Thursday, December 1, 2011

"Maple Leaf Rag" - Sidney Bechet and His New Orleans Feetwarmers

This is a 1932 rrecording by the great saxophonist/clarinetist Sidney Bechet, contemporary of Louis Armstrong and other great lights of American jazz.

For more about Mr. Bechet:

The recording here is based on a 1899 composition by the "King of the Ragtime Composers", Scott Joplin, born in Marshall, Texas in 1868. Joplin, was underappreciated in his own lifetime. "Maple Leaf Rag" was his biggest hit in his lifetime and it aforded him time to work on other rags and two operas, neither of the latter being a success. The song title came from "The Maple Leaf Club", dubbed " a not -too respectable establishment in the red light district" of Sedalia, Missouri, than a thriving community where Joplin also went to music classes at the local college.

His groundbreaking musical pieces finally got the recognition he deserved--fifty-sixty years too late for Joplin, who died in 1917-- when his work was used in the 1973 Oscar-winning film "The Sting" with Paul Newman and Robert Redford as savvy con-men in the 1930's. (Why music from the turn of the 20th century was used in a film set decades later in Depresion America puzzled me when the film was released.)

But to more important matters:

Scott Joplin bridged the improvised syncopations of ragtime with the composition style of other types of concert and dance music. He traveled all over America as a young man, a prolific piano performer and composer, later making St. Louis his home.

Joplin first composed what was called "jig music" in Taxarkana, Texas and Sedalia. It was called "jig" because the infectious rhythms caused people to break into a jig. It combined the harmonies of black music with the marches and dances of the Old World that white Americans were used to.

Thirty years on, Sidney Bechet's jazzmen took the waltz-y elements out of the tune and made it pure hot jazz. Hope you enjoy!


  1. The same tune as it originally sounded, taken from a Scott Joplin piano roll:

  2. Amazing pieces of music Doug. To me they symbolise industrialisation, it is hard to imagine such rhythms and time signatures appearing in a more pastoral age.

    These sounds of America as it grew and developed seems to me almost created by the new technology used to capture and preserve the music.

    It sounds to me like a celebration of urbanisation (and the freedom of the anonymity this afforded) amongst the faster pace of life in the developing industrial urban centres across the land.

    The African rhythms and soulful laments of the Mississippi sharecroppers porch have been transformed here into the busy movement of the nascent automobile age and the upward thrust of America's cities, both physical and social, becoming cultural melting pots where Irish ballads met African rhythms and in the heat of those colliding jitterbug passions they finally gave birth to rock 'n' roll.

    It is perhaps strange that the signature tunes of that now maturing America are almost exclusively black in origin, at a time when the social elite who financed the whole enterprise was almost exclusively white.

    The two things came together and it was called fun, the pleasure industry was born.

    Jazz was I think the joyful outburst of creativity liberated by money, dope and bourbon at a time when America was the crucible of anarchism, even as the storm clouds assembled over Sarajevo that would soon change America and the whole world forever.

    Great music here, a living history of dancing America apprehended and captured in an audio time capsule, good stuff Doug, thanks for sharing.

  3. I agree, Aaran.

    Doug, these are wonderful!! Loved them both... love that kind of sound that just makes you want to dance!!!

  4. Great oldie Douglas. He does not look russian to me. Just kidding.

  5. The backdrop of industrialization had to be a key to this music I agree, AA. The pace of civic life even in Scott Joplin's time was already speeding up as more people left farms (and black people and poor whites left the sharecropping feudalism of the Old South) and came to cities like Chicago, St. Louis, Los Angeles, et al. Streetcars and bicycles and later automobiles zipped everything in life up and up in as time, not the slower passage of the sun and moon, became king over people's lives. No wonder it flourished, even against the tide of middle class and elite "blue noses" who tried to piously reject what soon invaded home after home thanks to phonograph stores in almost every town from Maine to Oregon.

    It is a strange paradox, black and white culture finally coming together over something as basic and universal as music and fun, brridging divides (albeit slowly in some ways) but making strides time and again.

    A good point about jazz in America and the coming of WWI. Just as the slow inevitability of war came to America in 1917, so did the first jazz records make their way to Europe. There was more than a touch of anarchism, indeed, about this music, especially in America when the Prohibition Era needed a music to inspire a general rebellion against the short-sighted schemes of zealous "reformers".

    The first jazz bands came to London and Paris I believe not long after the great war ended. So a new type of transnational empire of culture, available to anyone with some money for a night out, changed the world.

    Glad you enjoyed this. Thanks AA.

  6. It is great music Jack. And a style and syncopation that literally reverberated all through the last century and spawned all kinds of off-shoots in music.

  7. I loved "The Maple Leaf Rag" when I first heard it as a lad, Christy . It definately gets the feet tapping away. Glad you enjoyed this!