Posts Tagged ‘William Albright’

Joplin By Coincidence

Wednesday, May 18th, 2016

Scott Joplin’s been taking up a small corner of my mind lately. The ragtime composer whose career spanned the late 1800s and early 1900s has popped up a couple of times lately in my wanderings and musings.

A member of one of my Facebook music groups offers tournaments by survey, winnowing the top one hundred records of a particular year down to one champion. He’s on 1974 right now, and the match the other day was between John Denver’s “Sunshine On My Shoulders,” seeded at No. 25, and the No. 40 seed, Marvin Hamlisch’s take on Joplin’s “The Entertainer,” which was used in the movie The Sting.

(I’m not sure where the fellow is getting his seedings. In Joel Whitburn’s A Century of Pop Music, the Denver record ranks No. 21 for 1974, and “The Entertainer” isn’t in the Top 40 at all. The Cashbox lists, maybe? But never mind . . .)

On the day of the Denver-Hamlisch match, another group member left a comment to the effect that it was an easy choice between (and I paraphrase here) a sweet piece of singer-songwriter work and something real old fashioned.

I left a note to the effect that yes, it was an easy choice between – and I paraphrase again – one of the most sickly-sweet things Denver ever wrote and a classic piece written by a genius in the early 20th Century. Someone else made a similar comment, and the first note-poster said that he got it; the lesson was not to dis Marvin Hamlisch.

No, I answered, the lesson is to not dis Scott Joplin.

(For those who care, Denver’s record won the match by an 80-42 score and will meet “TSOP [The Sound of Philadelphia]” by MFSB in an upcoming match in the Round of 32.)

And Sunday, after our weekly service at the St. Cloud Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, I had a conversation with another member whose muses are also music and writing but whose specific sources are classical, both in words and music. The breadth of his knowledge far outpaces mine, although I know enough in both areas to keep up for at least a little while (and then I just nod – wisely, I hope – and store names and ideas in my head for later exploration).

I shared with him the quick colloquy regarding Denver, Hamlisch and Joplin. He chuckled appreciatively, and then he mentioned that he has a collection of sheet music of Joplin’s rags, much of it very old, and he mentioned as well the fruitless search for the original orchestral score for Joplin’s opera, Treemonisha. He mentioned two stagings of the musical, one in Atlanta, the other in Houston, I think.

I nodded many more times and wondered aloud if the cast of either of the performances of the opera he mentioned had recorded an album and whether that album were now available on CD. He was doubtful but hopeful. And we parted with me aware once more that as much as I might know, there is still so much to learn.

Following up, I did some digging over the past few days and got my hands on a collection of Joplin’s rags. And I learned that there are several cast recordings of Treemonisha available, one of them from a Houston staging. I will explore those soon.

And this morning, I glanced at the Billboard Hot 100 from May 18, 1974, a list from forty-two years ago today, and peaking at No. 3 was Hamlisch’s “The Entertainer.” (It would get to No. 1 on the magazine’s Adult Contemporary chart.)

So much coincidental Joplin needs to be heeded. So I dug into the week’s harvest, and offer here, from the 1991 album The Complete Rags of Scott Joplin, William Albright’s solo piano version of Scott Joplin’s 1902 composition “The Entertainer.”