Cotton Blossom Time album is quite different in that it is performed by a small ragtime orchestra rather than by a solo pianist. It also features the compositions of a diverse group of classic ragtime writers plus a current composer, David Thomas Roberts. Roberts penned a tune titled "Roberto Clemente" in 1979 in honor of the fabled Pittsburgh Pirates right-fielder. He also collaborated with Bill Bissonnette on the liner notes for this album.
The Barfota Jazzmen, led by cornetist/trumpeter Claes Ringqvist are normally associated with the New Orleans revival movement and highly respected in their native Sweden. The leader wisely added a violin to the lineup for the ragtime sessions and spent countless hours on authentic arrangements. Fans of classic ragtime are nothing, if not critical. They’ll have a tough time finding fault with this recording. The judicious use of violin, clarinet, sousaphone and drums is effective and exciting. The piano takes a "back seat" on the ragtime album and is relegated to the rhythm section.
While the project includes five numbers by Scott Joplin and one by James Scott, there are ample tunes by less-known writers. The title tune, "Cotton Blossom Time" is from the pen of Percy Wenrich (1887-1952), a white composer, a native of Joplin, Missouri. Wenrich was better known for popular songs like "When You Wore a Tulip" and "Put On Your Old Grey Bonnet" but penned a few rags including "The Smiler" and "Red Rose Rag."
A couple of Detroit writers, Fred Stone and Harry Guy contributed "Ma Ragtime Baby" and "Echoes From The Snowball Club." The latter is believed to be the first ragtime waltz (1898).
The New Orleans musician and composer, Alphonse Verges, contributed the popular "Whoa You Heifer" in 1904. Kansas City’s Harry Kelly (1879-1955) offers his highly successful "Peaceful Henry" (1905) and the band handles it perfectly.
The most obscure ragtime writer is represented by two compositions, "African Pas" (1902) and "Havana Rag" (1904). Maurice Kirwin’s biographical information is limited to the dates and publishers of his music. He is known to be from Saint Louis, Missouri but little else is known. However, the quality of the music speaks for itself, especially "Havana."
The Barfota Jazzmen assembled Cotton Blossom Time from several recording sessions in 1997, 2001, 2005 and 2006. All recordings were done in Sweden and are now being released on America’s Jazz Crusade label. In their usual fashion, the label provides a generous 73 minutes of music.
Ragtime fans are welcome to listen to samples on the Jazz Crusade website. It’s fine ragtime!