Ragtime originated from this mix of African-American, Western classical and “Spanish” forms in the late 1800s and early 1900s, primarily in bars in the red light districts of cities such as New Orleans and St. Louis, as a form of upbeat, dance-style piano music. Inspired by jigs and other dances played by African-American bands at the end of the 19th century, ragtime pianists composed syncopated melodies that fused the confident American marches of John Philip Sousa with the energetic polyrhythms of African music. [What is syncopation? What is polyrhythm?]
While popular black minstrel ERNEST HOGAN was the first musician to codify ragtime into sheet music so others could perform it–Hogan’s most popular compositions and performances stereotyped African-American culture in a way that even at the time were considered racist–composer and pianist SCOTT JOPLIN took ragtime from the realm of minstrels and also out of the red light district. His 1899 hit “Maple Leaf Rag” was more musically intricate than any other popular ragtime compositions; his 1902 “The Entertainer” elevated the form to the level of art.
Ragtime became less popular in 1917 when jazz emerged from New Orleans and captured the popular musical imagination, but it never really went away. Ragtime pianists like “JELLY ROLL” MORTON straddled the two worlds for several years, liberally borrowing from ragtime to lay the foundations for his early forays into jazz.
[Learn about the controversial life of Ernest Hogan | Listen to Scott Joplin’s “Solace” | Listen to Jelly Roll Morton perform Fingerbreaker.]
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