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Bill Westcott | Ragtime Orioles

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Blues: Jazzy Blues Jazz: Ragtime Moods: Type: Acoustic
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Ragtime Orioles

by Bill Westcott

Early blues and ragtime classics played with verve and moxy by a stellar ensemble.
Genre: Blues: Jazzy Blues
Release Date: 

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  Song Share Time Download
1. Do Your Duty (feat. Brenna MacCrimmon, Andrew Downing, Chris Robinson & Tim Posgate)
3:09 $0.99
2. Mamanita
3:31 $0.99
3. Careless Love Blues (feat. Brenna MacCrimmon & Tim Posgate)
4:14 $0.99
4. Ragtime Oriole (feat. Tim Posgate & Brenna MacCrimmon)
3:49 $0.99
5. After You've Gone (feat. Brenna MacCrimmon, Chris Robinson, Andrew Downing & Tim Posgate)
3:45 $0.99
6. Need a Little Sugar in My Bowl (feat. Brenna MacCrimmon, Chris Robinson & Andrew Downing)
2:49 $0.99
7. Martin / Anderson Blues
3:00 $0.99
8. Mama's Got the Blues (feat. Brenna MacCrimmon & Tim Posgate)
2:41 $0.99
9. Petite Fleur (feat. Chris Robinson & Andrew Downing)
3:47 $0.99
10. Stop and Listen (feat. Brenna MacCrimmon, Tim Posgate, Chris Robinson & Andrew Downing)
3:14 $0.99
11. Shreveport Stomp (feat. Chris Robinson, Tim Posgate, Andrew Downing & Brenna MacCrimmon)
3:51 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
Liner Notes:

At the turn of the last century Ragtime music was inescapable. It was sung in traveling minstrel shows and variety theatres and it was rattled out on the keys of newly manufactured upright pianos that could be found almost everywhere. Published ragtime music ranged in quality from the trivial to the superb: but either way, it was presented by established wind bands such as Arthur Pryor’s or Max Hoffmann’a at formal “concerts in the park,” or blatantly hurled into the world by small proto-jazz bands (such as Buddy Bolden’s) playing loose, or even spontaneous arrangements of almost anything; current popular favorites, old gems, military marches—all the rage then— and well-worn hymns and folksongs.

By 1912 the blues craze was erupting into the ragtime scene as a synthesis of ragtime style with the rich African American folk culture of songs, ballads, folk songs and hollers. The blues quickly found a place in the commercial sheet music market and, appearing first in African American vaudeville, soon overflowed into mainstream vaudeville and thence into general public awareness. This sudden popularization would not have been possible without a vigorous army of professional African American musicians who worked in every venue including, taverns, road houses, picnics and medicine shows through circuses, tent shows and up-scale theaters presenting variety and vaudeville. Following W. C. Handy's "The Memphis Blues" (1909, 1912) other composer/pianists quickly followed suit with their own compositions. A few, like Handy, Clarence Williams, Perry Bradford and George W. Thomas began publishing their songs under their own mastheads eventually moving their operations from southern cities to Chicago and New York.

The first and most influential bluesman was a young comedian from Alabama named Butler May. His stage name was “Stringbeans.” He came to a sad end in 1917 before he had a chance to record but the theatrical notices in the Indianapolis Freeman make it clear that he was deeply southern in his language and humor, enormously funny and a box-office sensation. He accompanied himself at the piano telling jokes and singing blues. This type of performance became known as “pianolog.” As the decade moved on the first wave of blues-singing men of Stringbeans’ ilk (including Jelly Roll Morton) gave way to a rising tide of women singing blues. Many of these “Blues Queens” (including “Ma” Rainey, Bessie Smith and Clara Smith) continued their careers into the 1920s where they were extensively recorded on Black Swan, Okeh and Columbia records.

Vaudeville blues songs retained the outward characteristics of popular songs of the time. In their sheet music form they would typically open with a piano intro, a couple of bars marked vamp, a verse, (setting the scene) and a chorus that would always contain the tag line (usually the title of the song). If this old formula sounds shopworn, remember that is perfectly suited to a live theatrical situation. In your imagination add costumes, lights, a comic remark and a jazz band in the pit and you have a formula that is nearly fool proof. Henry Creamer and Turner Layton's "After You've Gone" (1918) is a perfect example of the type.

What was so fresh about these blues songs lies in the language and the musical treatment. The lyrics are most often delivered in the 1st person and the dialect is much closer to a language that people actually spoke. The texts often borrow well-worn adages from daily speech and sometimes there are genuinely poetic turns of phrase. The subjects are no longer embarrassingly racial but usually more personal in feeling that the ragtime clichés of ten years earlier.

Consider two songs from Bessie Smith's early recording career: "Mama's Got the
Blues" (written by Sarah Martin and Clarence Williams in 1923) and "I need a Little Sugar in my Bowl (by Clarence Williams and Tim Brymn from the same year). The melodies show a new earthiness and do not always bend to suit the "common practice" chord progressions of the time. The result is often a harmonic treatment in which the major and minor tonalities mix freely. Sometimes the harmony and melody clash temporarily causing new sounds not heard before. These harmonized "blue notes" will be later codified by jazz musicians as flat 7s, sharp 9s and so forth but at the time they were bold expressions of folk feeling and something quite new.

The beat changed too. The tempos slowed down. Interpreters began to find a flexible middle ground between the "straight time" of 2/4 marches and classical music and the relentless triple feel of 6/8 marches and jigs. Piano players found alternatives to the left-hand "boom-chuck" of earlier days progressing toward "Stride" and the eventual codification of "Boogie Woogie." The result was an easy swinging style which could accommodate the push and pull of a singer's delivery without missing a beat. If this sounds familiar it is because jazz was emerging from ragtime right along with the blues.

As the 1920s moved on Bessie Smith, like other blues queens, started adding jazz material to her repertoire. "Do Your Duty" (by the established entertainment team
Wesley and Leola Wilson) is a good example. Note the standard AABA structure already a staple of jazz performance. This offering comes from Bessie's last recording session in 1933. By this time the Great Depression had brought vaudeville and blues recording to a low ebb and the swing style of jazz was about to replace the "hot" jazz of the previous decade. The blues too, was changing.
"Careless Love" is an example of a venerable pre-blues ballad updated and recycled by Handy in 1925 as "Careless Love Blues." Handy, having made his reputation selling blues, marketed this well-known folksong (with new words) as a "Blues" for whatever it was worth. Bessie Smith recorded it immediately which suggests that, blues or not, such common material had long been a part of her performances.

James Scott's 1911 "Ragtime Oriole" is a beautiful example of ragtime in transition. Where the earlier piano rags of Scott Joplin were often expansive and occasionally melancholy, James Scott's music tends to be more up to date and virtuosic. In 1916 Fred Van Eps recorded "Ragtime Oriole" as a banjo feature with piano backing and our performance is a play on Van Eps' treatment.

In 1979 "Little Brother Montgomery played seven blues for me that he remembered from the playing of other bluesmen from Mississippi and Alabama in the late teens and early '20s. The "Martin/Anderson Blues" is a medley of two of these: "Joe Martin Blues" and "Vernado Anderson Blues." The repetitive chiming and dissonant crushing of keys in the right hand are already quite remote from the ragtime norms of the years earlier. The somber and lyric mood of these blues is likewise distant from the gaiety of the vaudeville stage. Both these blues foreshadow the country blues of the later 1920s and the 1930s.

Jelly Roll Morton's "Mamanita" and "Shreveport Stomp" originally appeared as
Vocalstyle piano rolls in 1924 along with eleven other originals. "Mamanita" probably comes from around 1917 when Morton was working as an entertainer in
Los Angeles and living with the love of his life, Anita Gonzales. "Shreveport
Stomp" is the type of barnburner he must have dazzled audiences with whether as
piano soloist or band leader. These tunes are neither ragtime nor jazz exclusively, but draw in elements of blues, tango and march as well. Morton's unique style is a creative fusion of idioms in a rapidly changing musical environment. After his first publication, "The Jelly Roll Blues" in 1915, he would write several more blues throughout his career along with many stomps and songs. The melodic figurations of his early blues however would continue to underlie his later creations.

"Stop and Listen" by Merline Johnson, the "Yas Yas Girl" (1948) is a blues in form and lyric structure. It is quite unusual however in the descending melodic line of its first phrase and its overall harmonic scheme—suggesting balladry more than blues. At the same tine its shuffle rhythm has much of the jump band feel of the 1940s foreshadowing the era of Rock 'n' Roll. Merline was at least a full generation younger than Bessie Smith and a product of the Great Depression rather than the Jazz Age. It is sad that we know so little about her life, given that she was a highly creative blues singer and recorded a large body of music.

"Petite Fleur" Sydney Bechet's masterpiece from 1952 embodies much of his life experience. Born in New Orleans in 1897, he and Jelly Roll Morton were among the best of the generation who guided ragtime into blues and jazz. At age 16 he toured the South with Clarence Williams on piano just as the blues craze was starting. His amazing personal style incorporated jazz, blues, religious music and opera into an expressive story-telling style that often extended across an entire performance. He was always most comfortable as a leader or featured soloist. He eventually made France his second home and died there in 1959.

No pretense is made here to scholarly reconstruction since most of this music has been available on record all along. The musicians on this recording have come from diverse musical enthusiasms to play the music out of admiration and respect for the original creators. The Ragtime Orioles wish to thank the Canterbury Music Co. for their welcome assistance in making this recording.
Bill Westcott

Ragtime Orioles
Produced by Bill Westcott
Recorded in 2018 by Jeremy Darby at
Canterbury Music Company, Toronto
Mixed by Jeremy Darby
Mastered by Peter Letros
Design by Yeşim Tosuner

Bill Westcott: Piano
Brenna MacCrimmon: Voice & Percussion
Andrew Downing: Bass
Tim Posgate: Banjo
Chris Robinson: Clarinet



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