The Answer Man

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Q: What kind of music do we hear very often, but probably don't identify as such?

A: Ragtime

The Friends of Music and The Music Club could undoubtedly do a better presentation than the following. Nevertheless, you don't have to be into it that much to know that from bebop to Beethoven; from Sousa to Sheryl Crow there have always been great musical sounds that have been with us for a long time.

As long as there is a hot trumpet or trombone around there will always be Jazz. Aficionados can probably tell us just about the exact date, but it hit Chicago in 1915 and was called "jass." Of course there is the Dixieland Jazz that came out of New Orleans, and is still a major feature of that city. There are probably people here in the Bootheel who have large collections of Jazz.

Ragtime is a little more subtle, but a distinct sound all of its own.

Scott Joplin was born in 1867, the son of a former slave, and a woman born free. It was a musical family so Scott learned the piano early. He even had some classical training.

Finding work was difficult so Scott Joplin became a "touring musician" often working in seedy environments we euphemistically call "dives," "joints," or "honky-tonks." He played the piano several times in red-light districts.

Gradually his excellent piano playing and compositions received some recognition. He even played some of his music at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair giving him acclaim as a Ragtime musician.

Scott Joplin moved into Sedalia, Missouri in 1894. Sedalia had very good race relations for the times, and he quickly became known as a composer. Because of Joplin the black people in Sedalia call their town "The Cradle of Ragtime." It was there that he wrote "Maple Leaf Rag," that is now considered the archetypal rag.

Ragtime enjoyed a popularity during the twenties and early 1930's, and then faded away as new music came in. It had a resurgence, however, in 1973 when Marvin Hamlish won the Academy Award for adapting Joplin's music for a movie called "The Sting."

"The Sting" was about two confidence-men played by Paul Newman & Robert Redford. They put a big con (or sting) on a murderous gambler who had killed a friend of theirs. Scott Joplin's Ragtime was the perfect musical ambiance for a story taking place in the 30's. One composition played was "The Entertainer," which had a following years after 1973, and is till heard quite often today. Another was called "Solace." It had an inexplicable poignancy about it causing a pensive melancholy.

Scott Joplin is called "The King of Ragtime." There were others that followed, but Joplin's music can be heard frequently in today's TV commercials, and in special situations for the movies.

It takes someone, however, who knows Ragtime to identify it as such.

It is rare that you will find places that specialize only on Ragtime. But they do exist. A few years back a place called "Noah's Ark" just west of St. Louis had a piano player, who refusing all other requests, played nothing but Ragtime. There are undoubtedly others. The sound is simply too unique to just die away.

Ragtime may be around long after all of us are gone. All you have to do is turn on your TV and wait. It will be there. You may or may not recognize it, but there it will be.

Q: When is there sometimes a clearing in the dismal darkness?

A: When someone lights a candle.

The tragic happenings in Senath are beyond comprehension, and have caused distress not only in this area but throughout the nation.

It was gratifying, however, to see a letter-to-the-editor from Sheriff Bob Holder thanking the many people and agencies that helped in the search for the little girl.

Bob Holder is a physically large man. He is always dressed in an officious, spic & span uniform. He has a mean looking revolver on his hip.

Does Bob Holder need a gun? A fly swatter would probably do because of his size, and his air of confidence and competence. He also has a mischievous sense of humor ready for a match in witticisms.

Thanks, Bob, for lighting a candle.

The Answer Man will appear on occasion in the Daily Dunklin Democrat,

and will provide answers to various and sundry questions about local people, etc.

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