Catherine Schmidt-Jones stated in her brief history of ragtime music that following the American Civil War, the only jobs available to most blacks were poor-paying menial labor; except, there were 3 noted exceptions: teacher, preacher, and musician. Eventually, in the late 1890’s, a black pianist came forward whose virtuosity propelled African-American musicians to a level to which they came to be viewed as serious artists, .... his name, Scott Joplin. Without much question, Joplin is the most influential artist of Ragtime music that has ever existed. Even in 1973, Joplin’s music was featured in the film, The Sting; the film won an academy award for its film score. Moreover, in 1976, Joplin’s music was recognized for its unparalleled genius; his opera, Treemonisha, was awarded a Pulitzer Prize. In any case, these are poignant reminders that Ragtime music is an enduring art form on the American musical landscape and rightfully so.
That being said, two of the six rags on Manhattan Ragtime Orchestra’s (MRO) CD are Joplin’s Magnetic Rag and Euphonic Sounds. As is stated in the liner notes, Magnetic is a real chops buster, and MRO handles it quite masterfully.
Under the direction of Orange Kellin (the group’s world-renowned clarinetist), the group was formed in 2004. It’s comprised of working musicians from the New York City area; that is to say these guys are professional, gigging musicians, and upon listening to the CD, it is quite apparent that these guys not only play the music, understand the music, and cohesively work together as a group, but they also love the music and have a great deal of fun performing it.
It was a joy to listen to this CD, and for anyone interested in late 19th and early 20th century American music, I highly recommend it, but I also recommend the CD to those just wanting to listen to masters of their craft performing a style of music that deserves a place of honor on the mantel of American music.
As writer J. Russell states, "Ragtime was a fanfare for the 20th century.", and it’s good to know that Ragtime is still strongly and masterfully reverberating today.