Marcus Roberts • The Joy of Joplin

Marcus Roberts • The Joy of JoplinFirst of all, let me state up front that I am not a pianist. Never had a lesson and when I sit at a keyboard, it shows.

Howsoever, I do like listening to a wide variety of music, including music for the piano-forte, and am acquainted with the compositions of Mr. Scott Joplin.

Mr. Joplin (1868-1917), you will recall, was dubbed “The King of Ragtime” during his lifetime. His compositions enjoyed a wide following during the period of 1890s to 1920 or so. His pieces also enjoyed a brief revival after the debut of the 1973 movie, “The Sting,” starring Robert Redford and Paul Newman. The movie soundtrack featured the piano work of Marvin Hamlisch (1944-2012), for which Mr. Hamlisch won an Academy Award in 1973 in the “Best Original Score” category.

Nothing against the talented Mr. Hamlisch, but I think a posthumous Oscar should have gone to Mr. Joplin.

Now, to the CD by Marcus Roberts, The Joy of Joplin, Sony, (SK 6054), recorded in 1998. I picked up the CD about a year ago in a Salvation Army store, checked to see that the CD inside was the same one on the front of the CD and was not scratched-up, and purchased it for a buck. I was not familiar with Mr. Roberts’s work.

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Wow! Although the CD cover photograph does not show it, I suspect that Mr. Roberts has three arms and three hands, how else to explain his dexterity at the keyboard? And each of those fifteen talented fingers must be double-jointed and independently programmed.

As the album covers of the old Dukes of Dixieland vinyl albums used to exclaim, “You have to hear it to believe it.”

Mr. Roberts turns “The Entertainer” on its head, gets syrup from Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag” and trots easily to the finish line with “The Easy Winners,” my personal favorite Joplin composition on this CD as interpreted by Mr. Roberts.

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It is difficult to use words to describe emotions evoked by sounds, especially for something as personal and subjective as piano music. Honestly, I was not prepared for Roberts’s change of tempo that began about a minute into his arrangement of “The Easy Winners.” His walking bass line became more of a running 100-meter hurdles race.

Words fail me.

Half of the cuts on the CD are compositions by Roberts and the others are solo piano arrangements of Joplin by Roberts. However, all the cuts on the CD are worthy of a good listen and then a replay. Just make sure to fasten your auditory seat belt and prepare yourself for key changes, tempo changes and a multitude of unexpected thrills as Marcus Roberts takes the listener on a roller coaster ride with Scott Joplin’s music furnishing the sound track.

If you have not heard Marcus Roberts, as I had not, you have missed a fresh interpretation of Joplin’s classic, and classical, music. I need to check out Roberts’s interpretations of Gershwin, which has been recommended by a friend.


Marcus Roberts • The Joy of Joplin
Available as a download from most online sources. 

O.C. Stonestreet has been a Statesville, NC Record & Landmark newspaper columnist for 13 years. He is also a retired history teacher and was a brass player in the U.S. Navy Band in the 1970s. O.C. recently discovered ragtime and has become a genuine enthusiast. He and his wife Judy live outside Statesville.

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