Editor, Webmaster: Phil Cartwright Editor@earlyjas.org
|The Ragtime Women -- CD Celebration by Max Morath
|Earlville Association for Ragtime Lovers Yearning
for Jazz Advancement and Socialization
The popular wisdom is that a woman's place was in the parlor at the turn
of the century. Rarely do we hear of women playing in dance bands or jazz
bands in the teens or in the 1920s. Rather, the women seemed to be playing
piano at home and occasionally with friends.
Max Morath, a Ragtime historian as well as terrific entertainer, has
researched the files of yesterday and today and selected a number of women
to be given their due in terms of their contribution to at least one facet of
American music: Ragtime. In 1977, Max produced a wonderful LP called The
Ragtime Women. It was a Vanguard recording, the VSD 79402. It is now
available as a Vanguard recording VAN 79402 as a CD. Those of you who
know Max Morath’s work over the last 50 years or so know him to be an
excellent pianist and entertainer. He is also a very serious student of
composers and the music of the Ragtime Era.
Here is a bit of the back story: In the 1890-1915 time frame, many people
loved music and there were lots of musical groups: concert bands, dance
bands, orchestras. There were very few radios or phonographs for people
to listen to music at home. So what did people do for music at home? The
piano was an important instrument in the parlors of many homes. Remember
those big old upright pianos, some with player piano mechanisms? Max
Morath asks (and answers) this question: Who played these pianos in so
“Women. The great majority of pianists were unquestionably middle-class white women, keyboard trained in the European
manner, participating in America's booming quest for culture. It was mainly our grandmothers who purchased those colorful
rags in million copy lots, succumbing to ragtime’s lure, often as not in the face of stormy parental objection. And it is the
sweetest of ironies that they successfully conveyed this genial music of the sporting house and the wine shop to the parlor and
the tea dance without knowing (or more intriguing, not caring) about its racy genealogy."
The Ragtime Women is a slim CD, only 10 rags, but it is an exquisite set of recordings. In this CD, Max plays the music of nine
women who composed and played ragtime in the period of years stretching from 1899 to 1976. Half of the cuts are of Max
playing solo piano. The other half are played by the Morath Ragtime Quintet: Bruce Alsop, cello; Alan Hanlon, guitar, banjo,
mandolin; Lynn Milano, bass; and Remo Palmier, guitar.
The earliest composition, 1899, was written by a woman named Louise V. Gustin and titled X-N-Tric. At the other end of the
time spectrum is Romantic Rag written by Kathy Craig in 1976. In between these bookmarks are eight compositions dating from
1906 through 1917, the peak years of the Ragtime craze.
In between these bookmarks are eight compositions dating from 1906 through 1917, the peak years of the Ragtime craze. In
chronological order, the remaining compositions are:
Pickles and Peppers, Adeline Shepherd, 1906 Hoosier Rag, Julia Niebergall, 1907
The Thriller, May Auferheide, 1909 Poker Rag, Charlotte Blake, 1909
Piffle Rag, Gladys Yelvington, 1911 Red Rambler Rag, Julia Niebergall, 1912
That Sentimental Rag, Mabel Tilton, 1913 Rooster Rag, Muriel Pollock, 1917
I have dozens of ragtime CDs in my collection but this is one of my favorites. At once the recordings are robust and romantic,
dainty and daunting. Max plays with enormous appreciation of the women’s talents and never overshadows it. Most of the
arrangements are by Morath and they display great sensitivity and genuine caring for the music.
Max Morath prepared the liner notes and they are extensive. He, and several other rag-minded contributors, have gone to
great lengths to research the lives of these pioneering women. Max shares their stories to the extent they were found.
In closing, Max speaks of the music of these women as having a “fragile poignancy that is perhaps its very essence. Perhaps
this can be understood with the realization that we’re usually listening to music that flowed from youth. The ragtime women,
like the black musicians who were their phantom mentors, were young when they wrote these rags. Their music was a new
thing; it was their adventure and it was their hope”
Thanks to the research and talent of Max Morath, the music of The Ragtime Women lives on.
The Ragtime Women. Max Morath and the Morath Ragtime Quintet. Vanguard VAN CD 79402.
Reviewed by Phil Cartwright