The River Raisin Ragtime Revue is a Michigan based orchestra that puts on exciting community events to educate the public about the American popular repertoire from before the jazz era. Some of their themed projects have become albums that we out in the rest of the country can enjoy. In the past we’ve reviewed both Nobody is Somebody, which chronicled the music and life of Bert Williams, and Music of Reginald R. Robinson, featuring his new ragtime compositions of the last twenty years played by the orchestra.
Their new release is an ambitious attempt to demonstrate the evolution of the trombone’s role in community orchestras from the Civil War through the dawn of jazz. Though obviously an album that will have the most appeal for trombonists, the 4R’s have created a balanced and exciting program that any fan of early American music will enjoy. Their thirteen member orchestra includes violins, viola, cello, banjo, flute/piccolo, cornet/trumpet, tuba, clarinet, piano, percussion, and obviously, trombone.
Blaze of Glory: The Trombone in Early American Popular Music was imagined by River Raisin bandleader William Pemberton and trombonist Robert Lindahl. Together they choose 19 orchestrations, almost none of them previously recorded, from a selection of over 5000 they had at their disposal. The tracks include cakewalks, marches, polkas, novelty numbers, rags and other tunes picked to demonstrate the development of the instrument. The trombone’s growing use as a solo instrument in the ragtime era, and the increasing use of glissando, is a feature, but so is the way the instrument was used within an orchestra to highlight or contrast the sound of other instruments, particularly the cello and stringed instruments of the day.
Arthur Pryor and Henry Fillmore compositions are included, but so are more obscure names like N.C. Davis. The only widely recognizable title, to non-trombonists anyway, is “Ory’s Creole Trombone”. Some others may recognize Maceo Pinkard’s “Those Draftin’ Blues”, which was played much later by Turk Murphy as “Storyville Blues“.
The liner notes accompanying Blaze of Glory are a gem of the art form. Over 24 pages they creatively weave through the history of the trombone, bolding in gold the titles to each album track so you can quickly find how it fits into the narrative. In most years the Grammy for Best Album Notes is a hold your breathe moment for us at TST. Several albums we enjoy have usually been nominated. Someone should slip in a nomination for this one.
The tracks run in roughly chronological order. One might predict that an album structure moving from 1880s marches on through rags to early jazz would be saving the good stuff for the end. The album overcomes that risk.. Each track has its own inherent interest and excitement. People flooding into parks in the 1890s to hear Pryor’s Orchestra were there for entertainment and this album, start to finish, is entertaining.
The album provides an emotional balance and sense of progression. The band has perfected staging live events for crowds with various levels of knowledge of, and interest in, early American music, and they bring that with them into the studio. It’s no holds barred authenticity and scholarship with the joy of the listener in mind.
My own favorite tracks were both on the weepy side, “Just a Wearyin’ for You”, by Carrie Jacobs Bond, the first major female composer, and “Carbondale Rag”. The last, to my surprise, was an original composition commissioned for this recording from William Hayes. It’s beautiful, with a simple grace that would make it a memorable theme for a movie or television show.
Blaze of Glory: The Trombone in Early American Popular Music
The River Raisin Ragtime Revue