Sunday, April 5, 2009

Rich Egan's Missouri Ragtime

When I go to bookshops to talk about THE RAGTIME KID and THE KING OF RAGTIME, people ask me whether they can buy CDs so they can actually hear the music I've been referring to. Usually, I give them the names of a recording or two of classical ragtime, music by Scott Joplin, Joe Lamb, and James Scott. Great music, but there's more to ragtime, and it's readily available.
Scott Joplin's goal was to transform the rough-and-ready folk ragtime music of the 1890s and earlier into a classical form, to be played strictly as written, preferably in a concert hall, rather than in a bar or a brothel. But the prototype also developed along other lines, the most prominent of which is usually called Missouri, or midwestern, ragtime, a more boisterous music, but with a prominent days-gone-by feeling.
Richard Egan of St. Louis is a pianist-composer-historian whose playing taps heavily into the nostalgic mode. Rich has two CDs available: FROM THE LAND OF RAGTIME (Piano Joys#PJ006) and LOWLAND FOREST (Piano Joys#PJ023). Listen to them, and you'll come away with a comprehensive feel for ragtime music today.
Just about everyone has heard Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag," and "The Entertainer," but on the Lowlands Forest disc, Rich plays four lesser-known Joplin pieces, "The Sycamore," "Eugenia," "The Rosebud March," and "Pleasant Moments," and one by James Scott, "Sunburst Rag." You'll also hear midwestern/southern/country rags from a hundred years ago, such as Charles Hunter's "Tickled to Death," and modern pieces in that mode by Tom Shea (a wonderful player-composer who died far too young in 1982), David Thomas Roberts, and Rich himself. There are a few pieces by Brun Campbell, The Ragtime Kid; if you don't want your feet to tap when Rich plays Brun's tunes,  you'll have to tie them down. Then there are the outright barnburners, like "Old Dan Tucker/Bingo" and "You've Been A Good Old Wagon But You've Done Broke Down," which will take root in your brain and not give you respite for days - not that you'd want it to. And  if you think nostalgia ain't what it used to be, take a listen to Rich's rendition of "Slippery Elm Rag."
Rich Egan's playing is the antithesis of the old pizza parlor style: gussy it up and bang it out. This guy is sensitive to every emotional component of ragtime, and is in every sense an interpreter of the music. Give him a listen. You won't be sorry.

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