Novelty Piano Ragtime: Where it Came From, Where it Went

Novelty Piano Music” is a sub-genre of ragtime music. It slowly started to develop in the late 1910s, but reached its zenith in the 1920s.

All cultural phenomena must be examined within an historical context. We can’t understand Elvis Presley’s early career by starting at the point in time where Ed Sullivan’s producers censored his hip-twitching on U.S. national television. We cannot know about Laurel and Hardy by first discussing the end of the short film, Our Wife, where a cross-eyed justice of the peace (played by Ben Turpin) asks to kiss the bride and then accidentally kisses Stan Laurel. Similarly, Novelty piano ragtime must also be understood within a historical, social, and economic context.

As to the origins of ragtime, too much is often left to speculation. What can be said with certainty is that it originated sometime before the 1890s, most likely in the United States. One can find some elements of ragtime (such as the “boom-chick” march-like pattern in the left hand, and untied syncopation) in early published U.S. piano works which cruelly parody black people in America (such as Thomas Hindley’s Patrol Comique, published by New York Publishing Company in 1886). i

Origins of Novelty Piano Ragtime

Ragtime pianist Eubie Blake (1887 – 1983) said in interview that he didn’t know where it came from, but that he had heard it all his life. ii And when ragtime eventually became a published form of music, it was, most often, greatly simplified. As Blake said to pianist, composer, and historian, Max Morath, it had to be arranged for the “girls in the five and ten-cent store.” iii Parenthetically, the five and ten-cent stores were where you could buy popular sheet music, and a young girl would demonstrate it for a customer on the piano.

Contrary to modern belief, during early ragtime’s initial prominence, the general public associated the music with songs – vocal music – and with military bands, iv in addition to guitars, mandolins, and banjos. v As a syncopated piano style, it was also associated with dancing. vi

The book, Rags and Ragtime, creates a division of seven major styles of ragtime. vii In my opinion, having played and listened to this music for over 45 years, I can see the usefulness in these sub-categories, even though I sometimes question the apparent arbitrariness of some of the dates (e.g. they state that Novelty Piano Ragtime stops at 1928, however, there are a number of composers, such as “Zez” Confrey and Arthur Schutt, who both wrote and/or performed Novelty rags in the 1930s).

Jasen & Tichenor call the first manifestation of ragtime, which is less sophisticated than many of the later styles and shows influence of folk music, as “Early Ragtime”. viii An example of this style is Buffalo Rag by Tom Turpin, the first black American to publish a piano rag, as performed by Fred Van Eps, the leading banjoist of his day, in 1905. ix

The next style is what Jasen & Tichenor called, “The Joplin Tradition,” and what Harriet Janis and Rudi Blesh called “Classic Ragtime” in the first book documenting the history of this music, They All Played Ragtime. x An overly-simplistic explanation might be, “the piano rag music of Scott Joplin and those directly influenced by him” (e.g. Joseph Lamb and James Scott). An example of this style is the rag, Heliotrope Bouquet (1907), a collaborative rag by Louis Chauvin (who composed the first two sections) and Scott Joplin (who wrote the rest). xi

Immediate Precursors

The next two styles are closely inter-related, and both had a huge bearing on the Novelty Piano Ragtime style. The first, “Popular Ragtime,” xii is where the forces of Tin-Pan-Alley (popular music) publishing companies realized that serious money was to be made from this new fad. Surprisingly, there were some composers who achieved a fair degree of artistry in this style, the most famous of whom was George Botsford, who wrote Black and White Rag (1911). This work popularized a pattern of rhythmic note-group asymmetry to emulate the syncopation (where the stress falls on the weaker beats of the bar) of earlier ragtime. For example:

The top numbers represent the right hand, the bottom – the left. The marker (|) represents where the bar line is to separate the “boom-chick, boom-chick” (note-chord, note-chord) march-pattern in the bass. As you can see, the fast three note patterns over the slower 1 & 2 & pattern in the left hand eventually come together after one and a half bars. It is important to remember this, because we’ll see it again in Novelty Ragtime, only disguised.

A more interesting musical example, however, and one which uses the same device is a recording of Botsford’s Grizzly Bear Rag, recorded by the Imperial Symphony Orchestra on Pathé around 1910. xiii

What Jasen & Tichenor refer to as “Advanced Ragtime,” is actually similar to Popular Ragtime, but technically more challenging for pianists to play. One of the exponents of this style, Charley Straight, was, in my opinion, more important in terms of his work in the field of piano roll arrangement. He hired Roy Bargy, an exponent of the Novelty Ragtime style, a move which launched Bargy’s career as a pianist, bandleader, and arranger. Hot House Rag (1914), the work of Paul Pratt, xiv another Advanced Ragtime composer (but who was published by Scott Joplin’s publisher, John Stark), begins to show the pianism and rhythmic techniques which became some of the hallmarks of the Novelty Ragtime style.

Another technique we see during the later teens is the constant use of triplets (in short, groups of three notes, 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3, played very quickly), and one of the first ragtime-related works to use this technique was Felix Arndt’s work, Nola (published by Arndt in 1915, and Sam Fox Publishing in 1916). Although some might argue that “this is not ragtime,” this use of triplets will also become prevalent in many “Novelty Rags.” xv

Social and Economic History Behind the Music

We are now in the mid to late teens of the twentieth century. At this point, I think it appropriate to discuss what was socially and economically going on in North America in general, and the United States in particular.

Although Novelty Piano Ragtime most likely emerged before the 1920s, it has become forever associated with what many people call the “roaring twenties.” In the interests of not seeing the past through “rose-tinted glasses”, however, it’s important to acknowledge that the 1920s were actually “roaring” for only a very select minority.

According to John Kenneth Galbraith in The Great Crash, 1929, xvi the majority of wealth in the United States leading up to 1929 was centered in the top five percent of the U.S. population (Galbraith argues that this was one of the five major weaknesses which lead to the crash and the Great Depression, along with foreign trade imbalances, i.e. during WWI the U.S. became a creditor nation, exporting more than it imported).

Most black people, in particular, lived extremely difficult lives during the 1920s. Many in the U.S. lived in the South, were sharecroppers, and lived in extreme poverty. A great many immigrants to the U.S. suffered a very high rate of unemployment throughout the 1920s, did not have much education, and had to work for very low wages, enduring much discrimination in the process. In addition, farmers, people living in rural areas, coal miners, and textile workers lived extraordinarily harsh lives, as well. Coal prices dropped dramatically, as did the demand for ships and ship builders. A vast amount of the population in North America lived in squalor and poverty. Most of the people in the U.S. who did well were stock market speculators, builders, and owners of consumer goods factories.xvii

The film, The Birth of a Nation (1915), brought about a resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan, which terrorized black people in America after the film’s release. xviii Public lynchings were mostly a Southern phenomenon after the late teens with the number of white people being lynched decreasing and the number of black people being lynched increasing – both significantly. xix

During the 1918 influenza pandemic, protestors sought to end mask mandates, xx and the U.S. president’s office, by never mentioning the existence of the deadliest pandemic in history, ostensibly lied to the public. Woodrow Wilson eventually caught the 1918 influenza, then had a stroke and died in 1924, quite possibly as a complication of the disease. xxi The Pandemic eventually faded away in the early 1920s.

Prohibition on the sale of alcohol in the U.S. brought about a significant increase in organized-crime-related homicides, burglaries, and assaults, and American cities became violent battlegrounds from 1920 to 1933. xxii

Much as I enjoy watching the silent film comedies of Harold Lloyd, which depict most of America happily living in opulent homes, driving Stutz Bearcats, and smoking with expensive quellazaires, xxiii that was not reality for most. That was Hollywood.

So, given that life was financially difficult for most people in North America during the 1920s, how did average income earners manage to get by? And how did music get made? To answer the second question first, live concerts and dance music were more in abundance then, and not as prohibitively expensive as they are today. Wind-up gramophones became more prominent, even though most breakable shellac records were quite expensive at 75 cents each. Victor went from zero to 107,000 machines in 1908, and 252,000 in 1912. By 1917, Victor was producing 573,000 Victrolas. xxiv

In the years leading up to the 1920s, creating one’s own music at home was, often, the most likely option. To this end, sheet music became quite profitable at the turn of the twentieth century. And from 1900 to 1910 America went from producing 460,000 pianos a year to 1,050,000. In 1919, 338,000 pianos were manufactured, half of which were pianolas. Pianolas became popular, despite the increased cost, because a live instrument could be played by a mechanical device.xxv But the first question remains unanswered – where did most people get the money to buy these things?

The simple answer is a new invention of the late 1910s and 1920s: readily accessible consumer credit. A plethora of new household items, including vacuum cleaners, electric refrigerators, electric irons, washing machines, canned food, store-bought bread, store-bought clothing all became available to buy in newly established department stores and supermarkets, and most (including furniture as well) were available on credit. “Buy now and pay later” was a much used phrase of the time. Installment plans were also used for buying cars, much as they are today. By the end of the 1920s, over half of the nation’s automobiles in the United States were sold using installment plans. Consumer debt more than doubled between 1920 and 1930. Further, material possessions (quite often ones which people didn’t really need) were advertised on another new invention, the radio. Advertisers no longer responded to a demand – they created one as well. xxvi By the end of the decade, radio advertisements during prime broadcast hours could cost as much as $10,000. xxvii

This was the economic and social world into which Novelty Piano Ragtime emerged around 1920. A popular music infrastructure (consisting of sheet music, live concerts and dance bands, gramophones, and player pianos/pianolas) was firmly in place, and radio would add to the mix within a few short years.

Aspiring Classical Pianists

Needless to say, the sub-genre will be forever mostly associated with its most famous exponent, Edward Elzear “Zez” Confrey, and his first popular success Kitten on the Keys. However, there were a number of other equally talented players/composers whom we shall examine shortly.

Zez Confrey – the man who started it all and “invented” the Novelty rag

Confrey was born in 1895 in Peru, Illinois. Like some other Novelty Pianist-Composers, Confrey had aspirations to being a classical concert pianist and studied at the Chicago Musical College. By 1916, he was the staff pianist for Witmarks (Music Company) in Chicago. And similar to many other Novelty Composers he used techniques used by composers like Debussy and Ravel, such as whole-tone scales, consecutive fourths, and augmented chords. During the early 1920s he made piano roll arrangements for QRS piano roll company. After the 1920s, he made arrangements for jazz bands, and he continued to compose until 1959. He died in 1971 from Parkinson’s disease. xxviii

Part of the reason for the success of Kitten on the Keys is because it uses a variation on the “three over four” rhythmic technique which was discussed a few paragraphs earlier, in rags by George Botsford. But Kitten also used augmented fourths, consecutive fourths, broken octaves, ninths and tenths in the bass, and a host of other compositional devices not used in popular or ragtime piano music until this point.

Although Kitten and My Pet were copyrighted and published in 1921, Jasen reports having a piano roll arrangement of both pieces he claims were made in 1918. If this is correct, then it is probably safe to assume that Novelty piano ragtime gradually emerged rather than exploded fully-formed in the 1920s. xxix

And although he is most renowned for Kitten, Confrey wrote a fair number of other extremely interesting piano rags. Poor Buttermilk is another one of Confrey’s compositions which is thoroughly inventive. xxx

Roy Bargy started off doing arrangements for piano rolls and for the Benson Orchestra, wrote a small number of delightful pieces, played for Paul Whiteman and later was Jimmy Durante’s musical director

Another pianist-composer who once aspired to be a classical pianist but could not afford to study in Europe was Roy Bargy. Bargy was born in Newaygo, Michigan in 1894 but grew up in Toledo, Ohio. He started playing the piano at five years old and, unable to perform as a classical musician, he instead listened to and learned from black stride pianists such as Luckey Robertsxxxi. Bargy initially played at local film houses for silent movies, but also organized his own dance bands. xxxii

As previously noted, the composer-arranger Charley Straight employed Bargy to arrange piano rolls for QRS. Bargy became friends with Confrey. He started working for the Benson Orchestra of Chicago, arranging, playing, and recording with the group until differences with management led him to strike out on his own as a bandleader at the Trianon Ballroom in Chicago. xxxiii After disbandment of the new group, Bargy worked for Isham Jones’ orchestra for two years, then formed another group of his own. As the 1920s and the Novelty Piano Rag era waned, Bargy continued to re-invent himself. He played the piano part and partially re-arranged George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue in the color film The King of Jazz. He accompanied some early recordings of Bing Crosby, worked in radio, then in the 1940s left Paul Whiteman’s orchestra to work with Gary Moore, Xavier Cugat, and Jimmy Durante, himself a very capable ragtime and early jazz pianist. Bargy continued to work fairly constantly until the early 1960s when arthritis stopped him from performing so much. He died at his home in California in 1974. xxxiv

His most popular Novelty rag was Pianoflage. There is a recording of this work by Fate Marable’s Society Syncopators, xxxv one of only two recordings made by this black riverboat dance/jazz band. In it you will hear Zutty Singleton playing the drums. xxxvi Another very effective piece by Bargy is called, Ditto. xxxvii

Performing members of jazz bands

In contrast to the previous two pianist-composers, Rube Bloom (born and died in New York City, 1902 – 1976) was much involved playing in and recording with jazz bands, where he accompanied, did piano solos, and also very effective regular and “scat” singing, often with the greatest jazz musicians of his time. He was also a musical illiterate – he could not read or write music, nor had any musical education. And yet his playing and compositions show the same inventiveness and harmonic understanding as both Confrey and Bargy, and he wrote some of the most sophisticated popular songs of the 1920s. xxxviii

Although he is best known for a popular work during the 1920s, Soliloquy, he wrote and recorded a small number of other Novelty Piano Rags, one which was extremely innovative, That Futuristic Rag. xxxix

Arthur Schutt – the virtuoso’s virtuoso who arranged for Specht’s Orchestra and played with The Georgians

Arthur Schutt (1902 – 1965) was born in Reading, Pennsylvania, and died in San Francisco, California. At thirteen he was accompanying silent films, and at sixteen he joined Paul Specht’s Orchestra as both pianist and arranger. He apparently recorded over a thousand record sides. Moving to the West Coast, he eventually wound up working in Hollywood films. xl Schutt is also known as the pianist of the “jazz band within a band” of The Georgians, which was a sub-group of the Specht orchestra and recorded for Columbia records.

Schutt’s Novelty rags are among the most virtuosic, and have not been performed that often, except mainly in recordings by Schutt, himself. In my opinion, one of his most attractive pieces is Piano Puzzle. xli

Other lesser-known works and composer-pianists

The reader will notice throughout the course of this article that almost all the composer-pianists (and almost all the Novelty Rag composers were also pianist-performers) were white. There are manifold sociological reasons why – for instance, the fact that many were educated in classical music, and the classical music world was, mostly, a “whites-only” world, as evidenced by even Marian Anderson being prohibited from performing in most U.S. venues. xlii One notable exception to this situation was Clarence M. Jones (1889 – 1949), a black American, who, born in Wilmington, Ohio, studied at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. He started his own ensemble in 1917 in Chicago, and played with a number of bands (including Clarence Jones’ Sock Four), and recorded a number of celebrated early jazz recordings for Paramount and Okeh. He moved to New York in 1932 where he worked for Clarence Williams’ publishing house and later died in 1949. xliii

Clarence Jones (sitting at the piano) – studied “classical” at a time when only white people were allowed to study or have careers, entered publishing, organized and played in some legendary Chicago Jazz bands, wrote a Novelty number and some piano rags, then finally moved to New York and worked for Clarence Williams

In the 1910s, he started his own publishing house and produced a number of piano rags. His one Novelty Rag, of which I am aware, is entitled Modulations, which he recorded in Chicago in 1923. xliv

Edythe Baker – a true “rags to riches” story – from America to England and back

There were also a number of women playing and composing in this idiom, but not receiving as much attention as their male colleagues. Edythe Baker (b. Girard, Kansas in 1899, and d. 1971 in Orange, California) recorded a handful of solos and arranged a number of piano rolls, one of which was Blooie-Blooie, a Novelty rag which was not released as sheet music or in any other format. xlv She can be heard as an interpreter on a record she made in 1933, Young and Healthy.xlvi

Baker was born into poverty and educated in a convent where she learned music fundamentals. She later went on to work in a music store, and performed in Vaudeville and Broadway Musicals in New York. In 1926, she moved to England, eventually marrying and retiring from the music world. xlvii

Pauline Alpert – studied “serious” music at Eastman and then became a serious virtuoso, dazzling listeners on the radio

Pauline Alpert (1905 – 1988) was born in the Bronx, New York, and died there at the age of 82. She wrote a handful of known piano compositions, and was better known during her lifetime as a spectacular piano virtuoso. Around the age of seven, she was given some sort of music education, and by the age of 11, used it as a supplement to the family income by teaching students. Her father died in 1919, possibly from the pandemic, but she eventually won a scholarship to study piano at Eastman Music School, presumably with the aspiration of becoming a concert pianist. But during the evenings, she would use her advanced musical training to modify works by George Gershwin, Felix Arndt, and Zez Confrey to entertain her colleagues. She moved to New York City around 1926, and started her recording and composing career, as well as arranging some piano rolls. After the beginning of the Great Depression in the 1930s, Alpert found employment in radio. She was eventually to become friends with both Confrey and Gershwin. She even made a “soundie” – a short musical film in 1935 with Fifi d’Orsay. She continued to work in radio until the 1947, recording a few records after WWII, after which she married and her career more or less came to an end until the 1960s. At that point, the newly formed Automatic Musical Instrument Collector’s Association discovered her rolls and an interest began in her work again. xlviii

Her composition from 1935, Piano Poker xlix is a good example of both her playing and compositional skills.

Other composers in the field

As this article is only intended to be an introduction, there are going to be many more performer-composers than mentioned here. But another who was fairly prominent was Phil Ohman (1896 – 1954) who, like many others here, was told to study music in Europe, but his father, who was a pastor, couldn’t afford it, so instead he studied in the U.S. He made countless recordings, including many with Victor Arden, with whom he formed a piano duo which accompanied many Gershwin musicals. He later worked in Hollywood writing and arranging scores. l Nashville Nightingaleli by George Gershwin lii is an example of the type of duos he played with Arden, and Try and Play It is a good example of his compositional virtuosity, here played by Arthur Schutt. liii

Billy Mayerl (1902 – 1959) was a British jazz pianist who wrote a number of fine Novelty Rags, including The Jazz Master. liv Donald Thorne was also from Britain lv, and composed several good Novelty rags, including the 1928 work, Spring Feelin’.lvi

The parallel world of Stride Piano

As can be seen, it was mostly white people who were involved in the composition and dissemination of Novelty Piano Ragtime. There was also a separate world of virtuoso ragtime music, but played by black Americans, called Stride Piano. This sub-genre included such figures as James P. Johnson, Thomas “Fats” Waller, Willie “The Lion” Smith, and “Luckey” Roberts, to name but a few. But this topic is too extensive to be covered here and should be discussed in a separate article.

The slow demise and partial return of Novelty Piano Ragtime

Just as the style developed slowly, and was influenced by player piano roll arrangements – other media (such as radio and sound film), and the fact that fewer people learned how to play the piano, changed and ultimately facilitated syncopated piano music gradually fading into the musical background.

Novelty Ragtime music still lives on in a few individuals. Alex Hassan of North Virginia is the leading expert in the field today, being a legendary collector and player in this style. He has given a number of recitals highlighting his love and knowledge of this style of music. lvii lviii lix

The late Robin Frost (1930 – 2020) lx was a stupendous composer in this style, and died only recently. One often finds in his work not just the influence of Novelty music, but also stride piano styles and popular song from the 1930s. His composition, Space Shuffle, is now often played by younger players at festivals, but there are several other rags of his that show great imagination and inventiveness, including Windmill Rag. lxi

Robbie Rhodes has also done great work popularizing syncopated piano music from the 1920s. lxii His piano roll arrangements of Frost’s rags also piqued my interest and resulted in my recording them on my first compact disc, Space Shuffle and Other Futuristic Rags.

The controversy regarding player piano rolls

In this article, I have deliberately avoided discussing piano rolls in any detail because there is a controversy surrounding the concept of “hand-played” piano rolls. In an article by this author entitled, Debunking Piano Roll Mythology, lxiii piano roll maker and authority, L. Douglas Henderson describes in great detail the reasons why even the “hand-played” rolls were either doctored or edited, and that “hand-played” rolls were phased out in the early 1920s. He states that it is not an opinion, but can be categorically proven by visual examination, i.e. they became “mathematically arranged” and showed a “punch-skip-punch” graph-paper characteristic. Further, he maintained that genuine “hand-played” rolls were labour-intensive and that rhythm within the measure was always flawed due to the nature of the recording device. As piano rolls became more and more an arranged medium, piano roll companies more frequently falsely advertised the names of famous performers for rolls which were clearly arranged. lxiv

Issues inherent in this article

The academic documentation of North American Vernacular music is a thorny situation, as evidenced by many of the issues inherent in this article. For instance, in the music history world, citing liner notes of records or CDs as sources is verboten. The reason why is that sometimes the information therein is either questionable or not correct, and is rarely cited properly. However, because there is so little information readily available, anyone who wishes to write on a topic such as this will often have little choice. And way too many sources (such as Rags and Ragtime) do not cite sources at all, let alone properly.

Another issue is that many teachers in academic music departments tend to look down on popular music – period – not to mention that from the 1890s to the 1930s. As a result, there is very little finely-honed research which follows acceptable standards of accuracy and credibility. lxv

This may seem like a non-issue to some, but it is supremely important. Truth is always preferable to its opposite. Informational and academic integrity matter. As an example, at one of the universities I attended, one of my colleagues wrote an original biographical paper on a new composer. This is regarded as the holy grail of academic research. And yet, when my colleague presented his thesis to his committee, the very first question out of the mouth of one of the professors on his committee was how he could know whether the subject of the thesis actually existed.

This was actually an extremely valid question. A few years beforehand, that same professor had been a visiting professor at another major university and had been on a thesis committee there. One of the students at the other university submitted a thesis on a fictional person. Its falsity was discovered after the thesis had been accepted.

Having written historical fiction myself, I can report from personal experience that it is far harder to create a fictional history than to simply report facts. In my opinion, creating a fictional history for the sole purpose of deceiving one’s teachers is nothing short of perverse.

Now, just because someone doesn’t cite their sources, that does not necessarily mean that that writer is not telling the truth, but it might call into question the veracity or accuracy of their statements. Sometimes people do lie. It happens.

For the above reasons, it would be very difficult to write a book on this topic. If it were possible, it would take many, many years. That, and how all the subjects (and probably most of their family members, as well) have all passed on, lends great difficulty to that option. But my hope in writing this article is that it might inspire someone else to pursue this matter further.

Finally, public interest in this music is, to put it politely, limited. For instance, the first issue of my album, The Graceful Ghost: Contemporary Piano Rags sold almost 2,000 copies. Not much in the grand scheme of things, but very respectable for a ragtime album (I’ve had producers brag to me when they’ve sold 200 copies of a ragtime album). By contrast, my album of Novelty rags, Whippin’ the Keys: 75 Years of Novelty Piano Ragtime, probably sold fewer than 50 copies.


A deadly pandemic, grossly mishandled, and made more deadly by misinformation. Large numbers of black Americans being executed outside of the law, a situation exacerbated by white supremacist extremists. A prohibition that results in organized crime. Farm and textile workers working in harsh conditions. A North American economy balanced on the teetering stilts of incalculable consumer debt, while a tiny fraction of the population hoards most of the wealth, ensuring the inevitability of an economic collapse.

The circumstances of the 1920s sound terrifyingly and depressingly familiar. And yet, all of it was and is preventable or curable. The negativity of history, that which causes misery and suffering to millions, need not be repeated. In the opinion of this author, what should be repeated instead is that which is positive in history, such as the use and dissemination of wonderful mechanical devices (like gramophones, music boxes, and player pianos), and the appreciation of glorious architecture, theater, and artwork. Add to that the fabulous, virtuosic music of the period, Novelty Piano Ragtime, which is, at its worst, not something one would want to listen to every day, and at its best, delighting, heart-stopping, and life-enhancing.

*** *** *** *** ***

Selected Bibliography

  • Ragtime: A Musical and Cultural History, Edward A. Berlin, University of California Press, 1980.
  • Adrian Rollini: The Life and Music of a Jazz Rambler, Ate Van Delden, University Press of Mississippi Jackson, 2020.
  • Rags and Ragtime: A Musical History, David A. Jasen and Trebor Jay Tichenor, Dover Publications, 1978.
  • The Great Crash 1929, John Kenneth Galbraith, Houghton Mifflin, 1955.

Recommended Recordings in Compact Disc format

Reissues of Original Recordings

More recent recordings

  • Phantom Fingers, Novelty Piano Music played by Alex Hassan, Stomp Off Records 1322
  • Space Shuffle and Other Futuristic Rags, piano solos by Matthew de Lacey Davidson, Stomp Off Records 1252
  • Whippin’ The Keys: 75 Years of Novelty Piano Ragtime, Matthew de Lacey Davidson, Capstone Records 8694
  • Up and Down The Keys: Ragtime and Novelty Piano Solos, Frederick Hodges, Aristophone Records, CDFH 102


  1. Zez Confrey, Public Domain,
  2. Roy Bargy, By Roy Bargy – Sheet music published by Sam Fox Pub.Co., via [1], Public Domain,
  3. Arthur Schutt,
  4. Clarence M. Jones,
  5. Edythe Baker,
  6. Pauline Alpert,


i Berlin, p. 107

ii Minute 4:51 – , All You Need Is Love – Episode 3 of 17, directed by Tony Palmer

iv Berlin, pp. 5 – 9

v Berlin, p. 10

vi Berlin, pp. 13 – 14

vii Jasen & Tichenor, pp. vii – viii

viii Jasen & Tichenor, pp. 21 – 76

x Berlin, pp. 188 – 189

xii Jasen & Tichenor, pp. 134 – 170

xv For a more detailed analysis of the history and musical development of Ragtime, I strongly recommend reading Berlin, pp. 81 – 169

xxiv Van Delden, p. 21

xxv Van Delden, p. 21

xxix Berlin, p. 168, NOTE 26

xxxii Roy Bargy: Piano Syncopations – LP and CD Compiled and Annotated by David A. Jasen, Folkways records RBF-35, Liner notes by David A. Jasen –

xxxviii Novelty Ragtime Piano Kings, Folkways Records, RBF-41, Liner Notes by David A. Jasen,

xl Novelty Ragtime Piano Kings, Folkways Records, RBF-41, Liner Notes by David A. Jasen,

xlviii – On Bill Edwards’ website, Edwards invites the reader to write to him and request research notes and sources not cited on his website. Edwards did not respond to my email request for this information, sent August 22, 2021

li The listener will note that the ending quotes two bars from the introduction of Pork and Beans by Stride pianist-composer Charles “Luckey” Roberts.

lv Early Piano Ragtime, Folkways RBF 33, Liner Notes by David A. Jasen,

lix Alex Hassan did not respond to my email request for confirmation of information in this article, sent August 22, 2021

lxiii Article published in The Mississippi Rag, October 1997, pp. 14 – 17

lxiv Debunking Piano Roll Mythology, Matthew de Lacey Davidson, The Mississippi Rag, October 1997, p. 17

lxv To see more about correct academic procedures, please read the following:

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…”

Or look at our Subscription Options.