The Peacherine Ragtime Society Orchestra, with director Andrew Greene, center. The Washington Post dubbed the PRSO “the premier American ragtime ensemble.” (submitted photo)
Andrew Greene of the Peacherine Ragtime Society Orchestra talks about leading a ragtime ensemble, the importance of the Maddox Collection, accompanying silent cinema, and more.
While this article carries my byline, most of it was written by Andrew Greene. When I interview people for this paper, if it’s to be done in person or by phone, I always send a list of questions in advance, so the subject has time to prepare and answer additional questions that had not occurred to me. When I sent Andrew my list, he emailed within 24 hours most of what you will read below—over 3,000 words! I then phoned him to let him add anything he hadn’t previously sent. —B.H. –
Bill Hoffman: You’ve just acquired hundreds (thousands?) of arrangements from Johnny Maddox. Let’s talk about those before we “flashback” to the start of Peacherine and what has happened with the orchestra.
Andrew Greene: Yes, Peacherine just acquired somewhere between one and two thousand period orchestral arrangements from Johnny Maddox. I’ve found arrangements that probably haven’t been played in over 100 years. I’m still in the process of going through everything and cataloging/scanning it. It’s an incredible collection of mostly complete original orchestral scores from the 1880s through the 1920s, and from what I’m finding, there are some very rare originals in there, along with popular numbers. These arrangements are basically the musical “guide” that orchestras would have used in park bandstands, cafes, theaters, and other places where live music was performed all across America. These scores were played to stimulate sales of the sheet music for piano, as many homes had pianos. But after ragtime was supplanted by jazz and popular dance music, the demand for the scores evaporated. In addition, radio came along about this time, and just about every station had a house band that played the current favorites, so the ragtime scores were further relegated to obscurity.
BH: Some readers may not be familiar with Johnny Maddox. Can you fill us in about him and his place in ragtime?
AG: Johnny Maddox (born in 1927) is one of the leading ragtime piano players of all time. Mr. Maddox has sold over 11 million records, with 9 gold singles, has a star on Hollywood Boulevard, and has performed with musicians including Patsy Cline, W.C. Handy, Joe Jordan, Lawrence Welk, Ted Lewis, Tony Pastor, and others. Johnny recorded the “Crazy Otto Medley” back in 1954, which became the first all-piano record to sell over one million copies. Many people will remember him from his popular recordings back from the 50s to today, or perhaps seeing him perform at the Il Porto Restaurant in Alexandria, VA; Red Slipper Room in Denver, CO; or the Diamond Belle Saloon in Durango, CO (which happens to be one of my personal favorite places to visit/hear ragtime).
One of the incredible things about Johnny is the fact that he’s always had this ragtime music influence. His great-aunt Zula Cothron played in an all-girl orchestra at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis in 1904, and he heard ragtime from her and records, cylinders, etc. He began collecting sheet music and these early recordings at a young age, and has ended up with one of the largest private collections of this music in the world. Johnny also has had the pleasure of being my good friend Adam Swanson’s mentor, and Adam has carried the torch to highlight Johnny’s music and keep his name alive, since Johnny has retired from piano playing at this point. So not only has Johnny been a memorable staple in performing this music, but he’s also been a key factor in preserving and storing it as well.
BH: How were you “selected” to acquire these arrangements?
AG: I had met Johnny a few times at various locales across the US (most recently in Durango, CO), so I knew from him and from Adam that the stuff was in his home in Gallatin, Tennessee (outside of Nashville). Adam had told me that I should be the person to eventually take possession of these orchestral arrangements. After several strokes, Johnny is now in assisted living and the arrangements were going to be sold. He is happy that Peacherine will play them, and that they’re not going to a college archive where they likely would be ignored.
BH: If you’ve had a chance to look in detail at the arrangements, are there any that stand out, and for what reason(s)?
AG: That was the fun thing about this collection—nobody quite knew exactly what was in there. At some point other ragtime orchestra leaders/musicians like David Reffkin and Rick Benjamin have gone through these orchestrations to photocopy them, but they’ve remained tight-lipped about what exactly they found, and according to Johnny, only took copies, not originals.
The big thing that all ragtime musicians search for are Joplin originals, and the Maddox collection has six, and ALL of them are complete for small orchestra: Magnetic Rag, Scott Joplin’s New Rag, Pine Apple Rag, Rose Leaf Rag, The Cascades, The Entertainer. The special thing about The Cascades and The Entertainer is that not only are they complete, they have the very elusive viola parts that not many people know exist. Most ragtime orchestras performing today use a fairly poor photocopy of Standard High Class Rags, affectionately known as the “Red Back Book” due to its dark red covers, but that set does not have viola parts, so you either have to re-arrange them or play them without the viola. Only a couple full sets of the original book are known to exist: David Reffkin has one, Bunk Johnson had one (where that one turned up I’m not sure), and I don’t remember who had the third. Random parts are owned by various collectors around the US, but again they’re very reluctant to share parts from them.
There’s also a couple other Stark orchestrations, including James Scott’s Climax Rag and Frog Legs Rag (again, complete with the [usually] missing viola part, and this is the only rag we can confirm was arranged by Joplin himself), Joseph Lamb’s American Beauty Rag, Paul Pratt’s Hot House Rag, and others.
Other highlights include well over 150 rags for orchestra, including favorites like Pickles and Peppers, the Texas Fox Trot, etc., an almost complete run of Henry Fillmore’s trombone family of rags, a great selection of African American popular music, early jazz favorites, vocal arrangements, and as Rick Benjamin reported in his liner notes for the album Black Manhattan Vol. 1, the first instrumental rag ever published—Sambo: A Characteristic Two Step March, from 1896 by William Tyers. As far as I know, we have the sole original copy now; Rick took a photocopy and used it for Black Manhattan, and is credited as such in the liner notes.
BH: What steps will you need to take to put any of the arrangements into Peacherine’s book?
AG: At this point my office is completely cluttered with moving boxes full of orchestrations! All of them are slowly in the process of getting scanned at high resolution and then filed away with the rest of the collection. It’s probably going to take me several months to a year to fully process everything in there.
The nice thing about running your own orchestra is you have a say in what we play. As I’m going through scanning the pieces I’m making notes on what pieces are interesting/would be popular with an audience, and those will then get put into Photoshop to clean them up, make them black and white (I’m doing color photocopies to save the pencil markings and other notes musicians who previously had these pieces wrote), and then I save them and print them/email them to my musicians for practice.
As of today [March 9, 2018], we’ve already incorporated several numbers into our next show on March 27 outside of Pittsburgh: we’ll be playing off of photocopies of Henry Fillmore’s Slim Trombone, The Clef Club March by James Reese Europe, The Entertainer by Scott Joplin, the Piccalilli Rag by George A. Reeg. Jr., etc. The plan is to record the next CD or two just using music from the Maddox collection; you can easily build whole programs using the selections in here and still have plenty to choose from for future projects.
BH: When did you form Peacherine, and what was your reason for doing so? Where does the name come from?
AG: To explain the beginnings of Peacherine, I have to tell my own story of how I got into this music. I had fallen in love with ragtime at a young age—at 11 years old I was getting frustrated during piano lessons by always playing Chopin, Bach, Beethoven, etc., and as a reward for getting through a Chopin etude, my teacher gave me a “fun” piece—Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag. I remember coming home from that lesson all excited, and asked my mother (who’s a church musician) who this Scott Joplin person was, and if we happened to have any music by him in her own music library. Sure enough, she had a reprint of The Entertainer, so I quickly learned those two pieces, then expanded into other rep by Scott Joplin, and then realized there’s a lot more than Joplin in ragtime! I did two all-Joplin piano concerts at that age as fundraisers for organizations at my school, and continued to research this type of music.
Then when I was 15 or 16, the local community concert series hosted the Manhattan Ragtime Orchestra, and I was all excited about it. I was picturing this symphony size ensemble playing The Entertainer and other music, but what I found surprised me: a small group of musicians, playing off of the original musical scores, all played with pep and zip. I was blown away—the musicality was fantastic, it was fun, and the orchestrations breathed new life into pieces I had heard dozens of times before. I knew then and there that I needed to do something with a ragtime orchestra, whether it be a fun hobby or a career. I immediately started to research what other ragtime orchestras existed, and through an old CD called “A Century of Ragtime” discovered the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra. I emailed them, got in touch with the leader, Rick Benjamin, and he quickly became a mentor to me for a period of years, sending orchestral arrangements my way, helping to guide me on how to play the music, and was an overall great influence on my musical education of ragtime for orchestra.
In high school I had my own ragtime orchestra which I led for two years from ages 16-18, and while by no means professional, it gave me an outlet to continue to grow my interest in this, build my skills in conducting, and figure out how this all works from a “hands-on” prospective.
I formed Peacherine in February, 2010 in the basement of my dorm hall at the University of Maryland, College Park. I joined the university’s repertoire orchestra playing string bass, but really used it as a way to recruit musicians for Peacherine. From that first bunch of musicians we’ve now grown into Peacherine as we know it today. The name comes from Joplin’s 1901 rag of the same name—it seems most ragtime ensembles take their names from the classic rags of Joplin, James Scott, or Joseph Lamb. Morten Gunnar Larsen has the Ophelia Ragtime Orchestra, Rick Benjamin has the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra, and I have Peacherine.
BH: In its eight years of existence, Peacherine has become an in-demand orchestra and now plays all over the US. To what do you attribute this increase in awareness?
AG: A lot of it has to deal with several factors. First is the quality of the ensemble itself. If you heard Peacherine in its original form back in 2010 and today, you would swear it’s two different ensembles. The musicians I now work with on a regular basis are some of the leading musicians in the DC/Baltimore area—many of whom have undergraduate degrees from places like Eastman and Masters degrees from my alma mater, the University of Maryland. They’re fully trained classical musicians and I send them ragtime—they’re quite good at capturing the style and feel of early American popular music. With our recording work (our third CD came out in 2017, and a special vinyl 78 release is coming out within the next two-three months) our renown has grown, and thanks to the internet more and more people are discovering that we exist. People are realizing that we’re a major player in the orchestral ragtime world (not that there are many of us), but we’re one of the top three ensembles in the country that do this music regularly, along with the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra and the River Raisin Ragtime Revue.
The second thing that really has grown in popularity/awareness is a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. This past year I was determined to get Peacherine up from a handful of gigs a year to regular touring performances. To give you an idea of what past seasons have looked like for us, the most popular year for the orchestra to date has been 2015, when we had 12 performances. This year (2018) we have 16 already confirmed with another 6-10 still in the works to finalize for the end of the 2017-18 and beginning of the 2018-19 touring season. Starting in October, depending on the week, we have road shows every two weeks or so, and road shows usually last between two and six performances lined up, along with the occasional “one-off.”
This may not sound like a lot, but with ragtime being a harder sell in the performing arts world it’s an incredible feat. Most major performing arts centers aren’t sure if they can book and sell a ragtime music act; it’s niche programming and they sometimes won’t risk it if they don’t think their audience will buy tickets. A lot of the work is to convince them that we’re a worthwhile act to bring in, and once we perform with them they quickly realize how fun the music or film work we do is, and their audience realizes it, too.
A good example of this: Salisbury University on the Eastern Shore of Maryland has quickly become Peacherine’s favorite stomping ground for shows. The first time we went there we had somewhere between 100 and 150 people in the audience for a free show, but they were so impressed by the program that within 15 minutes of the conclusion we were asked back for another performance the following semester. When we returned in the spring, we had over 200 people there. We returned for a third time this past February, and had over 400 in attendance, and again were asked back within 15 minutes of the show’s conclusion. I am planning to do our signature Halloween program with them this coming October. The audience is incredibly responsive to us, they love us and we love them. It’s a place my musicians look forward to returning to on a somewhat regular basis.
A lot of our recent growth is because of emails, phone calls, and trade show appearances. We’re still fairly new in the grand scheme of things, and only in 2014 did a lot of venues start to take notice of what we’re up to. This year we’ll be going to: Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York State, Vermont, Georgia, Texas, Missouri, Arkansas, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and potentially Florida, Connecticut, and a few other places I can’t talk about just yet.
I regularly go to the APAP (Association of Performing Arts Professionals) booking conference in New York City. It’s the world’s largest conference of its type in America where representatives from performing arts centers/colleges/universities/etc, as well as artists, their agents, and other creative professionals come together and talk about getting shows booked for future seasons. We’ve been there three years and have set up a booth to discuss the orchestra and our programs, and that has resulted in an uptick in interest. This year  we also did a showcase, where we performed an abbreviated version of our concert and film programs for an audience of potential arts centers, and it was very well received. It certainly increased the number of gigs we had lined up by a fair amount.
The last thing that’s really helped has been a lot of good publicity and a bit of luck. In 2014 we performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC, and the Washington Post was kind enough to label us as the “premier American ragtime ensemble” which is quite an honor and a lot to live up to! We’ve returned to the Kennedy Center and have also played for the American Film Institute, the Library of Congress and more, and our renown has grown because of it. With any luck we’ll continue to grow.
My hopeful “end game,” if you call it that, with the orchestra is to develop it into a full-time job and my potential sole source of income, so I can be further dedicated to this music’s research and preservation/performance. We’re growing more and more, and perhaps within the next few years that can be a reality, but for now it’s a dream that I’m still striving for.
BH: Peacherine often accompanies silent film showings. How did that come about?
AG: That developed very early on with us, as I realized that we needed to diversify our offerings from just concert material to get more shows. It now makes up roughly 75% of our programming each year. With the help of Frederick Hodges, Robert Israel, Rick Benjamin, and other silent film accompanists across the country, I learned how to authentically accompany the films of the first two decades of the 20th Century with the original live musical scores. In our archive we have around 1300 original motion picture accompaniment “cues”—the music that was written specifically for film accompaniment (ex. Allegro No. 10 by M.L. Lake, or Mysterioso Agitato, etc.), as well as over 500 cue sheets from the 1910s and 20s. These cue sheets are the literal “guides” of how ensembles back in the latter part of the silent film era were expected to accompany music, giving the piece that was called for (and the first bit of the melody line so if you didn’t have the piece you could substitute something similar), what it’s supposed to be played against, how long to play it, and would give very detailed instructions on how to play for the films. For a lot of our programs we have the original cue sheets to use. For some of the earlier films like Charlie Chaplin’s Mutual comedies, no known cue sheets exist, so we build it using the same techniques as others from the era so you have a historically accurate score.
The nice thing we have in the modern era are digital releases of these films—we can preview prints of Buster Keaton or Lon Chaney well in advance of the program, and we know up front the exact run time of the film so we can plan a score to it. Back during the silent era, theaters didn’t have that luxury—if the projectionist ran the film faster or slower than expected, musicians would have to adapt on the fly. There’s sort of a running knowledge that if the film arrived at a theater on a Tuesday and ran through Sunday, you wait until Friday afternoon or so to see the film so the musicians could get a firm understanding of how the music is supposed to match it!
It’s very, very popular with our audiences. Some places just want us for the film aspect—it’s a bit of nostalgia tied in with the modern craze of most symphony orchestras doing screenings of Harry Potter, Jurassic Park, Lord Of The Rings, etc. with the live orchestra playing. That seems to have taken off as a popular programming choice of many larger ensembles throughout the country, so we’re riding a growing wave of interest in this art form, and get to present it just as Grandma or Great Grandpa would have seen it. We do have holiday-themed versions of the programs as well, so a lot of places approach us about Halloween films, Christmas shows, etc. It’s a great way to diversify, plus with different seasons, I can pull out and use music that we don’t normally get to play for our standard concert or films shows.
BH: I think that’s a good place to stop. Thank you, Andrew, for writing my article!
Jazz Travels columnist Bill Hoffman is a retired management consultant and is the concert booker for the Tri-State Jazz Society in greater Philadelphia. Bill lives in Lancaster, PA.
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