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Bejeiro: Tango Brasileiro
Ernesto Nazareth - 1893
Nazareth, a native of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, was a serious music student from an early age, having been initially trained on the piano by his mother. Even after she died in 1873 when he was only ten, Nazareth chose to continue under some notable Latin-American instructors, learning enough along the way to start composing when he was sixteen. Even at that, it was not until 1893, when Ernesto turned 30, that his first serious volume of work emerged. Among the compositions released that year by Casa [House of] Vieira Machado, Brejeiro
(sometimes seen in print as Bregerio
) was a standout. While many of his later pieces from the mid-1890s forward had much in common with the form and structure of American piano ragtime, often with the two cultures blended musically, this earlier work is a short joyous rondo in A B A form. At that, it quickly achieved fame outside of South America, having been issued in the United States, Europe, and Australia. While it would be two more decades before the tango was widely adopted (usually in the form of a habanera) in the United States, this charming rhythmic tango still represented the characteristic sound of Brasil, and opened many doors for the talented composer. The cover for this edition was issued by Joseph W. Stern in 1914. This live performance has very little embellishment, as the original was well-scored, and the interpretation therefore feels naturally easy.
Ernesto Nazareth - 1909/1910
There are many parallels between ragtime and South American tangos of the early 20th century, and a great many of them were found in the music of Brazlian Ernesto Nazareth
, a capable composer but troubled individual. As early as 1909, when this piece was written, he was hired to play at the Odeon Cinema in Sao Paulo. Odeon has a Latin root which essentially means theater, in the context of an entertainment venue. Within a short time, audiences filled the Odeon to hear Nazareth play more so than to watch the one and two reelers, many imported from the United States, that he was hired to accompany. For the theater and its proprietors he wrote this engaging tune. The opening section consists of a left hand melody for the most part, arguably with a vague transition into the right for the last four bars. I add a little counter line below it in the repeat for variety. The B section goes into something more like a choro or pseudo-tango rhythm with an engaging descending chord progression. The trio is full of contrasts which I try to bring out here. This piece was mildly popular during Nazareth's lifetime, which ended in personal tragedy. However, it was not until the avant-garde age of recordings from the late 1950s into the 1960s that it suddenly appeared on many Latin-themed recordings, making it his most recorded and listened to piece overall. Given the structure and some of the rhythms that give it indirect associations with American ragtime, it is not unusual to hear it even in this century played at ragtime and arts festivals around the United States and beyond.
Solace - A Mexican Serenade
This is, perhaps the most delicate and poignant piece that the "King of Ragtime" ever wrote. The Tango was becoming quite popular as both a dance and a music form during this time, and many composers and publishers fell in line with the public's desire for it. They ultimately created a volume of "Spanish Tinge" pieces that were not quite authentic tangos, closer to the more African-based habanera, but had the same feel. Solace
is essentially a habanera in ragtime form, and is relatively authentic considering a non-Latin black composer from Missouri composed it, although a well-educated one. Those who know Solace
only from Marvin Hamlisch's
truncated arrangement used in the George Roy Hill
film, The Sting
, have only heard the second half of the piece. I have surprised many listeners by introducing them to Solace
in its entirety. The habanera rhythm is used consistently throughout the A and B sections. The harmonic structure of the B section gives the impression of a possible key change, not establishing that we are still in the key of C until fourteen measures in. The C section includes fermatas (deliberate pauses) at the beginning of each phrase, a technique often used in the tango or habanera (such as the famous Habanera
from the opera Carmen
) to accentuate a certain facet of the dance. It also breaks away from the primary rhythm briefly into more of a habanera with passing tones. The rhythm resumes in the final section, with a delicate close to the section that is in contrast to the expansive playing in the previous twelve measures. I feel that Solace
was aptly named, and am sure it brought the same feeling to its composer.
Temptation Rag Tango
Thomas Henry Lodge
Lodge was characterized as a good pianist who had a great deal of public performance experience in drinking venues and on the vaudeville stage. He also spent some time as a bandleader. Lodge was reluctant to depend on composition as a mainstay career, and was cautious in his success once it came. Temptation
was Henry's first publication, and probably his best-known and most recorded rag. The cover art is also quite unique; an intriguing picture of a red-haired beauty that appears to have been done in colorful chalk or pastel crayon. Is she the "temptation?" As was often the practice with pieces that showed good sales potential, the A and B sections were used to create a song of the piece. Unlike other rags that traditionally went to a new key a fourth up after the first two sections, this rag never wanders out of the realm of three flats, alternating instead between Eb and C minor. The A section is made up of a repeated descending motif that requires some help from an upward scale in the middle to get back up for another descent. The B strain utilizes a very pleasant and coherent logical chord progression that plays as important a role as the melody. In the trio, we hear a subtle stop-time pattern that is immediately offset by the interlude (or D section according to some musicologists), which is another simple and mostly chromatic pattern. This particular rendition is from an idea first put forward by pianist Burt Bales
in the 1950, performing the piece largely as a habanera or tango, the version I recorded for my Tangoz
album. Note that there is a little bit of "Jelly Roll" Morton styling in the trio and interlude to provide some contrast. Somehow, I'm always tempted to play this piece again.
Panama - A Characteristic Novelty
A great many musical ideas and themes in ragtime were derived from Spanish rhythms, largely due to the rising popularity of the tango
, but also because of a number of Mariachi style musicians from Mexico who had infiltrated the New Orleans music scene. This made sense, because the tango
was actually born out of the much older habanera
, a rhythm export of seventeenth through nineteenth century Africa utilized by Spanish settlers in Central and South America. Both rhythms are prevalent throughout the works of Ferdinand "Jelly Roll" Morton
, and are even found in pieces by more traditional composers, such as the habanera in Scott Joplin's Solace
no doubt capitalizes not only on the popularity of these "Spanish tinge" pieces, but also on the public's fascination with the newly built Panama Canal. Virginia-born Tyers was composing Spanish-tinged pieces as early as 1896, this one being his best known. It has since become a popular traditional jazz piece, but usually with the inherent tango rhythm excised. The A and B sections complement each other nicely in both structure and progression. The C section starts a new rhythm, and the pattern lends itself to a long crescendo into the D section. Here we find a foundation for some delightful improvisations including many very familiar Latin rhythms and melodic devices. The closing after the repeat of A brings the dancers (or the listeners) to a very relaxed conclusion.
Egyptian Glide (One Step)
Egyptian Glide (Tango)
Alexander Maloof, One-Step arr. by Edward Taylor Paull - 1914
This entry represents a very unusual duality not just for the E.T. Paull catalog but ragtime era pieces in general. Maloof was a talented concert pianist from Syria who had his own set of suites in Carnegie Hall during the 1910s where he taught, later moving to the Carnegie School in New Jersey to finish out his career. While many ragtime or dance pieces were available in both instrumental and song versions, and some of the more dynamic entries in the Paull catalog were available in four-hand and even band versions, this is one of the few that was available as the same piece, ostensibly, but in two different dance styles. The core of this adventurous tune by the talented Arab-American composer and later bandleader, is the same, but the left hand rhythm in particular differs between the two. The tango was ostensibly the original composition (although it does not quite qualify as either a tango, being more of a modified oriental habanera). Paull had to do little but straighten out the left hand passages to create the two step version. His thinking on this will never be known, but it can be surmised that the march-oriented composer felt that many of his customers might have trouble unraveling the unusual "tango" rhythm, thus he would reasonably have offered an alternative. In any case, it is a lively modal piece in rondo format, with both versions fun to listen to and play. In this case, knowing it really only takes but one (pianist) to Tango, I have added quite a bit to the tango version to really make it dance. So live in de-Nile for a minute and kick up your heels. Tut tut!
In the early 1910s, and more so with the rise in popularity of
Vernon and Irene Castle
a couple of years into the decade, the tango and rhythmic pieces associated with it became very much in vogue in the United States, and many of even the most straight-laced composers of popular music took a stab at composing something in the genre. No straighter than Carey Morgan, the song of a dynamic Indiana reverend who was also his namesake. This was his first known published solo work, although many more well-known pieces would emerge from Morgan's pen over the next two and a half decades. This composition utilizes the common habanera rhythm which was often found as an adequate substitute for the real South American patterns. The introduction sounds very much like church bells in the voicing, and it would be used again in the trio. The A and B sections are very similar, the latter being a major variation on the initial minor theme. The C section has a bit of a development in it including some extra measures beyond the expected 16. It transitions into what could be considered the trio or D section, depending on interpretation. This strain returns to the bell theme at the end of each iteration. After an interlude, this unusually constructed piece returns to same section, which ends with an unsettling unresolved flatted seventh. This musician believes this to possibly be an error, with the sixth to fifth intended instead of the seventh, but it was recorded with the original notes intact so you could share in my discomfort.
Castle Innovation Tango
James Reese Europe
Ford T. Dabney
One of the better associations between dancers and ragtime came with the alliance of
Vernon and Irene Castle
with black composer James Reese Europe, a founder of the Clef Club for African American musicians, and his close associate, Ford Dabney. The pair penned a number of engaging, unique and danceable works for the Castles from 1913 to 1915, after which they departed for even brighter horizons with their own organizations. Europe's Castle House Rag
is the best known of these, but Castle Innovation Tango
also made a few ripples when they danced to it. A modified syncopated habanera, it in many ways pays homage to the true Latin American tangos of the time, and is another work that sounds orchestral, even in solo piano form. Dabney and Europe were especially good with the handling of rhythms in their scores, necessary for enhancing stage dances. The trio of this piece is a bit different, however, and even slightly out of contextual character in its original form, so I took a few liberties with in my interpretation.
Thomas Henry Lodge
For a time during his stint in New York as a stage pianist and composer, Lodge had the good fortune of playing for performances and perhaps even dance clinics given by Vernon and Irene Castle
, the famous husband-wife dance team. They were the darlings of society, and held many private dance sessions for the inner circles of the Manhattan elite. So that position was a lucrative one in terms of exposure for Lodge. Prior to his employment with them, Lodge composed this little piece in response to the tango, which was very much in vogue at the time, and inscribed it to the Castles. In reality, it is more habanera than tango in its rhythmic nature, a common error in perception. The left hand patterns are quite specific in their execution throughout, although the chord progressions fall outside of those often associated with tango pieces. The suggested tempo of 88 doesn't quite fit with the request to Play slowly in Spanish style
, so it is a little more reserved in this performance. A few liberties have been taken on repeats, but for the most part it reflects the intended simplicity of Lodge's writing. So grab your cape and castanets, stick a rose in your teeth, and dance away to Tango Land
Pastime Rag #5
By the time this piece was published, Matthews was long gone from St. Louis, Missouri, and the John Stark
publishing firm, and working on starting his successful African American music conservatory in Cincinnati, Ohio. He composed a number of fabulous post-ragtime works as well, and eventually earned an honorary doctorate degree. Indications of Matthews' genius and musical innovation are prevalent throughout the five Pastime Rags
. Pastime Rag #3
starts out with a mild habanera rhythm, but was only a precursor of the content of #5. This one really takes off with a full-fledged modified habanera/tango section full of Latin-derived Afro-American rhythms. The B and C sections appear to be variations on one another, as they bear many similarities in construction and chord progression. The D section breaks from the straight rag rhythm of B and C into more of a swing pattern, forecasting common use of this style years before it became popular. I choose to reprise the A section because it provides for a much livelier ending.
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