Waldo's book of transcriptions for anybody who wants to study Eubie's purely unique style.
Sue Keller - 1983
I first met Sue Keller (now Keller-Vigorita) at the World Championship of Old Time Piano
in 1988, when she attended with her parents who had been there previously. She played quite well back then and showed a real passion for ragtime done right that continues to this day. Sue has told me about the enjoyable times she spent in Cape Cod, Massachusetts both in residence and during subsequent visits, and how inspiring the environs could be at times. It was there in Centerville in 1983 that she wrote this keyboard romp, named after the abandoned cranberry bog behind her house. I've been there and it's hard to miss the cranberries growing all over the area. I was entranced when I first heard it and helped to notate it. (It has since been engraved by her own publishing company). It was berry good! Make no mistake that it is a rag in format but with a bit of a stride feel in places. The rising progression in the B section builds up a good head of steam dynamically, and the variances in syncopation within are well thought out. The opening of the trio is elegantly simple, and soon works into a tricky descending pattern for contrast in its second half. After a reiteration of the B section she closes out with a variation on the introduction. It's hard to improve on this juicy piece, so instead I've just adapted it somewhat to my style. Please visit her site, The Ragtime Press
, where you can purchase a copy of this piece and listen to some of her other works as well.
The Hanon Rag
Written by the myself as part of a college composition class, Hanon Rag
is an antidote to those who have had to suffer long and tedious hours plowing through this ubiquitous set of finger dexterity exercises. They were initially released in a book titled The Virtuoso Pianist
around 1873 by Charles-Louis Hanon
, a French composer. The collection is divided into three sections, each focused on a different area of technique and development, and all with the common goal of developing finger dexterity equally to all eight fingers and the thumbs. The Hanon Rag
includes snippets from at least four or five exercise (who knows, they all sound kinda the same after a while), including minor variations of them in the C interlude. This piece has also been recorded by my friend and prolific artist, "Ragtime" Sue Keller
, among others, and was included in at least a couple of editions of the old computer game Doom
. The cover should look kind of familiar as well, but not quite. Don't take it TOO seriously, but remember the old Latin saying: "Playeth Ragtime Welleth".
Blood On The Keys
This composition was actually inspired by the title, which was suggested to me by "Ragtime" Sue Keller
one afternoon... actually as a title for something she wanted to write. Sooooo.. I stole a bit of her thunder (the admission is a form of contrition!), as well as the title (I am still
apologizing to her) and ran with it (it's a great
title Sue!). For no known coherent reason, the first theme that came to me was the ubiquitous Yo Ho Ho And a Bottle of Rum
, a true classic associated with pirates of the sort that haunted the southeastern coast of the United States and the Caribbean in the seventeenth century. So I chugged a bit of rum (and raisin ice cream, that is), expanded on that theme, and out it came. Note how no section actually resolves until the end of the piece, as each one leads into the next through chord changes or an elision. The left hand runs in the C section will actually produce the desired(?) effect as suggested by the title, if it is played with force and true dedication. I have heard this performed in a few places by my ragtime friends, and it hurts even then to hear it.
A Nocturne In Ragtime
I have long been enamored with the haunting and flowing melodies of the 19 (+2 posthumous) Nocturnes
of Fredric Chopin
. Part of the romantic in me, I guess. "Nocturne" is Italian for "night tunes" and implies the pieces to be "night music." While Chopin did not introduce the nocturne format (British composer John Fields
preceded him by some twenty years), he certainly championed it and became its primary representative. So when I was looking for an unusual premise for a rag, I challenged myself with the goal of adapting a nocturne melody into ragtime, or vice-versa as the case turned out. The primary motifs are reminiscent of Chopin, but otherwise original themes. In order to fit the true nocturne style into this format, the first section had to be divided into halves. The first half in 4/4 is clearly more classical, followed by a 2/4 section that is obviously ragtime in nature. The C section never actually resolves fully, creating an elision into the romantic/ragtime climactic interlude, and ultimately back into the initial nocturne theme. I highly recommend obtaining Artur Rubinstein's
1967 cycle of the Chopin Nocturnes
for an awesome listening experience. As with Chopin's nocturnes, this piece is best enjoyed in the evening hours.
The Mechanic's Rag
Marty Mincer is an Iowa apple farmer that happens to play championship level ragtime. He has twice been the World Champion of Old Time Piano Playing. Marty enjoys being a farmer because it allows him to be "out-standing in his field." Actually, he has been playing ragtime most of his life, as has the "Perfessor". I helped him transcribe this composition and designed the initial cover, but he did the hard work in writing it. It could be classified as a modern folk rag, because the themes contained within reflect the style of folk tunes from the area of southwest Iowa and western Missouri. The A melody is simple, but contains enough syncopation to give it some punch. The B section actually comes across as an extension of A, accidentally or not. In the C section, the omnipresent three over four pattern is found with a slight variation from what is expected. This is certainly not a rag for those who are "mechanically disinclined"!
Lawrence "Buck" Kelly was a great musical friend of mine. He played banjo all over the world, including for Disney, across the European continent, and for anyone who would listen. I met and worked with him in Alexandria, Virginia, but only had five years of his time, as he died of cancer in 1990 at the age of 47. Buck was a true inspiration to me, and gave me sound and worthwhile advice, even if it was hard to listen to. He often told me to "just play the damn piano and keep your mouth shut," which was good advice at that time in my life. I composed this piece for the celebration of his life that followed his funeral, and had the privilege of playing it that day. It is a traditional cakewalk with some non-traditional chord progressions, and is based partly on one of his favorite tunes, Little Rock Getaway
. I have published it as both a piano solo and a piano/bass/banjo trio, the latter which is represented here.
The Piano Tuner's Nightmare
"Thumbs" Malone - 1911/rediscovered 1990
Terwilliger "Thumbs" Malone
is one of the thankfully more obscure characters of the Los Angeles ragtime scene (as if there was one of significance)! As it turns out, I am the only historian who has wasted any amount of effort finding out what I could about him (a biography is forthcoming). He had a propensity for writing rags way out of the mainstream, and was even known to have written a ragtime operetta called "Dirty Laundry - a Soapy Opera". This particular piece was composed to annoy rowdy patrons in the bars that Thumbs would perform in in downtown Los Angeles or San Diego. He would detune G5 (1 1/2 octaves above middle C), and the note would grow progressively worse out of tune throughout the rag; partially because there were increasing repetitions of it as the piece progressed. In the end, he would finally stop the piece just short of the ending, tune the errant G, and finish out in another key that did not require the use of that note. Listen for a clear plagiarism, er... quote of Poet and Peasant
among other themes. (Please note that I have been a piano technician by trade, and that doing to much tuning to a single peg repeatedly will
loosen it. So try this at somebody else's home.)
Pride of the Prairie
Having been a participant in the World Championship of Old Time Piano Playing
for well over a decade, I have made many excursions to Decatur, Illinois. At each entrance to Decatur the signs proclaim it as the "Pride of the Prairie." So when I decided to write a rag for the 1999 New Rag Contest, this title suggested itself. There was a song with a similar title published in 1908, but this rag is in a different vein and without lyrics. I set out to create a classic rag using the guidelines set by the compositional style of Joseph Lamb
, including eight measure phrases where possible, and other points of continuity. The unusual moving break in the middle of the C section is actually more indicative of advanced Joplin rags, and gives a temporary sense of a transition back into the opening key of Bb instead of the new key of Eb. The D section is a loose interpolation of the chorus of America the Beautiful
("the fruited plains" or prairie), and is a full 32 bar section by necessity, with a coda derived from the A section. The cover art is meant to reflect the nearly-lost art of eye-catching sheet music covers. This rag was well received in its first public performance, and I hope you enjoy it as well.
The Ragtime Pamela
Another gem composed for the World Championship of Old Time Piano Playing
New Rag Contest new rag contest, I decided to pay tribute to my rag-crazy spouse. I had wanted to write a "lady rag" for some time, so titling it was easy (that is, after I was dutifully informed that old girlfriend's names were taboo)! Like her, it is a feisty number full of spunk. The A section evolved from somewhere between the popular rags of Botsford
and some honky-tonk stylings used during the 1950s revival. There is also a little novelty lick or two dwelling within. The B section, while rhythmically tied to A, harkens more to some of the great minor sections from classics like Scott Joplin's New Rag
. The trio is clearly influenced by 1920s traditional jazz, and even uses the Charleston rhythm in the repeat. The contrary scale pattern was used in several 1920s novelty pieces as well. While it didn't win (I hadn't learned it too well), it did a respectable second, and I have since been asked for it by name. Right honey?
The Necromancer - A Mystic Syncopation
is a kind of sorcerer who dabbles in mystic arts and future events, and who communicates with the world of the dead. I had this title in mind for a number of years, but just needed the right themes to fit it. Inspiration came from many sources, including The Alchemist
by Glenn Jenks
, the Ghost Rags
by Bill Bolcom
, and Paul Dukas'
immortal Sorcerer's Apprentice
. The first two served as models only, but the last one actually makes a brief appearance within. The opening is mildly dissonant and sets up the first strain, which falls in and out of dissonant patterns. The B section holds more to classic rag format, but dropping the traditional left hand bass-chord pattern in favor of a syncopated flowing bass. The trio moves from 2/4 into a 12/8 feel, with one of the better-known patterns from the Dukas
composition anchoring the melody. Note the arhythmic use of that pattern in bars 13/14, and the descending diminished chords heard in the introduction to Sorcerer's Apprentice
. A return to the opening pattern leads into a mystical extended ending. The Necromancer
won the 2001 New Rag Contest
at the World Championship of Old-Time Piano Playing
now held in Peoria, Illinois. The cover painting, Deliberation
, was given to me by former Washington Redskin running back turned painter/sculptor George Nock
Wiener Schnitzel Rag
Tasty Wiener Schnitzel Recipe
Wiener Schnitzel Rag was composed for, or rather appeared in my head one night just a week ahead of the 2002 World Championship of Old-Time Piano Playing
in Peoria, Illinois, in which it won the new rag contest. When I say it "appeared" to me it is in the literal sense. In much the way Paul McCartney tried to figure out how Yesterday
just popped into his head one morning, I tried to figure out how to get this tune OUT of my head (it is certainly NOT Yesterday
), especially since I already had another perfectly fine piece I had been working on for the contest. But the tune persisted. And I did as well in my efforts to ignore it. The rag finally won me over, as well as the judges. Since the opening few notes reminded me of the infamous Tom Lehrer's Wiener Schnitzel Waltz
, and due to the obvious inference of a Germanic polka in parts of the piece, I dubbed it Wiener Schnitzel Rag
after the favored veal dish (translated it means Vienna cutlet - see recipe)
that originated in Austria. Besides, since the rag seems to stick in people's brains (as I have since discovered), I figure the title should also. Note that Wiener
is not the same as the German Weiner
, a derivative that is often associated with wiener wurst (hot dog), both of which are pictured on the cover in a surreal scene of culinary macabre. It opens with what is clearly a polka introduction, appended by a typical rag introduction. Then we launch into the real veal of the piece, a forceful syncopated polka. The B section, which also came to me at the same time, resembles the use of chimes or bells as found in pieces of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The trio was culled from the ideas used in marches of the 1890s to 1910s, where the bass took the melody, although in Austria this usually occurred in the B section. But this is America, so live with it! Besides, I follow it up with an enhanced melodic line in the right hand. The opening section is just so much fun that I had to finish it out there, but with a little unfortunate interference. By the way, if you really want to hear how good a polka this makes (so I've been told), just try it on an accordion sometime. Just... not... around me!
This piece stems from a couple of themes that popped into the head of my playing partner, ragtime artist Marty Mincer
. He was uncertain of their origin, and wasn't sure if they were original or not (we haven't heard them elsewhere), but dubbed the combination "Cartoon Music" since it resembled such music from the 1930s. So I had him record what was more or less an incomplete rag, and then branched out by finishing it out in time for entry in the 2002 edition of the New Rag Contest at World Championship of Old-Time Piano Playing
in Peoria, Illinois. It took second to the Wiener Schnitzel Rag
(see previous listing) so I can't feel too badly about it. Both of us participated in the recording of this piece as well. The title was influenced by a combination of the cartoon idea (as depicted on the cover) as well as Marty's family avocation as an apple farmer. The opening two themes (played by Marty) consist of interesting minor melodies from which the cartoon music reference was evolved. Then Marty breaks into a folk-style section that rips along. I appended it with a short interlude that makes this section almost song-like. After a return to the first minor theme, I composed and played the trio which is based in part on some of Marty's favorite riffs in his song arrangements. Things are tied into a nice package with a final return to the minor theme (Marty) and a subtle ending (Bill). Hopefully you'll enjoy this to the core.
The Belly Rub Rag
Steve Standiford - 2003
Dr. Steve Standiford is a Wisconsin original (now in Philadelphia) who is a talented surgeon, and loves ragtime piano, cheese curds and cats. In fact, he has named his cats after ragtime pieces as well. So this talented surgeon and ragtime pianist/bassist/tuba player wrote Belly Rub
to honor his cats who love belly rubs (and who doesn't?). It was cats who influenced the themes as well. The older kids among us will remember Top Cat
in the 1960s, the theme on which the A section was modeled. The B section bears some resemblance to the notorious St. Louis Tickle
, which is of course the best kind of tickle to a cat. In 2005, our mutual friend Virginia ragtime performer Dave Tucker arranged Belly Rub
for publication (look in the cover window for more information and a link). I was intrigued by the piece as well, and have done a take on it that comes some from the original and some for Dave's arrangement of the piece, creating yet another version of the core piece. It is versatile enough that it can be interpreted at several speeds, all of which should make your ragtime engine purr nicely. If ya love it, or preferably if you want to buy a copy, let me know and I'll pass the word on to the composer, who will likely paws to reflect on it.
The Tuxedo Cat Rag
We had a cat. We still do. He is Smokey. I was fine with Smokey. Masculine, docile, affectionate, independent. Then on the day after Thanksgiving 2003, we accidentally encountered (in a pet store) the little Tuxedo Cat. I was fine with one cat. Mrs. Perfessor, not so much. Guess who won? So into the house came... Bandit. Yep, Smokey (the aged enforcer) and the Bandit (the young rebel). Insurance has covered at least some of the damage that he has inflicted on us since that time. Maybe he'll mellow some day. Anyhow, it did not stop there. I was then commissioned by Mrs. Perfessor to write a piece for Bandit. Harumph. Guess who won? Here it is. Entered in the 2004 edition of New Rag Contest
at the World Championship of Old-Time Piano Playing
held in Peoria, Illinois, it did respectably well, but came a vote or so short of the (world's smallest) trophy. Either it was my playing, or the cat himself. I've already got a couple of those trophies, so I can blame the cat without any guilt. So I have now massaged the piece a bit and presented here is the current rendition of The Tuxedo Cat Rag
. The vision that came to me in a dream was that of dancing cats in tuxedos. Actually, it was more like a nightmare of hungry cats dancing on my face. The repeated motive found in the intro represents playfulness. The minor key represents mysterious airs. The little slurred figure at certain cadences is the meow. Also, the trio starts out sounding like a transition, which it is not, representing the deceptive nature of felines. But now I'm just getting catty, so I'll paws at this point, the tail end of things, which you can probably purrceive is me-now!
The Radio's Gone Silent
In 2004 the world, myself and my sisters lost my father and my mother's husband, a great entertainer in movies, television, stage, records, and most importantly, radio from virtually the inception of the radio serial in the early 1930s. Sam Edwards
often played juvenile characters on radio into his 60s since his voice was perfect for it, and he could play the tough punk or comedic sidekick just as well. But he was also a pretty good singer. On his first radio show with his brother, produced by his dad, Sonny and Buddy
(1933 & 1935), he sang Sonny Boy
based on Jolson's famous performance in The Singing Fool
. When tapped for the entertainment corps in World War II, he performed Sonny Boy
frequently for millions of troops (perhaps more than Jolson), as well as General Eisenhower and associates. His final public performance a month before he died at 89 was at REPS (Radio Enthusiast of Puget Sound) where I accompanied him singing Sonny Boy
, the last song he ever sang. The Radio's Gone Silent
incorporates this theme near the end of the trio, as well as paraphrases from the radio version of Gunsmoke
and the Dragnet
fanfare, both from shows he frequented in the 1950s. Then, my radio goes silent. Cheers.
The Crocodile Stomp
This piece, entered in the 2007 New Rag competition in Peoria IL, came about to fill a gap in the musical animal lexicon. While there has long been an Alligator Crawl
, Fats Waller's great musical treat, the crocodile has been overlooked, or cast as a villain or simple-minded buffoon. Even in the Disney
pantheon, alligators were given star treatment in Fantasia
dancing to those hours. Yet a crocodile is seen as the totally silly bane of Captain Hook in Peter Pan
. Well, that's enough! It was the great Crocodile Hunter himself, the late Steve Irwin
of the Australian Zoo, who brought to bear that crocodiles, and so many other reptiles and strange creatures, are actually very beneficial to the natural balance of life on our planet. They have their own interesting lives and stories like we do. They just happen to kill and eat other animals (as many of us also do, actually). So what! Ragtimers eat pianos for breakfast, and spit them out before lunch. So hopefully this piece will right a number of wrongs, or at least raise awareness for both endangered species - crocodiles and ragtime pianists. Prayers and many thanks go to Steve's widow Terri, his dynamic daughter Bindi who is following in dad's boot prints, and his son Bob who has a great journey ahead learning about his magnificent father. It is to Steve's memory that this piece is dedicated.
Part of the 2009 New Rag competition held in Peoria IL, this piece, intended as a pseudo-novelty, suggested its own fascinating origin. This is the story I told when introducing the rag. You can believe or not, but I swear it's a story. In my research of the Chinese themes I wanted to used in this novelty, I ran across a little known political story about China in the 1950s that was ultimately overshadowed by news from the United States, or likely suppressed. It turns out that recently installed communist leader Mao Zedong
had a favorite little Shar Pei dog that roamed his home freely. In August of 1952 the erstwhile pup bit one of the staff of the household, and before he could be contained, stories leaked out about how the creature got preferential treatment over many people, ate better than most of the country's populous, and generally terrorized the beleaguered staff. To counter this, Mao gave a speech on national radio in late September of 1952 defending the dog, stating that the dog made him happier, and that happiness was in turn conveyed to the people of China. So I decided to name this rag after the lesser known of two similar speeches, thus Chinese Checkers
. In truth, I had much of this tune in my head for the better part of a decade, and was finally able to let it escape with the help of a Q-tip. Some of themes are about as authentic in Asian origin as the game of Chinese Checkers, which actually may have originated in Germany. The stereotypical motifs were commonly found in silent movies (back then they just called them movies) accompaniment books and some songs of the day, including the song Chinatown
, which is liberally quoted in the trio. So no offense is meant to anybody of Asian origin or otherwise. It's more of a musical pun than anything else. Now if I could just learn to play it so well...
Better With Age
has been more than just an avid fan within the ragtime community for many years. Even though he does not actively perform or write, we consider him to be one of us. So what a privilege when in 2013 I was among a select number of ragtime performers commissioned to write a rag for a new CD he was producing exclusively of new ragtime.
Not only was this good company to be in, but it gave the composition itself more meaning, since I wanted to relate it to him. Given Danny's age (older than me, so I consider that old enough), and his interesting history, I realized that he was simply getting "better with age," and went with that theme. Having played for senior communities for many years, and having had my mother living in one for some time, I often observed them as they communed with each other. So this piece is intended as a descriptive musical conversation between old friends who are catching up. There are cues written throughout the music as follows: A section—Interpret with wisdom
; B section—Slight overlap of conversations, but let each of them be heard distinctly
, then halfway through, Exchange has reversed
; Trio—Slightly slower but deliberate
, Trail off like a forgotten thought
, then near the end, Dwindling off slowly to a wistful memory
; Interlude—Back to the end of the conversation
; Near the end of A2
—Heartfelt - as talk is coming to a close
; Coda—Wistful goodbyes
. I can only hope that this piece, and even that I, both get "better with age."
[The CD, Ragtime Wizardry
with 17 other pieces on it following this opening tune can be readily obtained from myself or the other participants on request, or ordered directly from Rivermont Records
Lovely Laughing Lucille
The challenge was laid down in early 2014 to compose a new rag or waltz in honor of Lucille Salerno
of Columbia, Missouri, who had spearheaded the yearly Blind Boone Ragtime Festival
in that town for many years. I took this challenge to heart, as well as my knowledge of Lucille and her generosity and joy for the music, and took the rules to a new literal level, combining waltz with rag with even a bit of stride in the middle. The end result encompassed a poignant opening theme which bookends two other themes full of joy and laughter. I put as much polish on it as I could before submitting. Several weeks (seemed like years) later, after a panel of esteemed judges (some very familiar names in ragtime) went through the entries, I received word that I had done well in the competition - had actually won it in fact. The hard part was sitting on that news until the announcement was made at the Boone competition in early June of 2014. There was a bit of panic in the days just prior to it as I found out that recording the rag in chunks for the submission and playing it live were two different things, since I usually tend to compose just slightly beyond my usual competency. While I was deeply honored to present this to Lucille, the day before she had sustained an injury and was hospitalized, so she had to enjoy it later via a video recording made that evening in the Missouri Theater. She has since largely recovered from this, and from the unfortunate death of her husband soon after, and in spite of these setbacks, Lucille Salerno still exudes her joy of music - and of life. I am deeply honored to have been able to convey that musically through the Lovely Laughing Lucille
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