From the first time I sat down at the piano with a Nazareth tango, I was struck by how much it sounded like an American rag. Nazareth's first "tango brazileiro," Brejeiro, was written in 1893, six years before Scott Joplin's first big ragtime hit, the Maple Leaf. What an amazing coincidence that two young pianist/composers, writing at the same time in places as far apart geographically and culturally as Rio de Janeiro and Saint Louis, would write music so much alike. Or was it coincidence?
In fact, although thousands of miles apart, Saint Louis and Rio were linked by a well-traveled water route. Goods, people, and, inevitably, musicians traveled up and down the Mississippi, through New Orleans to the Caribbean islands - Cuba in particular - and along the coast of South America to Rio and Buenos Aires.
The roots of American ragtime are in fact the same roots that inspired Nazareth's tangos. They are a mix of African, European and Indigenous traditions, which formed a uniquely American music many years before Nazareth and Joplin were born. This vibrant music, centered especially in Cuba, also led to conga, samba, bossa nova, jazz, blues - the list goes on.
When I decided to create a program of American Rags and Brazilian Tangos, it seemed fitting to add Lecuona's Afrocuban Dances to the mix. They give a taste of the source from which the rags and tangos arose. And together, the northern rags, southern tangos, and central Cuban dances form a wonderful set of lively, rhythmic pieces, full of color and vitality.
Scott Joplin (1868-1917), James Scott (1885-1938), and Joseph Lamb (1887-1960) are well-known as the "trinity" of "Classic Ragtime" - the composer/pianists who took the improvisational style of "ragged time" piano playing, and used it to create sophisticated written works. Joplin set the tone with his masterpiece, the Maple Leaf, followed by a great many rags of similar high quality. His younger contemporaries, Scott and Lamb, are known respectively as the virtuosic and the sensitive counterparts to Joplin, comparisons which are at least somewhat apt. All three wrote music of considerable staying power, and the works selected for this recording are among their best.
Ernesto Nazareth (1863-1934) was very much admired by classical Brazilian composers from Villa Lobos to Mignone, who considered him the first truly Brazilian composer. Nazareth spent his entire life in Rio de Janeiro, where he composed for the piano and performed in salons, movie theaters, and, occasionally, concert halls. He was very fond of the music of Chopin, which he performed often, and he wrote many waltzes, mazurkas, polkas, and other pieces more or less in the style of the Polish master. But it is for his fifty plus Brazilian Tangos that he is known today.
The "Brazilian Tango" was Nazareth's invention, inspired by the then-new Argentine tango, but faster and with a somewhat altered rhythm. Nazareth wrote one tango that he called "characteristic" - definitely Argentine in style - showing he knew the difference very well. Brejeiro and Odeon are among his best known works.
Ernesto Lecuona (1896-1963), born in Havana, Cuba, began his musical career as a virtuoso pianist, and as the composer of classical works like the well-known Andalucia Suite. He later gravitated to more popular styles, becoming a successful band leader and composer of songs and film scores.
Fred Sturm makes his home in the enchanted land of New Mexico, where he grows apples, peaches, cherries and blackberries. He is particularly fond of the poetry of Pablo Neruda and Jorge Luis Borges, and loves and admires Don Quixote for his indomitable spirit and unshakable sense of purpose. When he isn't playing rags and tangos, he performs music of various Latin American composers, especially Villa Lobos and Ginastera. His previous CD, Brazilian Soul, was devoted to the piano music of Villa Lobos.
The Entertainer is dedicated to my father-in-law, Jim Reck. Here's "that one you like," to listen to any time you want. Odeon is especially for Terri, who says I should play it on every concert. So I usually do.
Recording engineer - Steve Peters
Mastered by Manny Rettinger, UBIK Sound, LLC
Recorded in Keller Hall, University of New Mexico on July 22 and 24, 2002
Copyright 2002, Fred S. Sturm
Cover design: Paul Akmajian Photos: Terri Reck