Monday, August 17, 2015

The Ragtime Skedaddlers - Supreme String Band Ragtime

Sheet music front
Ragtime had its heyday at the dawn of the 20th century, it was the popular music of the time and ragtime composers were busy and had success publishing new ragtime scores that were in great demand by performing musicians as well as amateurs looking for suitable sheet music for home entertainment. An example of a popular ragtime piece from the period is the shown A Ragtime Skedaddle by George Rosey ( - a pseudonym for George M. Rosenberg) that was published in 1899, the same year as Scott Joplin's Maple Leaf Rag. The sheet front subtitles the piece 'March and Cake Walk' pointing to the musical form and further to its proper use as accompaniment to performance of the cake walk, a popular social dance fad of the time.

Sheet front detail (click to enlarge)
If you take a closer look at the sheet front (- a free downloadable copy of the original piano score is available here), you can notice that the piece was available for purchase in various arrangements (se detail above). The standard score of course was designated for piano, but you had also the possibility to buy arrangements for banjo solo, full orchestra and various string band combinations featuring mandolin and guitar. Today ragtime is considered a musical genre performed by a solo piano player, but fact is that  when scores like A Ragtime Skedaddle were published, other instruments were just 
as usual for performance of the music. 'The King of Banjo', Sylvester 'Vess' L. Ossman , recorded the piece the same year it was published and had success with his version as a banjo solo

Sylvester 'Vess' L. Ossman (1868 - 1923) was one of the first popular banjoists to make cylinders and records. Beginning with his first cylinder recording in 1893,  his fame was spread far and wide through his thousands of recordings of popular ragtime and marches. He performed extensively in England as well as the USA. Later in his career, he led his own dance bands in Ohio and Indiana. - A selection of Ossman's recordings is available in streaming audio here 

Vess Ossman, The King of Banjo
A contemporary string ragtime trio from San Francisco has taken its name from George Rosey's popular piece and presents themselves as The Ragtime Skedaddlers.

The Ragtime Skedaddlers, l-r: Mike Schwartz, Dennis Pash,  Nick Robinson
The Ragtime Skedaddlers are Dennis Pash on banjo-mandolin, Nick Robinson on mandolin, and Mike Schwartz on guitar (formerly Dave Krinkel). They play rags, cakewalks, marches, waltzes, and latin-tinge pieces from vintage mandolin and guitar sheet music arrangements. The trio has released three full albums, all available in streaming audio and for purchase here. The latest is approbiately titled The Latest Popular Mandolin and Guitar Music and gives an excellent impression of the repertoire performed by the trio.
CD front sleve illustration (2014)
From a review of one of the albums by The Ragtime Skedaddlers (- accessible here) I like to quote the following:

"Using arrangements published during the ragtime era, the Ragtime Skedaddlers continue the tradition of ragtime string bands. (-) Unlike other “traditional” groups who take their inspiration from various notions of New Orleans jazz or Chicago jazz, the Skedaddlers go back to a time when string ragtime, light-hearted yet propulsive, was America’s true popular music.(-) This trio doesn’t speed up or approach the music with either clownish levity or undue scholarly seriousness. Rather, they are old-fashioned melodists, creating sweet lines that arch and tumble over one another in mid-air. (-) The Skedaddlers are entrancing on their own, and a delightful change from the often heavy ensembles so prevalent in occasions of this sort."

To support this precise description of The Ragtime Skedaddlers, I'll insert some examples of the trio's live performance that have been uploaded at YouTube. - Here is first the trio's version of George Rosey's A Ragtime Skedaddle 

In this video recorded in 2010, Dave Krinkel on guitar was a member of the trio, he is also featured in the next, recorded at at private party in 2013 when The Ragtime Skedaddlers among other pieces also performed an excellent version of Ernesto Nazareth's maxixe titled Dengozo (published 1907)

From the same party session the trio also performed Scott Joplin's Peacherine Rag (published 1901)

To end this small presentation of The Ragtime Skedaddlers, here is the trio's performance of Henry Lodge's Temptation Rag recorded at the Mandolin Symposition earlier this year, Mike Schwartz is the featured guitarist in this video


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