-Jay Bee Rodríguez
Back around 1910, John Stark published "Fifteen Standard High Class Rags," a folio soon nicknamed "The Red Back Book" and containing colorful arrangements for 11 ragtime pieces, mostly by Scott Joplin. In 1973 Gunther Schuller and the New England Conservatory Ragtime Ensemble recorded seven of the charts plus a new reworking of "Sugar Cane"; a pair of piano solos by Myron Romanul (of "The Entertainer" and "Sun Flower Slow Drag") round out this highly enjoyable set. Hearing Joplin's music interpreted by a group consisting of trumpet, trombone, clarinet, flute/piccolo, tuba, piano, bass, drums and a string quartet helps cast new light on these vintage themes. The album is highly recommended for ragtime collectors.
Here is music by the most prominent American ragtime composer, Scott Joplin, performed in a manner (11-12 instruments) slightly different from the usual (solo piano). The program contains 60 minutes of the familiar (and, in a couple instances, the unfamiliar) Joplin music that became popular at the turn of the 20th century, then fell into oblivion, and had a revival in the early 1970s. This cd brings together two lps released by EMI/Angel during that '70s revival: "Red Back Book" containing 8 selections performed by students from the New England Conservatory conducted by Gunther Schuller; and "Elite Syncopations", which includes 8 pieces featuring pianist Ralph Grierson with the Southland Stingers. Gunther Schuller's distinguished career has included a crucial role in the third-stream movement, which sought to fuse jazz and classical composition and flourished in the late 1950s and early '60s. Schuller also wrote a series of brilliant musicological studies of early jazz. As musical director of the New England Ragtime Ensemble, he has brought very high standards to performance of classic ragtime compositions, beginning with the 1973 recording The Art of Scott Joplin, devoted to the form's most famous composer. The Art of the Rag, recorded in 1989, takes a different tack, mixing pieces of classic ragtime from the beginning of the 20th century with contemporary compositions that work within the form's structural and rhythmic patterns.
Whether the work is ancient or modern, the Ensemble brings high precision, genuine vigor, and a fresh luster to the material. Among the fascinating period pieces are relatively well-known works by Joplin, including "Heliotrope Bouquet," and by Jelly Roll Morton, whose "Black Bottom Stomp" and "Grandpa's Spells" seem to travel back in time from their jazz origins. Less well-known but equally deserving of attention are James Reese Europe's "Castle Walk" and "Castle House Rag." Among the modern works, Schuller's own "Sandpoint Rag" and Robert Carriker's "Mattapan Rag" sit most comfortably in the form.
01. The Cascades
02. Sunflower Slow Drag
03. The Chrysanthemum
04. The Ragtime Dance
05. Sugar Cane
06. Easy Winners
07. The Entertainer
08. Maple Leaf Rag 09. Elite Syncopations
10. Heliotrope Bouquet
11. The Nonpareil
12. The Strenuous Life
13. The Sycamore
14. Binks' Waltz
16. Something Doing
Recording information: Jordan Hall, New England Conservatory, Boston, MA (02/12/1973-06/25/1974); Studio A, Capitol Records, Hollywood, CA (02/12/1973-06/25/1974).
Arranger: George Sponhaltz. Dir.: Gunther Schuller.
Personnel: Gerald Vinci, Tibor Pusztai, Juan Ramirez-Hernandez, Nathan Ross (violin); Juan Dandridge, Allan Harshman (viola); Bruce Coppock, Marie Fera (cello); Ronnie Lang (flute, piccolo); Victor Sawa, Dominic Fera (clarinet); Charles Lewis, John Audino, Mario Guarneri (trumpet); Dick Nash (trombone); Gary Ofenloch, Tommy Johnson (tuba); Myron Romanul (piano); Mark Belair, Shelly Manne (drums).