MP3 Frank French - James Scott´s Ragtime
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CLASSICAL: Traditional, JAZZ: Ragtime
There has never been any doubt that the ragtime of James
Sylvester Scott should be ranked alongside that of Scott Joplin and Joseph F. Lamb. They are Classic Ragtime's "Big Three",with Joplin, as with Bach, in the position of the progenitor of both style and structure. Scott and Lamb took their cues directly from the master, and what, exactly, ragtime music was and should be. Each composer in his own way could be termed an innovator. Scott was probably the most keyboard man of the three, a fact often explained by his dexterity on the theater organs popular in his day. Scott was also known to play the calliope and was more capable of conducting and playing other instruments. His rags are far more "orchestral" in sound and feeling than those of the other classic ragtimers. The rhythms
are often driving, frequently propelled by a powerful left hand. One of Scott's hallmarks is his use of the "echo" effect, a device in which a phrase of melodic material is stated, than repeated an octave higher ( sometimes with Scott, it's two octaves higher)The technique is a common thread in James Scott's rags and it lends a lilting quality to his pieces' driving pianism.
One might imagine that the composer of such scintillating piano pieces would possess a sparkling, fun-loving personality. In the case of James Scott, one would be mistaken. Scott's equally famous Kansas City counterpart, Charles L. Johnson, wrote dozens of happy, peppy rags, which suited his enthusiastic, humorous nature. Though of good humor, Scott's consciousness was intensely focused on one thing - his music. That intensity came across as a studied seriousness, earning him the nickname of "The Little Professor". A cousin noted that Scott "always walked rapidly looking at the ground. He
would pass you on the street and never see you, and seemed
always deep in thought. If anyone spoke to him on the street,he would jump, look surprised and pleased." Another key observation: " He never talked about his music, just wrote,wrote, wrote and played it for anyone who would listen. He wrote music a fluently as writing a letter, humming and writing all at the same time." One can only imagine the sources of inspiration for classic ragtime's brilliant little professor.
Scott's life is an open book, and even regarding is poor health in the late '20's andinto the '30's, when Scott was in middle age and Ragtime had been declared dead and buried, his life is unshadowed when compared with Joplin. He was born in Neosho, Missouri, in1885. The family moved to Carthage, MO in 1901. At age 18, James began working as a janitor for the local music store, Dumars Music Co; its owners quickly put him to work plugging the new songs of the day when they discovered his enviable and exceptional piano-playing abilities. Dumars also published Scott's first three rags " A Summer Breeze-March and Two-Step" and "The Fascinator-March" in 1903 and "On the Pike- March and Two-Step" in 1904, the latter a reference to the Midway of the World's Fair , where itinerant pianists from everywhere congregated in St. Louis, gateway to the west, in 1904. By 1906, Scott himself had ventured to St. Louis where John Stark bought his " Frog Legs Rag." It was Scott's first hit, and with it, Stark continued to publish Scott's rags over the next 16 years. As the Jazz Age eclipsed ragtime's popularity, Scott's rags grew increasingly intricate, as though he were expanding into a newer, exceedingly complex form of classical American music in spite of the public's tastes. Several of his last few rags present a complex interchange between right and left hands, and have an ethereal lyricism absent from his earliest works.
James Scott's active composing career spanned the years
1903 to 1922, with a total of 30 rags published. The rags are joyus and ornate, with the unbounded energy of ragtime's
earlier folk numbers, yet constructed with the discipline, and injected with the sensitivity and attention to detail, of great classic ragtime. Scott's ragtime is a complex whirlwind of beautiful, hummable melodies, intricate rhythms which set the foot to tapping, and a sense of the music's utter joy, with ample forays into its potential for serious expression .
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