Max Morath: Records That Changed Ragtime History

Within the space of three years, ragtime pianist-composer Max Morath released four vinyl LPs on the prestigious Vanguard label: The Best of Scott Joplin (double album, 1972); The World of Scott Joplin, Volume 1 (1973); and The World of Scott Joplin, Volume 2 (1975). In the opinion of this author, these represent an unprecedented achievement in the recording industry. The above were non-commercial recordings which instead of presenting Scott Joplin’s world of music in a commercial light, presented it realistically and tastefully. And the first mentioned was a huge commercial success, regardless. The intention of this article is to look into the story behind these ground-breaking albums. Max, can you tell me a little about how these albums came about? Vanguard initially wanted me to do a “complete works of Scott Joplin,” but I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to capture the Tin Pan Alley and publishing world in which Scott Joplin found great resistance. Joplin was a leader, but there were other great composers like Joe Lamb and James Scott. I wanted to use the word “world” because Joplin was the leader of that element in popular music. In those days [late 1960s, early 1970s], I did a couple of albums for Columbia on their Epic label, but I was fortunate to be able to sign with Vanguard. The originators of Vanguard were Maynard and Seymour Solomon. They were just a couple
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Matthew de Lacey Davidson is a pianist and composer currently resident in Nova Scotia, Canada. His first CD, Space Shuffle and Other Futuristic Rags (Stomp Off Records), contained the first commercial recordings of the rags of Robin Frost. His second CD, The Graceful Ghost: Contemporary Piano Rags (Capstone Records), was the first commercial compact disc consisting solely of post-1960 contemporary piano ragtime, about which Gramophone magazine said, …a remarkably talented pianist…as a performer Davidson has few peers…”

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