Sunday, August 3, 2008

Maple Leaf Rag by Scott Joplin

The great Scott Joplin was said to have recorded seven piano rolls in 1916, the year before his death. "Maple Leaf Rag", his greatest hit and the first song to reach one million sales in sheet music, was one of them.

Joplin died before audio recording technology became common so piano rolls were the next best thing. While they sacrifice the dynamic range that we take for granted in actual recordings and can be tampered with to mask mistakes or make embellishments, piano rolls are nonetheless a still fascinating glimpse into how composers of antiquity approached their own music.

This "Connorized" version of the "Maple Leaf Rag" is full of errors, which could be symptomatic of Joplin's twenty year-long battle with tertiary syphilis (one effect of this disease is discoordination of the fingers). But it's still played by Scott Joplin, which makes it a rare treat to any fan of classic ragtime (the 1/16th notes are swung, which many purists ascribe more to modern jazz and not the earlier ragtime, hence providing an argument that Joplin didn't actually record this roll).

I've been on a Scott Joplin kick ever since I referenced the "Maple Leaf Rag" while revising chapter two of American Zen (Jo Jo, the keyboardist, plays the first bar during the band's first ever rehearsal in 1978). So, if you have an appreciation for ragtime, please enjoy this little masterpeice of western culture. This is one of my favorite songs of all time.

One of the amazing coincidences is that the band in American Zen broke up on November 24th, which is the commonly accepted birthdate of Joplin (although almost surely wrong) and their first rehearsal, in a briefly working revision of chapter two, takes place on April's Fool's day, which is the day Joplin passed away in 1917. It's just one of the very many coincidences that mark this novel of mine, little serendipities that tend to suggest that I'm perhaps on a path of destiny.

For anybody that cares...


At August 3, 2008 at 8:20 PM, Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

i flat loves me some scott joplin. ragtime is fun stuff. it is a style of music that cannot be taught. you can either feel it, or you can't. if you can't feel it, you never will.

playful, kinda snotty, but most of all completely joyous.

one of my favorite music stories involves "the maple leaf rag." we were in the studio with harry "the hipster" gibson. near the end of the piece we all started swapping twos. where the band would break and it would be somebody's turn to go absolutely apeshit for two bars.

when harry's turn came he started at the bottom of the piano keyboard and ran a perfectly spaced chromatic run from the bottom to the top. perfect, 8 beats, every single note on the piano.

we were paralyzed. harry laughed out loud and counted us off again.

At August 3, 2008 at 10:00 PM, Anonymous Tengrain said...

I have the Scott Joplin song book, and learned to play so many rags when I was in high school. I don't know what happened or how I came to Joplin, it seemed to be sort of organic for me. I just sat down and started playing ragtime, and loving it. And then I quit playing when I graduated and went on to college. i don't know why. I still have the music book in the basement, the only piano music I kept.

Anyway, the Maple Leaf Rag was what I played at my last recital. There are a lot of tricky fingerings in it to play it right, I think. It was my triumphant end, and it holds a special place in my heart.

Thanks for posting this.



At August 4, 2008 at 12:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a whole collection of Scott Joplin and just love his "Stop Time Rag" Marvin Hamlish revived a lot of Joplin's music in "The Sting"

At August 4, 2008 at 9:44 AM, Anonymous Comrade Rutherford said...

My roomie always called him Jot Scoplin.

And you are so right, "if you can't boogie-woogie, you sure can't rock -n- roll"!


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