|MUSIC OF OLD NEW YORK LINER NOTES
|MUSIC OF OLD NEW YORK
Turn-of-the-Century Ragtime & Popular Songs
Label: Museum Music
Release Date: September 2010
Catalog Number: MM161
Long before Hollywood began to assert its power over popular culture, turn-of-the-
century New York was the hot bed for popular music in America. Live entertainment,
music publishing, and the recording industry all thrived in The Big Apple. There were
scores of piano manufacturers and music publishers feeding the general public’s
seemingly insatiable appetite for ragtime, Broadway tunes, and patriotic/ethnic songs.
Having a piano in the home was considered a strong mark of domestic middle class
achievement. Before Thomas Edison invented the phonograph, live music was heard
in bars, clubs, and restaurants everywhere, and families regularly played the piano
and sang at home. Printed sheet music was in great demand and “Tin Pan Alley,” a
stretch of West 28th Street between 5th Avenue and Broadway in New York, was the
hub of virtually all music publishing activity. The street got its nickname from the
musical cacophony pouring from open windows of music publishers clustered
together on that block, their staff composers and song pluggers pounding away on
pianos simultaneously hoping to discover the next big hit.
This collection contains solo piano music and popular songs published between 1894
and 1922, the golden, birth years of American music. Several of these works are heard
here for the first time in a modern recording. All of these tunes were inspired
somehow by New York City in their subject matter, lyrics, title, or place of publication.
Well-known composers are represented, including adopted New Yorker and “King of
Ragtime” Scott Joplin (Wall Street Rag), Tom Turpin (The Harlem Rag…the first
published rag by a black composer in 1897, and Bowery Buck), James Scott
(Broadway Rag), the great George M. Cohan (Give My Regards to Broadway), Victor
Herbert (The Streets of New York), Albert Von Tilzer (Forty-Second Street Strut and
Take Me Out to the Ballgame . . . the lyrics reportedly were penned on a subway and
inspired by a subway ad for the Polo Grounds), and “The Father of Stride Piano”
James P. Johnson (Steeplechase Rag [aka Over the Bars] . . . a popular park on Coney
Island that featured a Ferris Wheel). Many of the works on this album are in the
ragtime genre because it was the popular music of this era.
Ragtime was born in the saloons of the late 1890s Midwest and quickly made its way
to the East Coast. The origin of the name “rag time” has never been definitively
ascertained, but one theory suggests that it derives from its characteristic “ragged”
syncopation (placement of strongly accented notes on normally weak beats) typical of
the African rhythms of the music’s plantation song origins. Ragtime was initially
disparaged as degenerate music because of its African American heritage, but its
irresistible rhythm catapulted it into the national consciousness virtually overnight.
Today we enjoy its intrinsically upbeat style as an all-American art form. Ragtime is
America’s own “classical” music and shows no signs of fading from our culture.
Popular music has by definition always been a commodity with a short shelf life. With
few exceptions (the perennial Give My Regards to Broadway,Take Me Out to the
Ballgame, and The Sidewalks of New York), the vast majority of the works heard on
this album capitalized on their titles’ municipal associations to attract an impulse sale
of printed music from music-loving New Yorkers. They were written by talented
composers and lyricist, and published at a brisk pace (with songs frequently having
similar titles), for instant consumption. Examples of such songs includeChinatown
Rag, Chinatown, My Chinatown, The Subway Glide, That Subway Rag, Castel House
Rag (written for the New York dance school run by Vernon and Irene Castle),
Brighton Beach Rag, and By the Beautiful Sea (a reference to the beach on Coney
Island). Other works simply employed titles reflecting the glitter and glitz of “The
Great White Way” such as The Broadway Blues, That Broadway Glide and Ziegfeld
Follies Rag (a reference to the long-running Broadway revue).
This uniquely American music reflects the optimistic spirit and energy of a period of
great industrial and social change in the United States. It is an aural time portal to
daily life in New York a century ago.
Richard Dowling performing a solo recital of selections from Music
of Old New York in the recital hall of the Museum of the City of
New York. (October 4, 2010)