I heard a few songs the last couple of days on an old Bing Crosby CD. Some collection of greatest hits or whatever. “Play a simple melody” I think was the title of one of the songs.
Anyway, it was a pretty catchy raggy tune and I got a taste for some more kinda like it.
Which artists should I look for to find some new and old rag? I guess I’d be more interested in the newer stuff since there’s a better chance of it being available on CD and whatnot.
Oh, you’ve got to go for the original stuff! There are a lot of CDs at archeophone, from ragtime to jazz, with the original artists. I’m a huge James Reese Europe fan, and archeophone has some great ragtime stuff by Arthur Pryor, Billy Murray, Jack Norworth, and lots of “hits of the year” collections. You might want to try Real Ragtime: Disc Recordings From Its Heyday.
It may also be the case that you responded more to the Bing Crosby/Irving Berlin combination of “Play a Simple Melody” than to any real ragtime – Scott Joplin, as great as he was, and as much as you should hear him, was ~40 years before Crosby ever sang that song, and that might not be what you think you’re looking for. (Sorry if that sounds patronizing; I don’t know how much you know about older music like this.) But consider checking out some greatest hits CDs by Irving Berlin, especially the more up-tempo numbers – that might be more up your alley.
If you like “Play a Simple Melody,” you’d also like Irving Berlin’s “You’re Just in Love,” written in the early 1950s for Ethel Merman and Donald O’Conner to sing in the movie version of Berlin’s musical comedy Call Me Madam. It’s got a similar sprightly tempo. It was Berlin’s last hit song.
I’m a big fan of ragtime; I collect old 78’s, know a lot about the genre and the history surrounding it, and have even contributed to The Ragtime Ephemeralist, the premier ragtime journal.
I agree with several others that, based on name-checking Bing, you might be looking for more early swing or big bang music; many people erroneously use the term “ragtime” as a sort of catch-all for pop music of that era.
For great stuff from the more traditional “mandolin club” era of ragtime, definitely check out the Archeophone releases like the one that Eve mentioned. They’ve done a killer job with those.
Bing Crosby ain’t ragtime. Ragtime had essentially run its course by 1920, although it influenced popular music for roughly another couple of decades. So there really hasn’t been any “new” ragtime in almost ninety years, although there are a few who still play from the canon. The three greatest ragtime composers were, in order, Scott Joplin, James Scott, and Joseph Lamb. James P. Johsnon and Arthur Pryor are two other biggies, as are Fats Waller and Jelly Roll Morton (though the latter two are not strictly ragtime). The best book written on ragtime is They All Played Ragtime by Rudy Blesh and Harriet Janis (Grove Press, 1950). It’s so good—despite a few well-intended racial anachronisms—that all other books on the subject tend to repeat what Blesh and Janis wrote. And although the book was written half a century ago, since its subject matter fossilized several decades before it was written, its insights are as pertinent as ever.
If you’d like to hear some interesting ragtime well performed, I highly recommend (the late) John Roache. He apparently didn’t play them on a keyboard (klavier), but programmed them as MIDI files on a (computer) keyboard. Considering that, most are remarkably lively and vibrant (i.e., not like your typical mechanical-sounding MIDI file). How good they sound sonically will depend on the quality of the synthesizer in your computer’s sound card. I play them on my Yamaha Disklavier (a real grand piano), and they sound great.
My particular favorite is Eubie Blake’s Baltimore Todolo, but there are many great classic (Joplin, Lamb, Scott, etc.) rags there.
Sorry, but fortunately you’re mistaken, as K364 has pointed out with his spot-on recommendation of Bolcom’s Graceful Ghost. The renaissance of ragtime in the early 1970s (accelerated–but not started–by The Sting) has led many people to write new ragtime pieces.
Among modern ragtime composers, two that I found out about through Roache’s site are Robin Frost and George McClellan. Frost’s pieces in particular, like the Eccentric Formalism Rag, are amazingly complex, lively, and witty.
Bob Brozman’s Hello Central, Give Me Dr. Jazz. It’s mostly played on steel-bodied fretted instruments, so that may be a deal breaker. But the man has some serious chops. Also, the vocals are a burlesque of black American voices of that era, and that can be annoying.
You can find isolated examples of people playing/composing any obscure music you want. That hardly constitutes a significant body of “new” music in the genre, and sure doesn’t constitute a “renaissance.” I and a few others play ragtime/Piedmont blues on the guitar. It would be silly to conclude that there is “new” music being written in that genre. It’s an extreme anomaly.