Step with Pep: The Ragtime and Dance Music of Mel. B. Kaufman

It is possible to be a jazz expert and still have no idea who Mel B. Kaufman was. Kaufman (1879-1932), a traveling salesman who sold ladies’ undergarments throughout the U.S., wrote music in his spare time even though he could not read music. His compositions were not really jazz and, while influenced by the structure and syncopations of ragtime (and including one rag, “Muslin Rag”), were not ragtime either.

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Known for a time as the “King of the One-Step,” Kaufman wrote 90 pieces (40 published posthumously) that fit into the dance music of the time, particularly 1915-25. While a few of his numbers were given lyrics, most of his music was comprised of peppy instrumentals that could be played by solo pianists or orchestras. Some were recorded by dance bands and many ended up being used later on in films, shorts and cartoons. Best known were “Me-ow” and “Taxi” although all are forgotten today.

Andrew Greene, the leader of the Peacherine Ragtime Society Orchestra, has made it a mission to bring back Mel Kaufman’s music. Step With Pep is the first full-length recording ever of Kaufman’s songs, featuring 24 of his pieces (with “Me-ow” appearing both as an instrumental and a vocal). The group, comprised of a string quartet, bass, flute/piccolo, clarinet, two cornets, trombone, percussionist and pianist Richard Dowling (who has three solo numbers) with William Edwards having three vocals, does a fine job of reviving the obscure songs of Mel B. Kaufman.

Andrew Greene’s lengthy liner notes perfectly sum up his life and career, and there are also lists of all of Kaufman’s compositions, vintage recordings of his music on 78, and the songs that appeared in films. Step With Pep is quite definitive and makes the case that Kaufman deserves to be remembered.

Evergreen

Step With Pep (Rivermont BSW-2234, 25 selections, TT = 65:37) www.rivermontrecords.com

Scott Yanow

Since 1975 Scott Yanow has been a regular reviewer of albums in many jazz styles. He has written for many jazz and arts magazines, including JazzTimes, Jazziz, Down Beat, Cadence, CODA, and the Los Angeles Jazz Scene, and was the jazz editor for Record Review. He has written an in-depth biography on Dizzy Gillespie for AllMusic.com. He has authored 11 books on jazz, over 900 liner notes for CDs and over 20,000 reviews of jazz recordings.

Yanow was a contributor to and co-editor of the third edition of the All Music Guide to Jazz. He continues to write for Downbeat, Jazziz, the Los Angeles Jazz Scene, the Jazz Rag, the New York City Jazz Record and other publications.

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