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MP3 Frederick Hodges - Up And Down The Keys: Ragtime and Novelty Piano solos by Phil Ohman, George L. Cobb, and others

Exciting, sophisticated, and danceable ragtime, stride, novelty, and jazz piano played with style, elegance, virtuosity, and humor.

20 MP3 Songs in this album (68:05) !
Related styles: JAZZ: Ragtime, JAZZ: Stride

People who are interested in Fats Waller James P. Johnson should consider this download.

Up And Down The Keys
Ragtime and Novelty Piano solos by Phil Ohman, George L. Cobb, and others

Frederick Hodges, piano

Famed pianist Frederick Hodges sparkles in this intimate and thrilling collection of classic rags, novelty piano solos, and Harlem stride piano favorites. With a stunning and varied repertoire, Mr. Hodges performs twenty popular piano solo classics in his inimitable and technically amazing style. This CD includes the complete piano solos of Phil Ohman, plus the world premier of George L. Cobb''s masterpiece of 1920s advanced jazz Dementia Americana.

Liner Notes

Piano wizard Phil Ohman (1896-1954) was among the most popular entertainers of the 1920s and 1930s. Christened “Fillmore Wellington Ohman,” he was born in New Britain, Connecticut to Swedish immigrant parents, and received his musical training from Edward F. Laubin, with whom he developed a remarkable technical proficiency and acquired a thorough grounding in classical music. Ohman also studied two years with a local pipe organist. On a chance visit to New York City in 1915, the young Ohman was detained by a heavy snow storm that disrupted railway traffic. His casual “trying” of a piano in Wannamaker’s Department Store resulted in an immediate engagement as a piano salesman. In 1919, he found employment at the QRS Piano Roll company, where he met his future musical partner, Victor Arden. During the early 1920s, Ohman began working as an arranger and composer for both classical and popular singers. In 1922, he was hired for a year as the pianist for Paul Whiteman’s orchestra.

As a piano duet team, Ohman and Arden made a name for themselves in vaudeville and small clubs. Their innovative harmonies, sparkling virtuosity, and toe-tapping rhythms won them remarkable success in musical comedy appearances. In 1924, they were featured in the pit orchestra for the Gershwin musical Lady, Be Good, the first of many shows in which they were involved. The other Gershwin musicals in which they appeared were Funny Face, Tip-Toes, Oh, Kay! and Treasure Girl. They also appeared in the Rodgers and Hart show Spring Is Here. Ohman appeared solo in the Rodgers and Hart musical Heads Up. In addition to their piano duet recordings, Brunswick Records also invited them to front a large studio dance orchestra, which recorded exclusively for Brunswick and later Victor records. The duo also appeared in several Vitaphone shorts and worked on several radio programs, such as the American Album of Familiar Music, The Buick Program and the Bayer Music Review.

Arden and Ohman went their separate ways in 1934, though a brief reunion produced several recordings for the Brunswick label. Arden became musical director of a succession of New York radio shows while Ohman moved to Hollywood, where he was asked to put together a dance orchestra for the Trocadero night club. While in Hollywood, Ohman began working in motion pictures, scoring films, writing songs, and working with actors who had to simulate piano playing onscreen. Ohman’s best known song is ‘‘Lost,’’ with lyrics by Johnny Mercer. He remained active in film and radio until his death in 1954.

Throughout his career, Ohman issued a small but steady stream of novelty piano solos. This CD may represent the first attempt to record every known piano solo composed by Ohman.

1. Piano Pan (copyright 1922 by Richmond-Robbins, Inc) Phil Ohman

In 1922, the fledgling music publisher Richmond-Robbins decided to capitalize on the success of Zez Confrey’s novelties by producing their own series of modern piano solos in the jazz idiom. They turned to Ohman, who provided them with three spectacular piano pieces. The charming “Piano Pan” is remarkable for its syncopation and for the advanced chromatic harmonies in the trio.

2. Up And Down The Keys (copyright 1922 by Richmond-Robbins, Inc) Phil Ohman

In a more introspective mood, “Up And Down The Keys” boasts a haunting first strain in a minor mode. The only known vintage recording was made in 1923 by Mike Loscalzo for the rare and short-lived Olympic record label.

3. Try and Play It (copyright 1922 by Richmond-Robbins, Inc) Phil Ohman

With its provocative title, “Try and Play It” features Ohman’s characteristic pyrotechnics and a very imaginative use of the whole tone scale. When new, it was recorded by Mike Loscalzo (Olympic 1426), Arthur Schutt (Regal G8032), Tom Waltham (Pathé 9608), and Willy White (Pathé 21102). Arden and Ohman also featured it in a piano duet version in their 1927 Vitaphone short Phil Ohman and Victor Arden, Piano Duettists.

4. Dixie Kisses (unpublished, circa 1919) Phil Ohman

This delightful novelty rag was never published or copyrighted. Ohman, however, did record it for the QRS piano roll company in 1919. The trio strain begins with a humorous quotation from the popular song “Everything is Peaches Down In Georgia” (1918).

5. Broken Glass (unpublished, circa 1924) Phil Ohman

The provocatively bluesy “Broken Glass” and its companion piece, “Jacquette” were never published. Neither was a copyright ever sought for “Broken Glass.” Mercifully, this masterpiece was saved from oblivion by the discovery of a 78 RPM test pressing that Ohman made in 1924. This rare disk was found in the archives of Phil’s younger brother, Ernest Ohman, who had inherited his brother’s possessions. In the same cache, three other test pressings were also discovered: “Jacquette “(about which we shall hear more), a piano solo recording of the 19th-century song “Silver Threads Among the Gold,” and an otherwise unidentified piece labeled as “Waltz in E Flat.” The test pressings give no indication of their provenance or the company that recorded them. It is highly likely, however, that the tests were made by Brunswick records, since Ohman and Arden made so many recordings for Brunswick at this time. The Brunswick archives, however, contain no evidence of any test pressings being made of “Broken Glass.”

Brunswick does have an entry in its books of Arden and Ohman recording several test pressings of a duet version of a piece composed by Victor Arden, entitled “Butter Fingers” on 11 July 1923 (matrix 11083-4) and 7 April 1924 (matrix 12815-6-7-8). “Butter Fingers” was indeed copyrighted to Lewis John Fuiks (Arden’s real name) on 13 May 1924 (E590215). Could “Broken Glass” really be “Butter Fingers”? There is insufficient evidence to support such a conclusion, besides which, the test pressing in question is clearly labeled “Broken Glass,” was found among Phil Ohman’s possessions, and is a piano solo rather than a duet. The style of composition is also highly characteristic of Ohman.

6. Jacquette (copyright 1924 by Phil Ohman) Phil Ohman

Rescued from oblivion by the discovery of a test pressing recorded by Ohman as a piano solo, “Jacquette” bears all the pianistic and harmonic hallmarks of Ohman’s unique style. Unlike “Broken Glass,” “Jacquette” was indeed registered for copyright to Ohman on 13 May 1924 (E590216). The copyright registration entry curiously states: “Arranged by Victor Arden.” The Brunswick archives do contain entries for two unreleased takes of “Jacquette,” made on 2 April 1924 (matrix 12777-8-9) and 7 April 1924 (matrix 12819-0). The records clearly indicate that these were piano duets with both Arden and Ohman. Thus, we cannot say with certainty that the solo test pressing of “Jacquette” was indeed recorded by Brunswick. Whatever its source, “Jacquette” is a brilliant work replete with sophisticated harmonic progressions and technically demanding passage work.

7. Ivory Chips — A Modern Piano Solo (copyright 1929 by Robbins Music Corp.) Phil Ohman

Although copies are scarce today, “Ivory Chips” was indeed published and marks the evolution of Ohman’s compositional style. As with all the pieces on this CD, I have beefed up the fairly simple published arrangement to reflect the genuine playing style of professional pianists of the period.

8. Sparkles (copyright 1935 by Robbins Music Corp.) Phil Ohman

While clearly in the novelty style, the trio section of “Sparkles” is full of the lush harmonies that distinguish the sophisticated popular music of the mid-1930s. While the ruck of novelty piano solos of the 1920s and 1930s generally sacrifice melody for largely non-melodic syncopated patterns, superior composers like Ohman understood the importance of a gorgeous, song-like melody line and had no difficulty combining melody with texture.

9. Dancing With A Deb (copyright 1941 by American Academy of Music, Inc.) Phil Ohman

Ragtime evolved first into the popular jazz music of the 1920s and then, by the late 1930s, into swing. Ohman was perfectly comfortable in the new idiom of swing, as evinced by “Dancing With A Deb.” Its riffs, blue notes, syncopations, and four-beat stride owe much to the piano style that “Fats Waller” developed in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

10. Bluin’ The Black Keys (copyright 1926 by Robbins Music Corp.) Arthur Schutt

Arthur Schutt (1902-1965) began his professional music career in 1915, at the age of 13, accompanying silent movies on the piano. In 1918, he was hired by the Paul Specht Orchestra. Throughout the 1920s, Schutt worked with numerous bands, including the Roger Wolfe Kahn Orchestra. By the late 1920s, Schutt was a sought after studio musician in New York. In the 1940s and 1950s, he worked as a studio musician at MGM in Hollywood.

For such a marvelous piece, it is surprising to discover that “Bluin’ The Black Keys” never seems to have been recorded as a piano solo on record or piano roll. It was, however, recorded by Roger Wolfe Kahn and His Hotel Biltmore Orchestra as an instrumental dance number on 19 February 1926 for Victor Records (matrix 34635-1-2-3). Unfortunately, it was rejected, and the recording never issued.

11. Something Doing — A Ragtime Two Step (copyright 1903 by Val. A. Reis Music Co.) Scott Joplin and Scott Hayden.

While Scott Joplin (1869-1917) was busy completing his first ragtime opera, A Guest of Honor, he found time to collaborate with his friend Scott Hayden (1882-1915) on the fresh and inspired rag “Something Doing.” The second strain of this rag has a beautifully flowing melodic line that contrasts nicely with the final strain that is marked by a delightfully jaunty strutting rhythm.

12. The Midnight Trot — A Novelty One Step and Trot (Maxixe) (copyright 1916 by Will Rossiter) George L. Cobb

George Linus Cobb (1886-1942) was a prolific composer best known for his first-class ragtime compositions. He was also a prolific composer of ragtime songs, collaborating chiefly with Jack Yellen. Their earliest success was in 1913 with “All Aboard For Dixie Land,” which was interpolated into Rudolf Friml’s Broadway musical production High Jinks, where Elizabeth Murray’s thrilling interpretation of the song made it the unqualified hit of the show. Cobb scored his biggest instrumental hit with the “Russian Rag” in 1918 and spent the rest of his musical career as a staff composer for the Boston publishing firm of Walter Jacobs.

“The Midnight Trot” is a beautiful and tuneful rag whose publishers slapped the word “Maxixe” on the cover in the hope of capitalizing on the latest dance craze even though Cobb’s rag does not have any of the characteristic rhythms of this Brazilian dance. Cobb’s rag was used by Vaudeville toe dancer Mazie King during her 1916 season.

Dementia Americana — A Super Syncopated Suite (copyright 1925 by Walter Jacobs) George L. Cobb
13. Static And Code
14. Hop House Blues
15. Owl On The Organ
16. Savannah Sunset

“Dementia Americana” is among the more remarkable and unusual piano works to flow from the pen of George L. Cobb. It is, indeed, a masterpiece that blends ragtime, novelty piano, film music, and classical music together into a beautifully integrated whole. An advertisement pitched to photoplay organists and pianists in publisher Walter Jacobs’ magazine Melody declared that the suite was: “excellent for cabaret scenes, situations implying restless hurry, and situations typical of the modern American advanced jazz influence.”

The title was most likely chosen for its richness of flavor and semantic possibilities rather than as a deliberate evocation of the historic and scandalous origin of the term — invented in 1907 by defense attorney Delphin Michael Delmas at the end of the sensational trial of millionaire Harry K. Thaw (husband of ex-chorus girl Evelyn Nesbit) for the murder of famous architect Stanford White. In his summation, Delmas declared: “If Thaw is insane it is with a species of insanity that is known from the Canadian border to the Gulf. If you expert gentlemen ask me to give it a name, I suggest that you name it Dementia Americana. it is that species of insanity that persuades an American that whoever violates the sanctity of his home or the purity of his wife or daughter has forfeited the protection of the laws of this state or any other state.”

By 1925, the term entered the language and was now free of any association with the scandalous trial that electrified the nation 18 years earlier. The titles for the individual movements in Cobb’s suite remain puzzling. “Static and Code” refers to the technology of the telegraph. Indeed, the second strain of this movement evokes the tapping of the telegraph key. Each movement of the suite first appeared individually in serial form in Jacob’s magazine Melody. The descriptive blurb for “Static and Code” declared:
STATIC AND CODE — George L. Cobb. The first number in the new suite, Dementia Americana, by this well-known writer. The eccentric and pleasing melody, the restless harmony and the quickly moving staccato rhythm give this number pleasing originality and decided character. For all its brilliant effectiveness, it is not very difficult to play.

A “hop house” is a building used for the drying of hops, the key flavoring ingredient in beer. This meaning, however, is incongruous with the strong oriental flavor of Cobb’s music. The blurb in Melody succinctly described it as:
HOP-HOUSE BLUES. George L. Cobb. The second number in the Dementia Americana suite. A fine example of modernized, pleasing eccentricity in “Blues” writing.

The origin of the term “Owl On The Organ” is unknown, but Cobb’s music here is wonderfully evocative of haunted house music composed for silent films. “Savannah Sunset” must have had a personal meaning for Cobb. I suspect, however, that a “Savannah Sunset” is a type of cocktail. The feeling of melancholy that pervades the beginning and end of this movement is offset by the uplifting middle section with its haunting church bell tonalities.

I am confident that this recording represents the world’s first commercial recording of Cobb’s masterpiece “Dementia Americana.”

17. Rackety Rag (unpublished, circa 1920) J. Milton Delcamp

John Milton Delcamp (1892-1931) was born in Norristown, Pennsylvania and. He studied at Coombes Conservatory in Philadelphia. Delcamp, like many other talented pianists, accompanied silent films and this eventually led to jobs making piano rolls. His success at Republic Roll Co. led to his long-time employment by the Ampico Roll Company. His wonderful composition, “Rackety Rag,” exists only as a piano roll (Republic 47708) issued in 1920. It was neither copyrighted nor published as sheet music. The structure of “Rackety Rag” is quite modern in the sense that the B strain is 32 bars long while the C strain is 36 bars long. Most rags have strains that are only 16 bars in length. The strong melodic nature of Delcamp’s piece suggests that the structure was influenced by popular songs, which by 1920 had settled upon the 32-bar format.

18. The Music Box Rag — Fox Trot (copyright 1914 by Jos. W. Stern & Co.) C. Luckyth Roberts

Charles Luckeyeth Roberts, better known as Luckey Roberts (1887-1968) was born in Philadelphia. As a young boy, Roberts gained valuable show business experience by traveling and performing with Black minstrel shows. He settled in New York City about 1910 and became one of the most inspiring and influential pianists in Harlem. Along with James P. Johnson, Roberts was one of the originators of the “stride” style of ragtime piano playing.

Roberts toured France and the United Kingdom with James Reese Europe during World War I, then returned to New York where he wrote music for various shows and recorded piano rolls. Roberts’ compositions include “Junk Man Rag,” “Moonlight Cocktail,” and “Railroad Blues.”

An astute businessman, Roberts became a millionaire twice through real estate dealings. He also owned restaurants, led dance orchestras, and was the featured radio pianist for Moran & Mack, a.k.a “The Two Black Crows.”

Like most rags, “The Music Box Rag” was published in a highly simplified arrangement designed to appeal to young amateur pianists who never would have purchased the sheet music had it reflected Roberts’ own performance technique. A recording of the rag that Roberts made in 1946 for Circle Records, reveals a richly textured virtuoso rag full of whimsy and delight. It incorporates Robert’s characteristic trick of imitating a hammer dulcimer by executing rapidly repeating single notes. My arrangement sensibly avoids imitating Robert’s famous recording and instead represents my own musical ideas.

19. Shy And Sly — Fox Trot (copyright 1915 by G. Ricordi & Co. Inc.) C. Luckeyth Roberts

As with “The Music Box Rag,” the published edition of “Shy and Sly” bears little resemblance to Robert’s own recorded version of the piece from 1946. Sheet music publishers were not in the business of faithfully recording for posterity the performance styles of pianists and composers: They were in the business of making money for themselves and for their composers. Making money required that the arrangement be simple. Professional arrangers understood the technical limitations of the average sheet music purchaser.

As a side note, it was worth noting that neither Roberts nor his various publishers ever settled upon a definitive spelling of his unorthodox middle name. Frequently, it was spelled “Luckyth,” but one also finds “Luckeyth” on sheet music. On “Shy and Sly,” the spelling includes the “e.”

20. The Lion Tamer Rag — A Syncopated Fantasia (Copyright 1913 by A.F. Marzian) Mark Janza

Mark Janza was most likely a pseudonym for publisher and composer Albert Frederick Marzian (1875-1947). Born in Russia to German parents, Marzian immigrated to the United States in about 1887. Marzian was the conductor of the Louisville, Kentucky Symphony Orchestra and taught high school music. From 1900 onwards, he lived in Jefferson County, Kentucky, where he worked as a music teacher and theater conductor.

Among his other notable ragtime compositions are counted “Aviation Rag” (1910), “Angel Food Rag” (1911), and “Bale O’ Cotton” (1914). “The Lion Tamer Rag,” however stands out not only as the best of his compositions but one of the best and most exciting rags ever published. Accurately replicating the performance style of circus bands, this rag combines acrobatic pianistic pyrotechnics with unexpected musical surprises that have no counterpart in ragtime literature. Like a circus clown car, trick after trick tumble out of the “The Lion Tamer Rag” — and just when the listener has been lulled into thinking that he has seen the last of the musical tricks, out pop another series of delightful musical thrills.

About The Artist

Frederick Hodges specializes in the piano music and popular songs of the ragtime era, the 1920s, and the 1930s. While still in college, he was hired by Don Neely to serve as pianist and singer with the famed Royal Society Jazz Orchestra. Soon, Frederick was playing solo piano for society parties and holding down steady engagements at legendary Nob Hill establishments such as L’Etoile in the Huntington Hotel, Masons in the Fairmont Hotel, and the Ritz Carlton Hotel. Frederick also plays piano with the Peter Mintun Orchestra, the Jesters vocal trio, and with various jazz ensembles. In addition to these musical outlets, Frederick enjoys a career as a silent film accompanist, in which capacity he is heard monthly at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum and at silent film festivals around the world. As a solo pianist, he is a favorite at jazz and ragtime festivals around the country. For more information, please visit Frederick’s website: https://www.tradebit.com

Production Credits

Recording and mastering engineer: Steve Sundholm
Recording location: NightBird Studios, West Hollywood, California.
Recording dates: 7 and 8 October 2008
Piano: Yamaha Mark IV Pro Disklavier 9-ft Concert Grand Piano (Model DCFIIISPRO)
Producer: Frederick Hodges Music Productions, Inc.
Graphics and Production: Sienna Digital, Menlo Park, CA
Cover photographer: Laurie Gordon
Tray card photographer: Lewis Motisher

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