Album Review

Terry Waldo - The Soul of Ragtime

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The soul of Ragtime found in rags, marches, opera and more

Though Ragtime's syncopation and polyrhythmic marches often conjure turn-of-the-twentieth-century nostalgia, it's shown itself to be a terrifically hearty music. Jazz musicians revived the Ragtime canon in the 1940s, and many of the British Invasion's brightest lights started out in Trad Jazz bands that played Ragtime selections. Even more strikingly, the 1970s saw Scott Joplin's profile elevated by records, awards, and in 1974 (nearly sixty years after his passing) a Top 5 chart hit for "The Entertainer." The latter achievement also pigeonholed Ragtime in the public consciousness as old-timey music, and obscured the breadth of its offerings in two-steps and fox trots in both instrumental and vocal forms.

Terry Waldo began his exploration of Dixieland and Ragtime in the 1960s and his radio serial This is Ragtime, and a book of the same title, were centerpieces of the 1970s revival. He's continued to champion the music's history and promote its on-going vitality with new compositions and recordings, live performances (both solo and with his Gotham City Jazz Band), and as a teacher. His latest album combines newly composed tunes with classics of the repertoire and songs brought to Ragtime by Waldo's deft ears and fingers. Waldo draws material from gospel, Broadway, early jazz, marches, and perhaps most surprising, nineteenth-century opera. The latter, from Wagner's Tannhäuser, is a somber piece whose relationship to Ragtime is revealed in its lighter final minute.

Waldo shines on the album's wide range of rags, including the original "Turkish Rondo Rag" and "Ragtime Ralph," but the album's biggest surprises are in tunes not famously known as piano rags. John Phillip Sousa's "Stars & Stripes Forever" wears Waldo's syncopation with a glee that befits the song's joyous patriotism, and the jaunty flourishes added to "Just a Closer Walk With Thee" enliven a song typically played as a funeral dirge. Waldo reads "I'm Just Wild About Harry" in the romantic vein of its composer, Eubie Blake, rather than the upbeat band arrangements of the '20s and '30s, and his rendition of "The Pearls" retains the character of Jelly Roll Morton's solo arrangement. If you think Ragtime is nothing more than a nostalgic, almost corny soundtrack for The Sting, Waldo's deep scholarship and vital artistry will set you straight.

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