A Tribute to Ragtime
My first CD was a present from Charlie Gabriel. A wonderful gift featuring songs Charlie and I had performed with Taslimah’s Ragtime Band over the past couple of years. This second offering is a response to those of you who convinced me to record another one. Thanks for your support and encouragement.
Harlem Rag is the first ragtime piece published by an African-American, Tom Turpin. Turpin owned the Rosebud Café in St. Louis, Missouri, which served as a proving ground for ragtime “professors” in the early 20th century. Not only did he compose and perform this music, he provided a haven for other ragtime pianists to come and show off their stuff, and learn and interact with other pianists – a place where musicians can be musicians – and not entertainers. We start this CD with a tribute to Mr. Turpin, who provided the incubator for the development of this wonderful music.
Harry P. Guy was introduced to me by Kenn Cox, a wonderful jazz pianist based in Detroit. We were fortunate enough to be a part of the moving New Orleans-style tribute as Guy’s headstone was laid in Elmwood Cemetery a few years back. Guy may have gotten lost in the shuffle of ragtime composers, but his music is beautifully written and very timely, as you will hear in Cleanin’ Up in Georgia as well as in the improvised section of Walkin’ and Talkin’, which features a beautifully rendered trio by Charlie Gabriel.
One of the first Scott Joplin compositions I learned was “Solace.” It’s a beautiful, haunting melody which features the habanera rhythm, first introduced into America by W.C. Handy in St. Louis Blues. The melody floats over this wonderful rhythmic combination of African, Spanish and European rhythms, a rhythm called “habanera” and introduced into America by W.C. Handy’s St. Louis Blues, which we now hear as the “tango.” Mamanita, by Jelly Roll Morton, continues the habanera conversation. No longer subdued, this rhythm captures the life and joy of New Orleans, while eloquently injecting the haunting melodies so prevalent in tango music.
Jelly Roll Morton was the bridge from ragtime to jazz, and we’ve enlisted four of his compositions, King Porter Stomp, Frog-I-More Rag and Wolverine Blues to exemplify that transition. I have listened to the first CD several times since its production and looked forward to the day when I could re-record some of them and “do it right.” This is what you have before you. The seven piece band has been streamlined into a quartet, the music has tightened up, and the personnel have been seasoned by a decade of performing together.
Wolverine Blues is particularly hopping. We were at the end of a long recording session, and David Lau, our engineer gave us the news of his first grandson, David Lau. Knowing that David wanted to get out to see this wonderful miracle of life, we borrowed some of that creative energy to give a particularly energetic performance. The world changed on June 30th, to accommodate a new life, and we dedicate this to David both in these notes and as you will hear, in the song. Welcome to the world!
The Bonus Tracks include a rendition of the first movement of James P. Johnson’s April in Harlem, reduced from the orchestral score to piano. This is a very moving piece, blending classical and jazz in a first movement worthy of our classical canon. I performed this piece at Cleveland’s Severance Hall for their Jazz on the Circle series. I think of the piece as a classical example of how the blending of styles produces a uniquely American music – something we can all take pride in, and I hope you will love the piece as much as I do. The last piece, Entertainer Blues, is a particularly poignant rendition of the first section of the Entertainer, recorded by Charlie Gabriel and myself at WDET-FM studio in Detroit. As no project would be complete without a tribute to the entertainers who originated this music, we offer this coda as a thank you to all of the composers who persisted in making this beautiful music in the land of their birth.
Some people think of music as an object – a beautiful piece of history to be maintained in perfect form, in the way it first presented itself to the world. I believe that music is also functional – to be utilized whenever the occasion calls for it. Music is a way of being, a unique way of viewing and responding to life, and sharing experiences with others in a way that expands us. This powerful effect of music is felt in all cultures, in all ages. That’s what I’ve done with ragtime
. I hope that in listening, you, too, will be able to share experiences and memories. For this CD is a response to those of you who convinced me that I was able to record another CD. For all of you who asked, “When are you going to put out another one?” I present this humble effort, with thanks for your confidence in me.
Special Thanks To: Our Creator, my grandmother, Emma Beard, my mother, Phyllis Hall, my brothers and sisters, my son Hassaan for his excellent graphics, Charles Boles, my uncle-teacher, and Charlie Gabriel, my musical inspiration.
Produced by: Taslimah Bey
Graphics Design: Hassaan Bey
Taslimah Bey Quartet: Taslimah Bey – Piano, Charlie Gabriel – Clarinet, Marion Hayden – Bass, Djallo Djakete – Drums
Recorded, mixed and mastered by David Lau at Brookwood Studio, Inc. www.brookwoodstudio.com