Greetings, again - Player-Piano enthusiasts,
This will be the "final" Listbot mailing from Microsoft, since their system closes tomorrow, on August 6, 2001. You will be able to access this Newsletter and Issues #1 through #7 - plus the special Bulletins - through August 20th at this address: http://artcraftrolls.listbot.com/ -- but only if you are "already a member" and log-in with your Microsoft Listbot code.
[By the time that second date arrives, "all" of our prior ARTCRAFT Newsletters should be joining Issue #1, already at http://www.wiscasset.net/artcraft/archives.htm ... and in HTML with bold, italic and underlined words, plus special characters.]
The future ARTCRAFT Newsletters will be transmitted
from our own setup in Eudora 5.1, here in Maine. New subscribers can "join"
via the "mailto:"
option on our Home Page, now - http://www.wiscasset.net/artcraft/
PIANOLA Concerts #1
PIANOLA Concert #5
PIANOLA Concert #6
We are sorry that Editor Rhodes, of the Mechanical Music Digest, isn't running this series, about our "ground-breaking" marathon of artistic Player-Piano concerts, here in Searsport, Maine - featuring a 1929 Story & Clark 'Reprotone' upright, brought 100 miles up the Coast, just for these Saturday evening recitals.
If you have read prior editions of our Newsletter, you'll know that I've been told "this is enough for the MMD" because "the typical reader isn't interested in articles about music rolls" and "your texts are all the same".
(The latter is odd, since Pianola concert #6, described below, involves 'mariachi' music and a review of an exceptional guitar-and-song act, which does relate to ARTCRAFT Rolls, based on 'live' or recorded performances. True, most old rolls are just sheet music transcriptions and/or formulae, so 'live' music has little to do with them, the very reason WHY our Interpretive Arrangements have received so much acclaim from the world of performing musicians - and the enthusiastic public! You wonder if the MMD Editor really "reads" what we've sent in, weekly, and which will be a 9-part series of descriptive 'stories', when the concerts have been completed, at the end of this month.)
At any rate, we thank the many Newsletter readers, who written us letters of support, since, I do believe that if a poll were taken by the MMD, the majority would like some articles about player piano performances and/or music rolls, and not just chatter about the mechanisms, plus a healthy dose of non-musical texts, which include "saloon" topics - that now seem to be gaining on the 32 archived "beer" postings.
Of course, if the Editor is correct in his assessment, then I guess the musically-oriented people are already reading our ARTCRAFT Newsletters! (A subscribers' poll at the MMD could settle the question of subjects, easily.)
Meanwhile, we hope you enjoy reading about our latest 2 "adventures" with player roll recitals, below.
Our next communication will be directly from ARTCRAFT, with no Microsoft intermediary service, such as their Listbot server.
Best regards from Maine,
(signed) Douglas Henderson - ARTCRAFT Music Rolls
Pianola concert #6 - Searsport, Maine (8-4-2001)
[Return to the PIANOLA Concert Menu]
Hello MMD readers,
The first Player-Piano concert for August, in our series of 9 musicales, began with a twist ... not surprising when you consider Searsport Shores is a large campground, maintained with the natural trees and terrain ... with an ambience that gives one a "sense of discovery", at every turn.
In the early weeks of the season, there are many spaces and vistas of the sea, but as the grounds fill up, the diversity of the tents, RVs, popup trailers - and their placement within the old growth pines - gives a sense of 'community'; there is none of the 'parking lot', cramped feeling, which mars other campgrounds during the height of the tourist season. This year, there was something extra - in the isolated glen, near U.S. 1 (usually reserved for clubs and group camping activities) tents for a crew of Mexican blueberry pickers, far from where the standard campers are located, about a 1/4 mile down the gravel road, heading toward the sea.
The reader might ask, "Just what does this have to do with Player-Piano music?"
Well, it was Saturday night - and warmer than usual - so a group of the blueberry pickers had assembled on the deck of the recreation hall ... and feeling somewhat homesick, a song began, to the accompaniment of a guitar. This took place just as I was to begin playing the 1929 Reprotone, at 7:30 in the evening. What amazed me, beyond the good vocalizing, was the musical number "Ay, Jalisco no te rajes", made famous by Jorge Negrete, the opera-trained star of many Mexican musical films. (For those unfamiliar with this music, think of the title song from "The Three Caballeros" by Disney, which was the same song in English - and, on the soundtrack, even featuring the original chorus in Spanish, only sung by a 'Pancho Villa' type rooster.)
Those, who have been in correspondence with me for some time, know that I've been planning a "mariachi" music roll - along with a "fado" (Portugese) one ... having successfully simulated stringed instruments for several Brazilian arrangements, primarily TICO-TICO, DENGOZO and additional numbers by Ernesto Nazarth, the 'carioca' composer who accompanied silent movies in Rio di Janeiro. Recently, I've been immersing myself in videotapes - supplied by music roll collector Michael Potash - of Jorge Negrete and Pedro Infante, with the idea of starting a Mexican medley with AY, JALISCO.
Thus, the evening began with this musical coincidence. The staff rushed out and told the singers to "reschedule" their ad lib performance down on the rocky beach, where fireworks, a bonfire and other activities were to be held - AFTER my music roll performances had ended.
Thus, I decided to open and
close my program with Latin music, beginning with GAUCHO, AMENA RESADA
and ODEON - all from the Duo-Art arrangement entitled BRAZILIAN SUITE.
While the old Story & Clark instrument obligingly executed the highspeed
crisp staccato notes, the emphasized
melodic strains and the pulsating rhythms of my Interpretive Arrangement, I could see out the corner of my eye that a large group of Mexicans were peering through the windows. The crowd on the deck was not only listening to the South American music, but watching my operation of the player mechanism ... and they stayed on, as a second audience, for a good portion of last night's recital.
My program continued with
THE MADAWAKSA RAG, by New Brunswick composer Charles Martin (who died in
the 'flu epidemic of 1918), first as a
sparkling ARTCRAFT Roll, and then - in extract form only - as a pedestrian 'sheet music transfer' by QRS, one of those thin, repetitive arrangements with connecting notes, as if one were playing an organ - instead of the pianoforte. When the music began to repeat, I hit the rewind switch and told the audience that "the roll had nothing more to say, musically" - which was true! (Isn't it a shame that so many people kept their old commercial rolls while getting rid of the family Player-Piano, when it should have been the other way around?)
Not wishing to establish that all commercial rolls were "bad", the next selection to be performed was the Howard Lutter arranagement ("Vee Lawnhurst") of LIGHTHOUSE BLUES, for the Welte-Mignon Licensee player - a 'reproducing' piano. This roll can be played on any 88-Note instrument, by using a bit a creative tracker bar taping, but the switch in the spoolbox for "Reprotone ON" cut off the 8 expression holes, and so the roll was as easy to present as anything in the standard format. Robin Pratt has made available this select - and unknown - number, via his Artists' Choice Rolls label (http//www.wiscasset.net/artcraft/pratt.htm) and it's a super-spectacular arrangement from the past. LIGHTHOUSE BLUES has a melody which is forgettable, but the piano breaks and clever arranging tricks by Howard Lutter are so outstanding, that you are drawn to the piano for the entire performance. From crushed notes to flying arpeggios, this Licensee roll is something to hear, and it received applause equal to my own best efforts, proving that the underrated Kohler & Campbell arranger can still "weave magic" - even 80-odd years later!
(Note this is a roll that could be called "one in a thousand" ... since even the average Licensee expression arrangement doesn't have all the staccato effects and imaginative variations present in LIGHTHOUSE BLUES - another gem discovered by Mr. Pratt, for today's sophisticated Player-Piano enthusiasts.)
We ended the "commercial
roll" part of the program with the pendulum swinging in the other direction.
First, there was a 'Brand X' comparison of a QRS Roll with an Interpretive
Arrangement (described above), and the factory roll was merely thin and
boring when played side-by-side with our release. The elte-Mignon
"blues" number was stellar, perhaps the definitive popular arrangement
from the 'brown box' days of Howard Lutter. Our final commercial release
is - without question - the ABSOLUTE WORST ROLL EVER PERFORATED,
and, amazingly still available in the QRS Catalogues of today: SOMEWHERE,
OVER THE RAINBOW, a George Shearing arrangement. I prefaced the performance
- of one chorus only(!) - by saying that this was strictly for "those who
hated Judy Garland movies and who were also contemplating suicide." Dissonant
chords and sour tonalities abounded; the stunned audience couldn't believe
what they were hearing. When the late owner of QRS, Ramsi Tick - who purchased
the assets of Max Kortlander, in the 'Sixties - visited our museum (The
Musical Wonder House), in the 'Seventies - I asked about this ghastly roll.
"So what? It sells," was his 'to-heck-with-the-customer' remark. Not wishing
to inflict any more pain
on my otherwise appreciative audience, the rewind lever ended their musical suffering, and the roll was put away - for future demonstrations of musical masochism!
The program then returned
to the "ARTCRAFT-only" format, which was the hallmark of my 5 previous
concerts, Interpretive Arrangements which pushed
the piano action and the player mechanism to the complete spectrum of artistic performance.
Two Max Morath rolls were
presented, both collaborations with the famous pianist-composer-entertainer
ONE FOR NORMA and POVERTY GULCH RAG, the latter from his "Cripple Creek
Suite" of the late 'Eighties. Here, the graduated perforating really made
its presence known. The first selection - in the lyric modern Ragtime idiom
- had delicate chords, artistic sostenuto and whisper-soft phrased passages,
broken with isolated bass accents in the Mezzo-Forte range. The second
arrangement emphasized the "rough and ready" nature of the Colorado miners,
alternating between Morath's 'punchy' playing style and the Pianola variations
which followed, designed to convey the crash accents which - if the roll
had followed the score, to the letter - wouldn't have been so evident ...
attributes of the pneumatic action were exploited, through the use of additional piano keys. The finale of POVERTY GULCH was suggested by composer Morath, who sent me a Cassette recording in which he was playing a 'dubbing' duet with himself, combining two of the themes in a counterpoint manner. This led to a simulated "two piano" performance, and one I so thoroughly enjoyed perforating that two (not just one, as he had indicated) were created for the roll's conclusion. Played side-by-side, it was almost impossible to believe that these two compositions came from the same musician, but that's due to the fact that I worked from both the score and his audio recordings (which were old Vanguard LP records on Cassette tapes). The keyboard "striking" effects mirrored these two keyboard performances, the latter being that special double recording for the 'duet' nature of the finale, of course.
The highlight of the evening
was Gershwin's "One Act 'Jazz Opera'" BLUE MONDAY. The audience had been
prepared for this, since printouts of the
information sheet - packed in with the ARTCRAFT Rolls - were duplicated in quantity ... posted on the Searsport Shores bulletin board, and also put
in the hands of the listeners, by the time the long-playing roll was about to begin. While presented by a small instrument - when compared to the 2 Steinway player grands in the Wiscasset Studio - BLUE MONDAY captivated the the seated people, in the way that "program music" can - if the story behind the music is understood, previously. Several noted, afterwards, that parts sounded like "Rhapsody In Blue" or "Porgy and Bess", which they did. BLUE MONDAY was prepared in one week by the young George Gershwin working with lyricist Buddy De Sylva, and, for a 'rush job', it certainly stands as an interesting work, a harbinger of things to come ... since Paul Whiteman was the orchestral leader for "George White's Scandals of 1922", where the 'opera' was given in one performance, only.
(Later, Whiteman had BLUE
MONDAY reworked by Ferde Grofé and presented it in a concert version
at Carnegie Hall under the title of "135th Street It
Happened on Blue Monday", but following the success of "Rhapsody In Blue", this earlier work made no impression, and was dropped.)
It's safe to assume - due
to the number of ARTCRAFT Rolls sold, so far - that BLUE MONDAY has been
heard (and enjoyed, for what it is) by more
people, today, than during its short-lived original performances in the 'Twenties. Once again, the Pianola is able to acquaint a new audience with completely forgotten music, and - in this roll - 'stride' piano playing, for the Harlem barroom dancers, is as closely approximated by the player action, as could ever be possible. Graduated staccato is the only way to go, if one wants sparkling virutoso performances. The roll is approximately the same playing time as the 'vaudeville skit' presentation by George Gershwin 15 minutes long. While there is no Paul Whiteman 'jazz' orchestra, and no dancers or vocalists, the instrumental version of BLUE MONDAY still has a vibrant dramatic impact as a Pianola solo.
Shortly after the roll's
release, a few years ago, Alicia Zizzo Selinger - the musician who prepared
the basic BLUE MONDAY score for Warner Bros.
music (combining 3 incomplete sources for the whole) - wrote me and said, "Your arrangement has come closer to the atmosphere of jazz and vaudeville
than any virtuoso pianist could achieve with a Steinway 'D' grand upon the concert stage!"
(This is true, since the full range of the player action was put to use, a phalanx of up to 80 'fingers', as it were ... while the rhythms could be overlaid without resorting to the use of the sustaining pedal, required by a keyboard pianist, so there is a performance clarity in the Interpretive Arrangement. The sweeping "operatic" passages - which might be a homage to Gounod - contrast beautifully with the tango rhythms, the pseudo-'stride' dance sections and the 4 arias - of which BLUE MONDAY BLUES and I'M GOING TO SEE MY MOTHER - a quasi-spirital/'Mammy' song - are engaging, even when presented through the medium of felt piano hammers.)
Following BLUE MONDAY, a
rare Hoagy Carmichael piano solo was presented, the strange and fascinating
MANHATTAN RAG, which combines Midwest ragtime music with the Art Deco chords
of 1929, the year it was published. (This roll was prepared for a 1988
player club convention, but the "stuck on"
pneumatic sustaining pedal - on the Baldwin player, there - destroyed the quirky effects of its debut. At Searsport Shores in 2001, however, our piano was in fine condition, while the audience had been prepared for the final theme, which has a loudly accented chord pattern, on the 2nd and 4th beats one-TWO-three-FOUR; one-TWO-three-FOUR.) The Carmichael arrangement concludes with a pianissimo fade-out, accomplished on the Reprotone without the need for the graduated Soft Pedal levers, another example of good player action design, in my opinion!
The presentation closed with Scott Joplin's ELITE SYNCOPATIONS - another Interpretive Arrangement - and a reprise of TICO-TICO (featured on earlier concerts in this 9-part series), due to the unexpected "Latin music" theme, upon which the evening began. However, since people kept "filtering in" as the rolls were played - due to hearing music 'floating' through the pines, from the opened windows of the large recreation hall - a call for "Encore! Encore!" arose. Two extra numbers were played, the second being the Mozart-Salieri SIX VARIATIONS upon "Mio caro adone", chronicled in a previous article prepared for the Mechanical Music Digest [see Pianola concert #4 - Searsport, Maine (7-21-2001) for further information on this requested ARTCRAFT Roll].
Several musical people talked
with me, after the piano was covered over, and the rolls were put back
into the three archives boxes. One, a young girl, had arrived late, so
missed many of the earlier numbers. She asked why my rolls sounded good,
when contrasted to the lackluster ones on her old family player, before
it was taken away. I unrolled the copies of MADAWASKA RAG, and laid them
out on a picnic table, near the piano. One was the ARTCRAFT version and
the other was the 'sheet music transfer' QRS arrangement from "Dullsville".
Immediately, when I pointed out the A-Theme passages - which she hadn't
heard on the piano - she could "see" the variables, especially when it
came to the bass accompaniment patterns and the minute differences in the
staccato treble melody line. The
improvements in Interpretive Arranging versus formula cutting can be "understood" by anybody who's musical, so an actual Player-Piano performance is rarely necessary. She - and a man who came, earlier, for the entire concert - both asked about the perforators used to make ARTCRAFT Rolls. They were referred to their "Pianola information" handout sheet, where the Home Page 'links' to several photographic Web pages, featuring pictures of the perforators.. The musical possibilities of the player continue to attract so many people, today, if the instrument is in good working condition, and if the rolls happen to be challenging
Unfortunately, my 'shifting gears' to blend in with the Spanish-Brazilian music theme displaced another rare and unusual commercial roll, which will have to be performed at one of the three final concerts, here on Penobscot Bay a 1927 silent movie accompaniment roll, made AFTER talking pictures had arrived! This unusual roll is not like the other Picturolls© in my collection, which run from 1915 through 1923, and was a recent eBay (on-line auction) purchase. That 'movie roll' presentation, which would require a bit of explanation for the audience - about Foto-Players, primarily - will have to be presented later on, in August.
(You, the reader, will probably find my pending description of this late roll to be of interest, since the presence of the Vitaphone and Movietone - and the earlier Phonofilm shorts - affected the destiny of silent movies with music roll accompaniment. The year, 1929, was the last one for producing silent feature films, if the works of Chaplin are not included in the chronology. This was also the year that Story & Clark produced my 'Reprotone' player, with the full-scale range and a cutoff for 'reproducing' rolls, for a hefty $800.00 - when a Ford Model A automobile cost far less, at that time. Finally, it was the year that the economy dealt a disastrous blow to the piano industry.)
After Pianola concert #6 had ended, I followed the fireworks and the light of the bonfire to the rocky shores of Penobscot Bay, where many people were gathered. Unfortunately, the Mexican musicans were not to be seen, as promised, since I was told - by one of the campground staff - that the interruption of their "mariachi" music, made them fear of being 'unwanted' ... and ... the daytime berry picking was exhausting enough, so they returned to their tents. Some guitar-playing Maine singers were performing Merle Haggard numbers, including OKIE FROM MUSKOGEE, but I was bent on hearing some Spanish music, instead.
It turned out that Phil White Hawk - a singer-composer with who sings on the Belfast & Moosehead Railroad journeys, in Unity, Maine - was performing solo, near the recreation hall deck ... attracting a small collection of seated people, which soon included me. His guitar playing, combined with rhythms from slapping the instrument as well as tapping different parts of the picnic table, upon which he was seated, gave a crescendo atmosphere to his many songs. Finally, I got to hear "Ay, Jalisco no te rajes" but ... I was not to hear any more Negrete numbers, such as "Me he de comer esa tuna", since some member of the audience kept requesting modern pieces, some with religious themes - obviously not my taste, when I was mariachi-oriented, at the time! The singer-guitarist performed a delicate version of "Autumn Leaves" - rivaling in phrasing and subtle dynamics anything Chopin could have written for the piano ... and also a Latin-rhythm version of "Summertime" by Gershwin, plus a calypso number, "I Want To Go Home" - among other familiar pieces. I had the good fortune to exchange a few lines with Mr. White Hawk, just as the lights were being turned off around the hall, and he even improvised a song with "Wiscasset" in the title, for me.
It's rare to experience a singer, today, who requires no microphone ... whose acoustic instrument can be heard (just like my piano) without the aid of wires and electronics ... and who possesses such a command over tonality. There was none of that droning effect which one experiences with so many solo guitar presentations, since the slapping and tapping rhythms, as well as judicious use of a falsetto voice, all contributed to a "larger than life" solo act.
If you still wonder "What
does all this have to do with music rolls?" - remember than cross-pollination
is the key to creating virtuoso arrangements as well as enjoying or mastering
the Pianola instrument. The more one hears and remembers, the better will
be the perforated roll performances, down the line. While I "educated"
my pianoforte audience about the potential of the pneumatic player, I "learned"
much - especially in superimposed rhythms under a melody line - from the
afterglow performance to Phil White Hawk, sitting on a picnic table, and
holding the attention of his listeners, while I - admittedly - was analyzing
musical interplay, since these can be utilized, later, for a future Interpretive Arrangement.
So ends the unusual nature of Pianola concert #6, with three more to go before the 'Year 2001' marathon of Player-Piano recitals ends. In case you haven't seen it, Searsport Shores launched a biographical Website about me, a few days ago - http//www.campocean.com/doug.html - which capsulizes my almost 5 decades in this unusual field of 'concert hall level' player roll arrangements. (This can be accessed or printed up, until September, when it will probably be taken off the Internet.)
Next week, #7 will take place, perhaps prefaced by a full-scale "mariachi" performance, and then I'll really be in my element!
Regards from the shores of
Penobscot Bay, Maine -
(signed) Douglas Henderson ... and still using the cellular 'phone for sending these reviews to the MMD
ARTCRAFT Music Rolls, Wiscasset, Maine
Pianola concert #5 - Searsport, Maine (7-28-2001)
[Return to the PIANOLA Concert Menu]
Hello MMD readers,
Last night's Player-Piano concert not only marked our passing the halfway point in the series of 9 musicales - here at Searsport Shores, on Penobscot Bay - but it also proved, unquestionably, how much GOOD PIANO MUSIC can excite and fascinate young people. Particularly rewarding, among the many younger members of the audience, was a little girl who was so "with" the lively Interpretive Arrangements, that she 'kept time', danced and beamed as the 1929 upright delivered one effervescent performance after another. In fact, I was amazed that so many very young children were able to "sit through" an hour of instrumental piano music, for the most part, while remaining focused on the rhythm and melody. There were a number of delighted adults, who were intrigued from the moment the ARTCRAFT Rolls began to play, and some of their 'feedback' will be chronicled later in this review.
When the 7:30 p.m. starting time began, the folding chairs were set
up in the large recreation hall of this picturesque camping resort, but
... only a few seats were filled, excluding Lois Konvalinka, who remains
my best critic, using her powers of observation to tell me (later) what
things appealed to the audience and how the dynamic effects were (or were
not) achieved on particular rolls. She's fascinated by this 9 concert schedule,
because rolls she hasn't heard in years are being "rediscovered" ... on
a totally different sounding instrument from the 2 Steinway player grands,
in the Wiscasset Studio. When back in our trailer, after these
performances, she relates many of the high points which I would not have experienced, otherwise, since the Pianolist - at an upright - has his or her back to the audience. I am particularly grateful for her musical memory, which can describe - after the fact - whether the bass notes might be "booming" a tad too much ... or if some solo effects were effective (accomplished through tricky pedaling in combination with rapid use of the hammer rail lifts). Due to the acoustics of the hall, and the placement of the piano, the lower 1/3 of the scale can seem - to me - to be a bit muted ... when, in fact, the Story & Clark 'Reprotone' delivers the power of a
better than average grand piano, in those registers. Thus, I trust her judgment as well as my gauging the dynamics through pedal resistance. Remember, only virtuoso arrangements are being performed in this concert series, so it's necessary to swing from a 'crash' chord to a whisper-soft pianissimo at a moment's notice, since the illusion of "single note control" is the goal of my interpretations. Moreover, the arabesques and arpeggios are usually in graduated staccato, "felt through the 'coasting' of the equalizers" ... so the valves are particularly critical, here, while the piano action is so well-regulated that a rapid striking sound ceases, upon the release of the key, something usually in the domain of a grand piano action.
(Once again, I must congratulate the talents of Robin Pratt in Ohio
and Paul Rice in Maine, for "pushing" the regulation standards of this
old instrument beyond those of the showroom floor, when the piano was new.
It's typical for a pianist, following one of my Pianola performances -
including on the concert stage - to approach me, and ask to try the keyboard.
I'm more than happy to oblige, for many times this will mark their first
experience with an ultra-regulated upright action. A few years ago, William
Albright, shortly before his untimely passing, was on an Arcady Music Festival
program with a roster of talented pianists, plus the
'Reprotone' and ARTCRAFT Rolls [only]. During the finale, which included Masanobu Ikemiya and the entire ensemble - playing MAPLE LEAF RAG by Scott
Joplin - Mr. Albright elected to use my upright instead of the weary Steinway "house grand", at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor. Not only was I pleased that once again an upright 'topped' a grand, but it was the first time I got to hear the dynamic spectrum of that 1929 piano - as a member of the audience. Only then, did I realize how much bass power the 'Reprotone' possessed, in spite of its diminutive 50" height. Of course, it was in a concert auditorium and not a recreation hall, so the sound projected to the best advantage, during that memorable evening.)
Concert #5 opened with THE NAKED DANCE of 'Jelly Roll' Morton, a sparkling
ARTCRAFT arrangement which allows for the Pianolist to separate dotted
8ths and 16th easily, due to the graduated perforation lengths, cut to simulate the "air space" between what a thumb or index finger, let us say, would introduce into the key depression time. Working from audio, as I have done since '52, really aids in this "keyboard attack" simulation. The music roll interpreter can take 'clues' from the pedals, which register the valve activity, and "nudge" the accents from the texture, which are actually 'there', in an agogic sense ... but only on Interpretive
(Note: do not confuse this particular Morton roll with others, old or
new, that feature clusters of same-length perforations; the style which
was 'Jelly Roll' Morton - preserved on his many audio recordings - can
never be achieved with organlike key depressions. Particularly muddy are
the rolls arranged by Mary Allison of the Vocalstyle Music Co. in the 'Twenties;
these were sold as "played by Ferdinand Morton", but were actually Leabarjan
perforator arrangements based on his scores or perhaps the crude 'recording'
piano at the Cincinnati, Ohio factory. Whatever the 'source material' might
have been, the commercial rolls by Mary are
pedestrian, lacking in jazz staccato, and they don't feature that clipped - sexual - syncopation, which was the essence of the legendary New Orleans
composer-pianist. Moreover, since the player action has its dynamic limits, due to the striking "fingers" resting on the keys, as it were, it was necessary to build upon the "interpretive" piano solo score; this lead to increasingly larger chords and technical effects, giving the illusion of not only a pianist, but his studio band - i.e., the 'Red Hot Peppers' - joining in for the finale. By using the resources of the pneumatic player plus the old Victor and Bluebird 78s (on tape Cassette) for the reference material, THE NAKED DANCE - in my version - does possess the 'wicked' characteristics of this number, played in a bordello setting, originally.)
For the sake of the children in the audience, I only identified the composer and didn't bother to announce the title!
Shifting gears, the next number was Lemmens' FANFARE FOR ORGAN, a Duo-Art
roll performed on the 'Reprotone' via the switching of a cutoff lever,
transforming it into an 78-key action. Originally, I had planned to follow the boisterous Morton number with the Myra Hess two-piano transcription of
Bach's CANTATA 147: CHORALE, but the roll didn't make the journey of 100 miles, from Wiscasset, for this weekend's program.
One of the highlights of the evening had to be NEW 'CASTLE HOUSE' MEDLEY,
another roll project from Robin Pratt, originally. This long-playing medley
combined the little-known FASHION RAG with THE CASTLE WALK and the fascinating
DENGOZO by Ernesto Nazareth. (This latter number is performed
in its entirety in the '39 RKO musical with Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers, about Vernon & Irene Castle, the dancing duo. The Hollywood film does not identify the composer or the title, but lists the music as the "Maxixe" - which was a Castle House specialty of the early 'Teens.) Nazareth's music captivates audiences today, so I was not surprised when some audience members asked questions - later on - about the overlapping rhythms, and even Lois brought up the subject of Nazareth's music, later in the evening, all sparked by this particular music roll. Of course, without "graduated staccato" cutting, the piece would have been pleasant but not memorable, to the point of later discussions; each rhythm "sang" as it was 'overlaid by' or 'contrasted with' the other melodic passages in the Brazilian composition.
At this point, it should be mentioned that the vacant chairs were filled, shortly after the first roll - the Morton number - had been rewound. It seems that Searsport Shores had many tenters, this weekend, who arrived late, due to the balmy evening, so the task of erecting their living quarters didn't exactly coincide with the commencement of my Pianola performances. However, the music - floating through the grounds - brought them in, and by the time that the Lemmens FANFARE was in progress, seats were taken by people of all ages, collectively focused on the piano, the music and my physical efforts in controlling the pneumatic mechanism.
It was time for Moxie, the stated centerpiece for the evening's recital.
Actually, the topic was doubly in tune with the times, for the Bangor State
Fair is taking place only a few miles North of Searsport, and it turns
out that the New England soft drink (which began in Maine) was actually
being promoted in an exhibit, up there. People wanted to know - after hearing
the music - where to buy the product and what it tasted like. I had previously
recited some of the typical descriptions: "It's
like Lavoris with a dash of onion" or "Some say it's like licking a dirty ashtray." You either like or hate Moxie, and while not as strong as it was, until its demise in Needham Heights, Mass. in the late 'Sixties, that trademark aftertaste still remains, based on gentian root - the sameingredient found featured in cocktail bitters.
If you have read the prior articles prepared for the Mechanical Music Digest, it won't be necessary to describe my unfurling the 2 "Moxie music" rolls into an archives box, in order to read the lyrics prior to playing the music. This time, however, I moved one of the perforated rolls closer to the seated audience, so that they could see the "Moxie Boy" illustration, followed by the "Horsemobile" and the stamps of the "Moxie Pup" (wagging in solo, and later pulling a small wagon loaded with the beverage). [The barks for the "Moxie Pup" were based upon the those of our dachshund, Liesl, who had a "grrr-woof" sound, so these were interpolated into the player roll arrangement, when it was perforated in the 'Eighties.] The audience was enthralled with JUST MAKE IT MOXIE FOR MINE
(1904) followed by MOXIE ONE-STEP (1921) and then a sample of the final piece, THE 1942 MOXIE SONG - featuring bouncy wartime lyrics.
(Note: In older postings, I believe that '41 instead of '42 was cited
for this latter title; it had been some time since the 'prototype' roll
was played at a Moxie Festival in Lisbon Falls, Maine ... so a year probably
got skipped, until the roll had been retrieved from my shelves of Masters.
This short roll was made from listening to a rare radio transcription,
since the song had never been published as sheet music. It was designed
to be "read" by the stylus of the Leabarjan #8-B perforator as 'source'
material, to be expanded and developed into a major roll "production" -
as the other two Moxie melodies definitely were, in their Interpretive
The Moxie part of the program also included my setting up 3 original
bottles, brought up from the ARTCRAFT Studio. The oldest was a rare 19th
Century bottle, from their Lowell, Mass. days, dug up in a landfill in
Michigan ... and sent to me by a music roll customer and friend, R. J.
Shomin - long active in the Ragtime community and an specialist in the
recording of pianists. The two other were from the Needam Heights era of
the 'Forties and 'Fifties, a 26 ounce "quart" bottle and 'Kid Moxie' (the
7 ounce size). [Incidentally, when Coca-Cola began selling "quarts" in
Washington, DC in the early 'Sixties, they were 27 ounces, not the
standard measurement of 32!] I brought a Moxie Festival T-shirt featuring the '26 "Moxie Pup" (one of two stamped on my player rolls), but stupidly left that in the car, parked outside. The music was more important, really, than the visuals of the 'show and tell' so this omission wasn't any great loss for music lovers!
(Those who remember me from my player club convention days, know that
I loudly protested that there was "way too much emphasis" on souvenirs
table favours and not enough on music roll presentations. If you don't belive me, check through some of the old magazines from the 'Eighties and early 'Nineties, where the subject of cutesy table favours often dominated the issues! 'Kitsch' is a word which comes to mind on many of them; mine were given away at the conventions, since I have a little enough space for player rolls in my Studio - and no room for "trinkets"!)
Brought back for a third time in this series was David T. Roberts' haunting ROBERTO CLEMENTE, now being requested by a few 'regulars' in attendance!
Continuing with the "joke" aspect of old commercial rolls, this time
we featured BLISSFUL TRYST by QRS, viz. Titl's SERENADE with the maudlin
story of André and Lila, most probably by Vice President Lee S.
Roberts, who was perhaps one of the 2 phony French pianists on the roll
label. The other sounded like his collaborations with Theodora Sturkow-Ryder
in the QRS-Autograph days. Unfortunately, due to the acoustics of the room,
combined with my facing the instrument, plus the Story & Clark being
far more resonant and powerful than its small size would suggest, much
of my dramatic 'recitation' of the sickening love story wasn't audible
for many seated listeners. "Live and learn" would be the axiom for this
situation. Lois said that I needed a microphone, should this be tried again
for an audience. However, I had already discussed André and Lila
before playing the roll and reciting the story, so the music itself - which
wasn't bad for a commercial release - generated a happy round of applause.
Even the "machine gun staccato" trills for the birdies - nightingales,
as I recall - was enjoyed, though if the Master had begun life as an Interpretive
Arrangement, then the striking and the "floating speed" of the trills would
have been elevated to modern performance standards. (Witness the trills
in our rolls of MEPHISTO WALTZ by Liszt or Gershwin's BY STRAUSS, for example.
Old rolls never did cut the mustard, in most cases, when it came to refinements
like mordants, trills and arpeggios.) Incidentally, the saga of André
and Lila - created by QRS - was supposedly a 'serious'
story when it was introduced in the 'Teens. Today, the player roll tale is not unlike a Victorian melodrama, such as "East Lynne" or "The Drunkard" - usually performed by an amateur theatrical company for a comic effect, only.
Several more rolls were played, all contrasting each other in the "keyboard
attack", which bring the essence of VARIETY to our 'ARTCRAFT-only' concerts.
Usually, when playing old commercial rolls, it's necessary to change brands
and years in order to half-superimpose a varied nature to a series of perforated
arrangements. Even then, erratic rhythm (on the so-called 'hand-played'
rolls) interferes with things, or the droning nature of "note clusters"
gives a grey sameness, after a few selections are played, and that's not
including the repeating material which drags down the bulk of old factory
releases. Here, each roll demonstrated a
different aspect of the instrument, due to the varying key depression lengths. For example, the 'Teens staccato and 'striking time' established by the perforations in NEW 'CASTLE HOUSE' MEDLEY were totally different from the crisp, racing effects of Bob Ault's STORMIN' THE CASTLE, the modern 'stomp' which concluded the evening's performance. Both staccato, yes ... but ... that 128th of a note 'difference' made each a world apart from the other, simply due to the manipulation of the graduated holes. I'm firmly convinced that you cannot hold an audience for an hour of solid Pianola music - using one particular roll brand, only - unless it happens to be ours, due to these subtle key depressing refinements. What made our fifth event unique was the unexpected 'afterglow' ... and
even that wasn't in the 'group-around-the-piano' tradition.
It was a very dark night, with clouds blocking an otherwise starry sky. Loading the Volkswagen sedan - in haste - my reading glasses were not to be found, when unpacking again, at Site 52, our home away from home. (Actually, they were in the car, but it took a flashlight to reveal that fact, later on.)
I had five pleasant encounters with people, walking back from the recreation
hall ... mostly standing in the dark, amongst the old growth pines. Unlike
other nights, this particular audience - after clapping heartily, all along,
quickly dispersed ... and this probably had something to do with tending
a campfire, since tenters predominated over the RV people. (Most Searsport
Shores tenters have their own hill and glens - overlooking Penobscot Bay
- reached by crossing a footbridge over a stream .... so they are away
from the popup trailers and RVs, which are parked between the hall and
the sea.) I thought, "Well, they liked it, but they
left in a hurry."
First, Astrig Tanguay, part of the Searsport Shores managing family,
told me that ROBERTO CLEMENTE was her favourite roll, so far, and that
it reminded her of Jimmy Buffet, in some places. Next, a man who collected
old jazz 78s - and who even came up to our trailer before the concert,
to ask some musical questions - began a conversation about the Morton piece
and looked through the ARTCRAFT titles, still facing upward in their archives
boxes (holding 20 rolls, each). It turned out that he missed the earlier
portion of the recital, due to - as I had guessed - starting the evening
campfire. Two more couples asked questions about particular pieces and/or
the player, as I found my way back to "ARTCRAFT North" - our nickname for
the site, now enhanced by begonias and other flowers in
planters, tended by Lois ... along with illuminated awning lights (twinkling globes, even by day, which are festive) and the versatile gazebo tent, used for perforating Masters along with other mundane tasks, such as storing a folding tricycle or corrugated boxes - cut down for Wiscasset roll shipping parcels.
The last encounter involved a young lady who was all smiles, during the Pianola concert, and who had specific questions about music roll arranging. She knew a lot about music, so I shifted into my "sidelines and musical tangents" mode, which is often too much for many people ... but she could handle the answers. Even from a distance of about 15 feet, she kept a mental record of my finger work - in relation to the music - and my foot strokes, based upon the rhythm of the compositions.
By the time the eyeglasses were found, Lois and I were so "awake" that we continued our own conversation, in the trailer, until well past midnight, showing that there was much to discuss when the predictable fodder by the old player roll companies wasn't part of the musical presentations. (As one friend of mine in the 'Fifties said, about QRS 'Bluebird Ballad' rolls, "If you've heard one, you've heard 'em all, just like seeing a burlesque show." He's long gone, now, but that statement about formula arranging remains indelible in my memory! Consider the lackluster Frank Milne rolls of the 'Thirties, when so much good popular music was still being written: SUMMERTIME by Gershwin, SOPHISTICATED LADY by Ellington, YOU'RE THE TOP by Porter, FACE THE MUSIC AND DANCE by Berlin -- and what do you get on 'reproducing' rolls? Perforated "elevator music"! The Duo-Art or Ampico bores the astute listener halfway through the first roll, if one's familiar with the original 78s or a good modern keyboard performance by one of the talented pianists of today.)
There are 4 more Player-Piano concerts to go ... and then our weekly
series for 2001 will come to an end. On one hand, I'll enjoy the freedom
to keep my own hectic schedule - and travel elsewhere in our Campers -
and on the other hand, I'll miss those appreciative audiences. Having brought
the player to the public, in so many ways over so many decades - I feel
like a Johnny Appleseed, at times, in "educating" the populace about the
musical potential of the player instrument. (You need a restored Pianola
and challenging rolls, for it all starts from there.) I'm certain that
many listeners will continue to tell friends about their Searsport Shores'
discovery, that players are an "art" to master and that they don't have to have a monotonous 'honky-tonk' sound, when all the better elements are in
The sun is rising on yet another gorgeous day, on the rocky Coast of
Maine. Concert #6 - next Saturday evening, in August - should be another
experience, for me ... and for those who expect to hear an 'ordinary' Player-Piano!
(signed) Douglas Henderson
ARTCRAFT Music Rolls
[Have you tuned your Player-Piano recently .... and used the tracker bar pump to clean out the ducts?]
ARTCRAFT Archives: Backissues of the ARTCRAFT Newsletters
ARTCRAFT Newsletters and ARTCRAFT Music Rolls are
published by L. Douglas Henderson
ARTCRAFT Music Rolls, PO Box 295, Wiscasset, ME 04578 USA
Telephone: (207) 882-7420
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