Ragtime by Scott Joplin & a Blues in a Minor Key

Precursor of jazz

After a series of releases of classical recordings at the turn of the year, this time it's back to the roots of jazz. And this time with a double release: This February my EP Ragtime - Marcus Sukiennik plays Scott Joplin as well as the first release of my own composition Shout Out Blues.

In addition to some background information on the selection of pieces, I would like to use this blog post to give a brief introduction to the origins and characteristics of ragtime piano.

"King of Ragtime" - Scott Joplin

He celebrated international success as one of the first African-American composers - Scott Joplin, the "King of Ragtime". I have recorded four of his most famous titles for my EP. At the same time they are my personal best-of: The Entertainer, Maple Leaf Rag, The Easy Winners and The Great Crush Collision March.

Scott Joplin was born in the 1860s in Texas, where he played as a bar pianist from a young age. In his early 30s, he wrote a piece that would go down as a milestone in music history: The printed sheet music of the Maple Leaf Rag sold more than a million copies after their release in 1899. That had never happened before.

A few years later, in 1902, Joplin composed what is probably his most popular piece today, The Entertainer. A nifty catchy tune that some will also recognize from the endless chase scenes of the animated series Tom and Jerry should be known. For all cineastes, with whom cartoons can score less: The rag became world-famous in 1973 through the hit film The Stingwhose soundtrack lives from Joplin's compositions. With it also The Easy Winners. Thanks to the successful soundtrack of the feature film, which is really worth seeing, ragtime experienced a real revival in the 1970s.

Let's move on to the last track I recorded for the EP. Scott Joplin dedicated The Great Crush Collision March a spectacular but tragic event. The march evokes the staged railroad accident of 1896, a marketing effort by the Texas Railroad Company that collided two locomotives head-on as a spectacle. An audience of several thousand had gathered for the event, but three people died in the explosion and several were injured.

Scott Joplin at about the age of 35.

Ragtime: history and characteristics

Ragtime originated in the African-American communities of St. Louis, Missouri. There the genre developed in the 1890s as dance and light music, whose popularity reached its peak at the turn of the 20th century - and eventually spilled over from the USA to Europe.
The name ragtime is derived from ragged time (Engl. "torn time"), due to the temporal shift between melody and accompaniment that is so characteristic of the style.

Musically, a lot comes together here: African rhythms, elements of African-American folklore as well as European classical music. The left hand jumps and plays a steady accompanying rhythm, while the syncopated melody line of the right hand with its small time offsets provides a special charm.

Ragtime is perceived today primarily as a piano style, but was originally also played on other instruments and in ensembles. It was considered utility music - Joplin wanted to bring his rags to the stage in the concert hall, he wrote among other things two operas, but unfortunately they received little attention during his lifetime.

From ragtime to blues and jazz

The era of ragtime ended around 1917 with the death of Scott Joplin. New genres emerged from it, and precursors of jazz, such as stride piano and blues, enjoyed increasing popularity. While there are clear parallels between stride piano and ragtime, one major difference is that ragtime is note-based, composed music - in contrast to Harlem stride, which is characterized by elements of improvisation.

Two examples of stride piano can be found on my album All-Time Standards:
Satin Doll and Honey Suckle Rose.

Album Cover "Ragtime, Marcus Sukiennik plays Scott Joplin"
Album Cover Shout Out Blues

New releases in February 2021

  • EP Ragtime - Marcus Sukiennik plays Scott Joplin will be released on 05.02. and the single track Shout Out Blues on 19.02.2021 on streaming portals respectively for download
  • Video New Releases February 1 & 2 on YouTube
  • Learning video (on the hands view)
  • Shout Out Blues Leadsheet C part PDF (melody with chord symbols)