Is Ragtime in its second golden age? After its quick fade-away during 1915-17 (with Scott Joplin’s death being the final straw), ragtime was difficult to find for 57 years. While “Maple Leaf Rag” became a jazz standard and there were occasional nostalgia-oriented attempts to revive the music, with a few exceptions, ragtime was very much underground or mischaracterized in the 1950s as honky-tonk.
It was not until the use of a few Joplin themes (particularly “The Entertainer” and “Solace”) in the 1974 film The Sting that it made an unexpected comeback. Never mind that The Sting was set in the 1930s when ragtime was largely extinct and that using Benny Goodman recordings would have made more sense!
Many new rags have been written during the past 45 years and, even if none has approached the fame of “Maple Leaf Rag,” the result has been a steady flow of new beautiful music. One just has to know where to look. One of the places to discover many new songs is on Invincible Syncopations. Pianist Max Keenlyside performs 19 pieces by Vincent Matthew Johnson, most of which use the format of classic ragtime.
Johnson’s music, while mostly sounding as if it could have been written in 1910 (other than a few more modern touches), is fresh, lively, and never derivative of the early composers, even “Tiffany Lamp Rag” which is dedicated to Joseph Lamb. Johnson’s humor can be heard in “Too Much Cheesecake” and “That Bagel Rag”; the latter utilizes what could be considered the klezmer scale.
Invincible Syncopations is a typically classy release from Rivermont. The 24 page booklet includes a definitive study of the 19 pieces written by pianist William McNally plus colorful photos of the sheet music. Keenlyside plays flawlessly and adds a lot of life to the music. Vincent Matthew Johnson’s songs are quite enjoyable to hear and well worth discovering, particularly by other ragtime pianists looking for fresh material.
Invincible Syncopations (Rivermont BSW-2241, 19 selections, TT = 79:40) www.rivermontrecords.com