Hello Everyone, forum newbie here.

I'm a composer and multi-instrumentalist whose main axe is guitar, but with such an inordinate fondness for banjo that I own several and have been playing them off and on for over 30 years.

I discovered your site by accident, and was much intrigued by the "9-pound banjo mute". :)    But what really caught my eye was the statement, "...the vast majority is popular music, ragtime, and 'banjo music', or original music written specifically for the banjo" in the section devoted to classic banjo music.

While I've composed and performed music across the spectrum from Bach to Punk Rock and pretty much everything in between, I was bitten by the Ragtime bug in a big way about 16 years ago.  Since then I've composed more than a hundred rags, mostly for piano, but also for guitar, banjo, mandolin, and a few less ubiquitous instruments like the xylophone and the caliope.  I've also put considerable effort into researching the history of ragtime, and have pretty well established that the earliest ragtime was most likely banjo and guitar muisc, rather than the piano stylings most people think of as "ragtime" today.  And I  have been searching for examples of rags that were composed specifically, or at least initially for banjo and guitar. 

This has proven something of a daunting task.  Many, perhaps most, of those early rags were not written down or published, being most usually transmitted by ear.  When the ragtime piano era became established, the vast majority of publishers devoted themselves to piano rags.  Where rags for other instruments were published, most of them were arrangements of piano rags, adapted for other instruments.  This continues to be true today, where most published books of "guitar rags", for example, are filled with transcriptions of Joplin, Scott, Lamb, Turpin, and other giants of piano ragtime -- but precious few actual guitar rags.  I've run into the same thing with banjo rags.

I was therefore excited to discover at the classic-banjo site, a significant collection of rags for the banjo.  Many of these are also arrangements, I note, and the names of piano composers pop up here and there.  But there are some which do not bear an arranger's name, or for whom the arranger is a noted banjoist such as Van Eps, or Ossman, which leads me to believe that I may have found some clues to the ragtime 'holy grail' I've been seeking these many years.

It has been my good luck to have connected up with various web fora representing a huge wealth of musical knowledge and experience, and I strongly suspect I have found another such in the classic-banjo site.  So I present my questions to the experts and learned amateurs here:  Can anyone verify which, if any, of the rags currently residing in the site library were indeed originally written for the banjo?  And can anyone here perhaps give me some pointers to any additional sources of information about ragtime compositions for banjo?

Thanks so much, in advance.  Great site!

Dr H

Views: 514

Comment by Jody Stecher on May 12, 2014 at 22:50

A number of rags composed specifically for banjo come to mind. Some are not in the site library. Many are. However, bear in mind that some of these compositions are not from the very earliest days of ragtime and do not predate the well known piano rags and brass band rags although the style in which they are composed possibly does. the composers were all banjo players.

Paul Eno's " A Ragtime Episode"

AJ Weidt composed at least 3 rags for banjo:  "Onion Rag", Dat Yam Rag" and "That Banjo Rag"

Fred Bacon's " The Turkey Gobbler Rag"

Joe Morley has at least 2: The Palladium Rag and The Keynotes Rag"

Frank Lawes wrote " The Pandemonium Rag"

Fred Bassett's  "Jumbo Rag"

Olly Oakley and Ed Hesse wrote "Sweet Jasmine" which Oakley recorded many times. I think it qualifies as ragtime although it does not have the syllable "rag" in its title.

I think Parke Hunter's "Pensacola" qualifies and that is probably from the 19th century.

Fred Van Eps composed "Rag Pickings". Although it does quote and paraphrase earlier rags I think it qualifies as its own entity and it is completely banjoisitic.

There is the "Royal Rag" by Thomas Armstrong

Alfred Kirby wrote "The Restless Rag"

That's a start.

Comment by Joel Hooks on May 13, 2014 at 0:10

Are we qualifying that they need to have "rag" in the title?

If not then we get into possibly hundreds of pieces (and likely much more).

They were Weid's specialty.  Let's not forget the 6/8 syncopated marches (my favorite).  One Steps, Two Steps, Fox Trots, Slow Drags...

More than a few Morley's pieces fit.

Wedt covers rag time syncopation in his instruction series pretty well.

Comment by Jody Stecher on May 13, 2014 at 0:20

Joel, I can't think of any 6/8 marches with ragtime elements. Which ones are you thinking of? Of the other types (2 step etc) you mentioned, sure, so many have ragtime elements. But I'm trying to imagine this is in 6/8 and not succeeding. 

Comment by Joel Hooks on May 13, 2014 at 0:44

I might not be totally clear on what constitutes "ragtime" then.  I was under the impression that "Characteristic March and Two Step" was considered ragtime.

Like Weidt's "Rag Tag" or one I've been playing with "Watch Hill March."

Comment by Trapdoor2 on May 13, 2014 at 0:49

Dr. H, I recommend looking at some of the early banjo tutors for the elements of syncopation which evolved  in a ragtime direction...starting with the 1855 "Briggs Book", the 1860 Buckley, 1868 Buckley, all of Converse's stuff (1865-1887), etc., etc. It isn't quite "ragtime" yet but the elements are creeping in. The banjo in the 1870-1890 era here in America is a largely untapped resource, musicologically speaking. Joel H. is fast becoming the guru of 1880's popular American banjo music.

Comment by Jody Stecher on May 13, 2014 at 1:38

In spite of the name I wouldn't call Rag Tag "ragtime" because it lacks the rhythms of ragtime. I'd say a rag is a rag because of the presence of characteristic syncopations, rhythms, chord changes, melody shape.  and also of attitude.  Long before the idea of "shredding" meaning a guitarist laying waste to the venue (after asking "Am I Too Loud Enough?") with his playing,  I find traces suggesting that  there was an earlier "shredding",  the idea being of a banjo  tearing a melody to shreds with staccato phrases made up of oddly timed notes of short sustain.

Also there is a rag-ish way of playing the banjo that goes better in duple time than in sixes. But I'm no ragtime scholar. I'm just giving my impressions for what it's worth. Dr. H can probably give a better definition. But yeah, Weidt composed a good number of raggy pieces whose titles don't advertise the fact directly.

To Trapdoor Marc: yeah, the elements are creeping in. Duple time marches become Cake Walks and Cake Walks become rags, for instance.

Comment by Dr H on May 13, 2014 at 18:30

@Jody -- Thanks!  That's a great start.  I'm not concerned whether the rags be from teh earliest days of ragtime, although those are rare gems when they do turn up.  My main interest at present is to locate rags which were originally composed for or developed on banjo and/or guitar.  So those are great additions to my meager list.


@Joel -- lol!  No, they don't have to have "rag" in the title.  Plenty of rags don't.  One steps, two steps, slow drags, and cakewalks usually fit the genre; fox trots not so much, although now and then one is syncopated enough to qualify.  Marches, usually not, particularly 6/8 marches.  I did make an attempt to write a highly syncopated 6/8 rag, but it ended up sounding like a march -- it's the syncopation against the steady two-beat that really makes a rag.


@Trapdoor2 -- I agree that era is of great interest in the development of ragtime.  I hadn't thought of banjo tutors before.  Are there many surviving examples?  Where would one find them?  Library of Congress, maybe?


@Jody again -- Yeah, you've got it:  Basically I start with the definition developed by David Jasen and Trebor Tichenor in Rags and Ragtime" A Musical History:  syncopated melody against a steady duple rhythm.   I take it a little further than they do, as they exclude the "ragtime waltz", whereas I believe there are some waltzes that clearly display raggy elements -- the "three against four" patterns of 16th notes; certain harmonic changes, and such.

As far as "shredding", at least one of the theroies for the term "ragtime" is that musicians more oriented towards straight-ahead marches, waltzs, and various popular dances of the day found the extreme syncopation of the ragtime players to sound like "ragged time".  As with many things, what may have actually started out as a pejorative term ended up being appropriated as a badge of honor by fans of the genre.

Thanks for all the responses; I feel like I'm off to a good start.

Comment by Trapdoor2 on May 13, 2014 at 19:09

The Hamilton Library has quite a few of the early Banjo Tutors available for free digital download. http://elib.hamilton.edu/banjo-tutors

Mr. Hooks has a great selection of them, including a large group of Mr. Converse's stuff: http://www.banjothimble.com/BANJO_TUTORS_%26_EPHEMERA.html

Mr. Tim Twiss has recorded "all the tunes" from many of the earliest banjo tutors (should you wish to hear them played "in the style" and on reproduction instruments). He's advertising here of late: http://minstrelbanjo.ning.com/forum/topics/banjo-recordings?xg_sour... The Minstrel Banjo site is focused primarily on the early American banjo and its music...no ragtime.

Rags were (and still are) such an important part of the banjo in the "Classic Banjo" repretiore. While the piano rag gets all the press, many, many were arranged concurrently for other instrumentaion (you can sell more sheet music that way). I have original concurrent banjo arrangements for a number of such rags

Here's Weinrich's "Persian Lamb", recorded by Vess Ossman on the banjo in the same year it was introduced.

I have the original sheet (banjo arrangement) in my collection.

Of course, in this early period of sound recording the banjo was king. You can just barely hear the piano accompianment in the background of the above recording. It was some years before good piano recordings could be made.

Comment by Dr H on May 13, 2014 at 19:40

I note a "Jumbo Rag" in the library by Bert Bassett.. was that supposed to be "Fred" instead of "Bert"?

Also, someone here seems extremely fond of James Scott. :)  Just last summer I picked up a recording of his complete rags, by Guido Nielsen -- great stuff.

It's much harder to get ahold of Joe Lamb's stuff, either in recording or in score.  Seems odd, as he lived decades longer than either Joplin or Scott, and wrote a lot more.  Nielsen has recorded the twelve rags he published with Stark, but that barely scratches the surface of his output.

Comment by Trapdoor2 on May 13, 2014 at 19:55

Nope, Bert. Fred wrote some howlers though. ;-)

There's a great banjo recording of Lamb's "Ragtime Nightengale" out there...if you can find it. Waxed by Paul E. Smith back in 1982. Paul is a member of the previously mentioned Minstrel Banjo list, btw.

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