North Idaho College is bringing in Gunther Schuller to conduct a ragtime ensemble Sunday for its 25th Anniversary Popcorn Forum.
Schuller, who has irons in just about every possible musical fire, made a landmark recording of America’s original fusion music back in 1973 with his New England Conservatory Ragtime Ensemble. His reconstructions of Scott Joplin’s numbers from the 1912 Red Back Book hit the streets just in time to catch the ragtime revival wave concurrent with the popular movie “The Sting.”
Piano is the instrument most often associated with ragtime, and rightly so. From the 1890s to the 1920s, parlor pianos were commonplace in America, and millions of copies of rags in sheet-music form were bought by a public thirsty for this new craze.
Also, the player piano was the state-of-the-art in listening technology before being replaced by recordings, so many rags were distributed on piano rolls.
Nevertheless, there were plenty of ragtime ensembles and bands that would “rag” marches and perk them up with racy syncopations; even the bands of Arthur Pryor and John Philip Sousa regularly performed rags.
These instrumental arrangements are harder to come by, so Schuller’s research and re-creations help to fill this instrumental void.
Schuller brings his arrangements and expertise to a handpicked 16-piece ensemble composed of strings, winds and percussion from the Spokane Symphony. They will perform several of Scott Joplin’s works, such as the “Pineapple Rag,” the “Sunflower Slow Drag” and the 1899 piece that brought Joplin his fame, the “Maple Leaf Rag.”
Ferdinand “Jelly Roll” Morton, a pianist and bandleader who was adept in ragtime and went on to invent jazz (maybe not all alone, but he was there when it happened), will be represented by his “Black Bottom Stomp” and “Smokehouse Blues.” Some pieces by lesser-known contemporaries will be featured also, including Zez Confrey’s “Dizzy Fingers” and the “Bird Brain Rag” by Joseph Lamb.
Since the various ragtime revivals, from Max Morath in the ‘50s and William Bolcom in the ‘60s, the style has remained in our musical vocabulary, inspiring many new creations in the genre.
Sunday’s performance will feature Schuller’s arrangement of Stefan Kozinski’s “Maloney Rag” and Schuller’s own “Sandpoint Rag,” commissioned in 1985 by the Spokane Falls Brass Band.
The musical selections will be interspersed with Schuller’s usual historical elucidations. The performance is billed as a concert/ lecture, which borders on redundancy with Schuller at the helm.
His informative comments always add a depth of understanding and appreciation for audiences.
MEMO: This sidebar ran with story: The Popcorn Forum’s Ragtime Concert, conducted by Gunther Schuller Location and time: NIC Boswell Auditorium, Sunday, 2 p.m. Tickets: $10, available at the door