Hen Cackle Rag

Charles Leslie Johnson
Charles Leslie Johnson

As a teenager I owned a cassette copy of Sidewalk Blues, a 1995 album of the now-defunct jazz group Elite Syncopation. I loved that recording, in part because of the ensemble’s fun performance of Charles Leslie Johnson’s Hen Cackle Rag (1912). It is a simple, rustic piece, containing mostly diatonic harmonies and long spans of time without syncopation, including two minor-key episodes of seven consecutive, accented eighth note chords.

“Pecking” melodic grace notes have a similar effect as those in Franz Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 83–aptly nicknamed “The Hen!” As with many pieces by Charles Leslie Johnson, the score for Hen Cackle Rag is available in .pdf format from imslp.org. A superb performance of Hen Cackle Rag by Vincent Johnson can be seen on his YouTube channel.

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Brandon Byrne is a ragtime composer, performer, and scholar. Max Morath said of Byrne, “Brandon’s unique compositions display unparalleled gifts and hidden virtuosity. His music reflects the past and challenges the future. His playing will touch your soul.” For a full list of his compositions, please visit his website.

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