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MP3 Taslimah Bey - Live! - JAZZ: Ragtime

Red Hot New Orleans ragtime, with trumpeter Marcus Belgrave and clarinetist Charlie Gabriel, featuring cuts by Scott Joplin, Jelly Roll Morton & Artie Matthews

12 MP3 Songs
JAZZ: Ragtime, JAZZ: Swing/Big Band

In October 2000, Charlie Gabriel called me and told me that he wanted me to perform at the Harlequin Café with him. About two days before our performance, he said, “Taslimah, I’m going to have this recorded. We’re going to try to get you a CD out of this.” The day after our performance, Charlie showed up at my doorstep with a CD, complete with cover pictures. Simple, right? Well…….

I began researching ragtime in 1983, in an effort to learn about African-American composers in the early 20th century. The music was so exciting, so rich, and so representative of the double-consciousness of Africans in America, that I became determined to bring it to the attention of the public. In 1985, I presented the “Ragtime Legacy,” a lecture/concert on the compositions of early ragtime composers, including Scott Joplin, Jelly Roll Morton, Artie Matthews, Eubie Blake and James P. Johnson. In 1986, I formed “Taslimah’s Ragtime Band,” which featured my band arrangements of ragtime pieces by these composers. In 1989, Marcus Belgrave introduced me to Charlie Gabriel, and my research in ragtime took on a different twist. Marcus and Charlie taught me to “take the music off the paper,” and play it – not read it. They took me under their wings and taught me how to play, arrange and present this music, giving me the benefit of their over 60+ years of experience. Concepts that I could imagine but could not articulate were solidified under their direction, i.e., simultaneous improvisation and the New Orleans parade beat. The result is the CD before you, which features the Taslimah Bey Quartet at the Harlequein Café, and Taslimah’s Ragtime Band performing during Cleveland’s Jazz Circle series.

Maple Leaf Rag is our tribute to ragtime and Scott Joplin. It’s the musical representation of W.E.B. Dubois’ theory of our double-consciousness. The song starts out as a very happy, bright march tune, and in the second half of the first statement, Joplin interjects a diminished chord, which reveals the pain underneath the joy. This is the theme of most ragtime pieces – this double-consciousness – the joy in African rhythms and celebrations combined with the pain of attempting to be human in race-conscious America. For the first time in the history of music, African rhythms were combined with European melodies to produce a rich, vibrant music reflective of the strength and character of Africans in America. Artie Matthews was a proficient ragtime composer; however, only five of his ragtime pieces are known to have survived. We present you with the first and last, Pastime #1 and Pastime #5. Jelly Roll Morton is an important figure in ragtime and jazz, not only for his proficiency on piano, but also because his compositional style was part of the bridge between ragtime and jazz. He explored chord extensions in his melodies and chord substitutions in his chord progressions, techniques that were to become standard in modern day jazz. High Society is a tribute to New Orleans and Charlie Gabriel. It is the “national anthem” of New Orleans, and there’s a solo on the chorus played by Alphonse Picou and handed down to New Orleans musicians throughout its existence. If you played jazz in New Orleans, you had to play this solo to be considered a serious musician. Charlie learned this through four generations of music in his family, and was gracious enough to teach it to me. Thank you, Charlie, and thank you, New Orleans!

While we’re in New Orleans, we’ll visit Jelly Roll again for King Porter Stomp, switch to Louis Armstrong for Muskrat Ramble, and back to Jelly Roll for Wolverine Blues. Jelly Roll wrote this in Detroit (my home town) and named it after the hotel he stayed in, the Wolverine Hotel. Typical of business practice at that time, Jelly sent the music to his publishers in Chicago who rewrote it and published it under their names before Jelly could get back to look at the final copy!

The final recording takes us back full circle to the “Father of Ragtime,” Scott Joplin. As I was learning the Entertainer, I thought about what it really meant to be an African-American entertainer in the early part of the 20th century. I thought about driving for hours, changing in the back of cars and busses, passing Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit,” and smiling and being “happy,” when you really felt like crying. I slowed down Scott Joplin’s Entertainer and found out that it really was a blues – again, the double-consciousness – the tears of a clown…….

Entertainer Blues/Entertainer is a tribute to all those musicians that came before me and persistently gave of themselves so this music was preserved and developed, allowing it to give birth to all the music that came after it – rock and roll, rhythm and blues, jazz, avante garde, rap and hip hop. We can look backward to ragtime and blues as our musical ancestors…….and it’s because Joplin, Morton, Matthews and their peers kept going against seemingly impossible odds to bring us this music that 100 years later, I am able to give it to you. Enjoy…….

Special Thanks to: Our Creator, my grandmother, Emma Beard, my mother, Phyllis Hall, my brothers and sisters, Brian A. Kutscher, my son, Hassaan, for his support, patience, and graphic skills, and Marcus Belgrave (for teaching me to want the music!).

Produced by: Charlie Gabriel & Brian Kutscher

Photography: Emily C. Hall and Dan Pliskow

Artwork: William Lewis

Graphic Design: Hassaan Bey

Taslimah Bey Quartet: Taslimah Bey – Piano, Charlie Gabriel – Clarinet & Saxophone, Dan Jordan – Bass, Djallo Djakate – Drums

Taslimah’s Ragtime Band: Marcus Belgrave – Trumpet, Taslimah Bey – Piano, Raycee Biggs – Trumpet, Djallo Djakate – Drums, Charlie Gabriel – Clarinet & Saxophone, Marian Haydn – Bass, Anthony Holland - Saxophone

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