Sunday, March 15, 2009

Choro & Ragtime

Ragtime is an American music style that emerged at around the same time as choro during the late decades of the XIX. Century. There are obvious similarities between ragtime and choro, both music styles draw from European music tradition and blend with Afro rhythm into a characteristic syncopated music form that evolved in two parallel directions. Musicologists have been aware of the similarities (- and differences) between ragtime and choro for quite some time, but just recently an attempt has been made to bring the two music traditions together.

The good people at, headed by flutist Daniel Dalarossa, have prepared yet another interesting project, this time focusing on choro and ragtime. According to the extensive notes at the website of the aim of the project has been to let a choro ensemble play typical ragtime pieces using the instruments commonly featured in a traditional choro group and adding choro rythm and improvisation to the music performed. I was pointed to the recorded music by a friend, who has downloaded the recorded 10 pieces offered for purchase at the website, which also offers the written scores to be used by musicians who would like to learn and play along. The recorded ragtime pieces are played once as intended by the composer, second time through improvisation is added, generally spoken. The result is marvellous, if you like ragtime, the 'special touch' added by competent choro players brings a sparkling new life into both well known compositions by Scott Joplin as well as other ragtime composers. Even though you are not a musician, I recommend these joyful renditions of classic ragtime. Learn more about the participating musicians, scores and recorded music for purchase at, click here

Scott Joplin (1868-1917) is generally recognised as one of the originators of the classic ragtime style, his compositions for piano - like the shown 'Maple Leaf Rag' (1899) - were popular in the US around 1900, the score of 'Maple Leaf Rag' sold in more than one million copies. The piano was the favoured instrument for home entertainment, thus, written scores for piano of popular music were in high demand. Recordings of original ragtime played by pianists were scarce as recording fascilities (- most often cylinders were used) prevented pianists to participate. Instead pianists were forced to rely on the reading abilities of other pianists to spread their compositions, although some of them also cut piano rolls to be used by mechanical player pianos. The mechanical sound of a player piano roll may have caused the deminising interest in ragtime, when recording possibilites became better through the phonogram discs. Anyway, it's a fact that ragtime had its heyday from 1900 to 1917, World War I seems to have moved the general interest in ragtime into other directions. There was a short revival during the 1950s thanks to a relived interest in dixieland jazz and its origins in ragtime, but it was not until the early 1970s a new craze for ragtime evolved, thanks to a very popular movie from 1972, 'The Sting', that featured soundtrack music of compositions by Scott Joplin, including notable ragtime pieces like 'The Entertainer', 'The Easy Winners' a.o.

Given the fact that most of classic ragtime is composed with the aim of being played by a piano it may seem a bit strange to have a string or wind ensemble playing the music. But as it happened with the compositions written by Ernesto Nazareth, string ensembles or even brass bands soon started playing this kind of popular music. In original recorded ragtime you'll find examples of full brass bands playing 'Maple Leaf Rag' and other Joplin pieces, but the most interesting renditions are those applied by banjo players accompanied by a piano or small string ensemble. The banjo was a novelty instrument at the time when ragtime emerged, and this fact may seem to be a part of the reason for quite a lot of recorded banjo ragtime from the heyday of the genre. Virtuosi like Vess Ossman and Fred van Eps (see picture) set the standard in this very demanding branch of playing the banjo, today only few people seem to have an interest in carrying on the torch. However, here's one, who gives it a fair try:

As it happend with choro also ragtime was absorbed by all sorts of musicians, erudite as well as self taught, during the process both musical forms evolved in different directions. Choro luckily survived and left a legacy of wonderful music kept alive to this day by devoted individuals. Ragtime has had its ups and downs, but maybe a new era is in sight thanks to ensembles like the one viewed here:

If you have become interested in listening to string ragtime, you may have an opportunity to join an event during August this year. The first Danish Folk, Blues & Ragtime Guitar Festival is scheduled from August 5h to 7th and features great string ragtime performes. Learn more from the festival's official website, click here



Anonymous Anonymous said...

thanks for this great information..

- ledz -

17 March, 2009  

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