Before There Was Jazz There Was Ragtime

Scott Joplin

Scott Joplin
Scott Joplin
"The Maple Leaf Rag"
"The Maple Leaf Rag"

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Before There Was Jazz There Was Ragtime

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It began as dance music in the red-light districts of New Orleans and St. Louis. It evolved from African American folk melodies, John Philip Sousa marches and a popular dance called the Cakewalk. Its main characteristic was its syncopated rhythm. All it needed was someone to publish it and to give it a name and in 1895, Ernest Hogan, a minstrel show entertainer did just that.

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Then in 1896, the first complete player piano was introduced in America and the following year, the Pianola was released and aggressively marketed. The time was ripe and when Scott Joplin published the "Maple Leaf Rag" in 1899, it was an instant success, which was followed by a string of his ragtime hits. Unfortunately, Jazz had to wait until the first recordings were made by "The Original Dixieland Jazz Band", in 1917, before it obtained similar popularity.

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Before There Was Jazz There Was Ragtime

Cast your vote for Ragtime
Ernest Hogan
Ernest Hogan

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As Jazz gradually replaced ragtime as the music of the 1920s, it didn’t prevent it from influencing the popular dances of the day such as the Fox trot and the One-step and it also served as the roots for stride piano and novelty ragtime.


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Player Piano and Pedal Harpsicord

A Player Piano
A Player Piano
A Petal Harpsicord
A Petal Harpsicord

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In the 1950s, ragtime experienced a significant revival with recordings made in a light-hearted novelty style. Then in the 1970s, a compilation of Scott Joplin’s piano rags was nominated for a Grammy in the "Best Classical Performance by an Instrumentalist" category.

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The New York Public Library also released a two-volume set of "The Collected Works of Scott Joplin". Although ragtime is really written to be played on a piano, my absolute favorite ragtime recordings were made by E. Power Biggs using a pedal harpsichord.

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Scott Joplin's "Peacherine Rag"

E. Power Biggs at the Organ
E. Power Biggs at the Organ


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Finally, in 1973, the motion picture, "The Sting" was released with Marvin Hamlisch’s soundtrack of Scott Joplin songs. The movie won an Academy Award for his rendering of the 1902 rag "The Entertainer". I still prefer the E. Power Biggs version.

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Scott Joplin's The Entertainer

New Orleans and St. Louis - the Birthplaces of Ragtime

New Orleans Montage
New Orleans Montage
St. Louis Montage
St. Louis Montage

New Orleans and St. Louis where Ragtime was born

show route and directions
A markerNew Orleans, La -
New Orleans, LA, USA
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B markerSt. Louis, MO -
St Louis, MO, USA
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Comments 3 comments

aviannovice profile image

aviannovice 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

Very interesting piece on Joplin and ragtime. Very well done and illustrated to a "T".


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 4 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

Great review of early Jazz music. Back in the 1950's I was trying to sort out the various Jazz genres. By the time I thought I had a handle on it, rock was in and Jazz disappeared. I'm glad is find itself again.


rjsadowski profile image

rjsadowski 4 years ago Author

Thanks for the comment. I followed jazz from Dixieland up through Cool Jazz including some Bebop. Then Rock came along and I lost interest. I am publishing a series of Hubs on the Jazz Legends that I particularly liked.

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