Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Columbia's beloved pianist(part 1)

"The Indiana Ragtimer" (author's art, set in c.1899)

Frederick Hylands, a person I only guessed about a year and a half ago, now I know as much as there is out there about this pianist. He was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana in February of 1872 to parents who had rather typical occupations in this time period. His father was a railroad engineer, and his mother a loving housewife. He and his sister Ethel(born in 1875 in Ohio) were both musically gifted from a very young age. Hylands had the most amazing ear that his parents must have noticed when he was only a toddler. He and his younger sister travelled around the midwest in the late 1870's and 1880s as the "Infant Prodigies" on the piano and in musicals. To add to Fred's early genius, he compiled and arranged his own musical when he was only 15(this was in 1887). 
As his success expanded, so did his father's ideas, his father, Charles, opened a grocery store/saloon also around 1887. This was another way to add to Hylands' early Ragtime oriented background. As primitive forms or Ragtime existed in the late 1880's and early 1890's, young Fred most likely heard many itinerant pianists(black and white pianists!) who played this new, catchy type of music. As well as the common popular music of the day. 
By 1893, his family had moved to Chicago where the big world's fair was happening. This was another way for Fred. to get some more ragtime background by hearing this type of music where is was apparently first introduced. He likely, also while living in chicago, ran into performers Silas Leachman and W. H. Krell. If Hylands ever ran into Leachman, he must have been fascinated with how he recorded his own records and his documented wonderful performances in blackface. Leachman may have been a influence on Hylands, as he was a popular recording artist, as a pianist and singer, so this idea must have sparked some early interest in the phonograph for Hylands. In 1895, he married and English actress and performer named Maria Stevens with whom he often performed with many times.
By 1897, he was in New York working for the same vaudeville troupe that the famous Mike Bernard was known for being the pianist for. This must have created an odd atmosphere in the stages they played at, seriously! Two master pianists who were all in to the Ragtime fad, and they were both in early, by that I mean 1895. While working at this stage, he also must have run into the famous "Creator of Ragtime " Ben R. Harney, who was also an occasional member of this troupe. The Ragtime was in his blood by this time. Then not long after he reached the east coast, Len Spencer must have heard him play somewhere in New York. At first meeting Hylands, it must have been an awkward, but perfect encounter, as the two were like two peas in a pod(when they worked together that is). Len must have given him that look notorious with him...
Hylands must have been welcomed to Columbia's staff in the best possible way, as they always loved him. And he never seemed cause any problems(unless he was loaded...). He was well-loved and respected by all the staff at Columbia, even their supposedly awful manager(Victor H. Emerson). He must have gone after every new Rag, even  the tunes like "Mississippi Rag" "Rag Medley" "Maple Leaf Rag" "Hello My Baby" "The Pride of Bucktown" etc. and played the tunes for his friends. 
After all was well for a while with Hylands at Columbia for about a year or so, his fellow staff members began to mess with him here and there, working him till his hands were in pain. It has been documented that J. W. Myers did this sort of thing the most(that section's proof is in another previous post). 
J. W. Myers, the man who worked the hell out of Hylands, and made a joke of it. 
(you suck for that Myers!) 
Hylands worked almost every day at the columbia studio, playing for alternating artists, playing for as long as seven hours a day and sometimes leaving hastily for a performance. But oh how his money piled up from this! This was truly a profitable business, especially by pairing up the two, recording and performing. 
By 1899, he was well known as Columbia's house pianist, and played all sorts of engagements that the staff organized all over the eastern United states. He was also likely a part of Len Spencer's minstrels(first installment) who actually got gigs and performed all over the place as a minstrel troupe. Hylands was likely Spencer's pianist and most likely played in blackface. He also must have done sketches onstage with Spencer. 
somewhat hard to imagine him in blackface...
(It's Spencer by the way) 
As well as all of these other mentioned things, Spencer promised Hylands that he would commit himself to a publishing firm in March of 1899, this is where the firm that's notorious in my Blog: 

Hylands, Spencer and Yeager

This firm sounded like a wonderful idea in combining recording, booking, and performances all into one at first, but it seems that it did not stay that way. As Spencer and Yeager were very busy booking the minstrels and recording, they couldn't fully dedicate themselves to this venture. Spencer occasionally brought in some great new ideas and performers to endorse(such as Byron G Harlan and Ada Jones...yes! Ada Jones!). So in considering this, Hylands did most of the real publishing work. I'm sure that he must have gotten "pissed" at them for not showing up on many of the business days that they had, as The Phonoscope said that they were open every day. 
This somewhat bust of a publishing firm was completely dissolved by the middle of the next year, 1900. It must have been an interesting scene when Hylands probably yelled at Spencer for not committing himself to the big and rather expensive venture. But that is typical Len Spencer for ya. He would commit himself to something for a time, but if the commitment wasn't repeatedly stimulating and creative, he would just leave it behind. If he couldn't continue to work, he wouldn't find any use in it. 
Hylands was still on good terms with everyone at Columbia, even after 1900. he still came in to record almost everyday, keeping his profits up, and his hands working the ivories. 
Part 2 comes to-morrow

I hope you enjoyed this!

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