Wednesday, January 27, 2016

W. H. Krell and mid-1890's Chicago "Rag" scene

Since this date, January 27, was the date that Krell's famous piece "Mississippi Rag" was copyrighted back in 1897, this would be an appropriate time to do a post on Krell and 1890's Chicago Rag-Time. 

From the title of this post, I am not at all making the point that Krell was a sort of "chief" of the 1890's Chicago "Rag" society, but he was a big player in the sporty events and music of it. Krell's band was an important and popular group in mid-1890's Chicago, from the World's Fair in 1893, to playing at the big vaudeville houses with Silas Leachman in 1895. As I have briefly mentioned on a previous post, Krell was an aggressive leader who always wanted to be the best bandleader in Chicago, even if that fact was not really true. 

Krell was was in Chicago in a blossoming time of creativity, invention, and excitement. Since 1893 was such an important melting pot for so many from everywhere to experiment and learn, the many who were "stranded" in the city stayed and allowed for the knowledge to flow. Instead of becoming one of those many piano "professors", Krell skewed off to creating his own band after the fair, and wrote some music. In 1895, he wrote a handful of tunes that included a few songs, waltzes, and of course, a cake-walk "Rag". He had heard many of the early "Rag Time" pianists perform at rugged boardinghouses, and wanted to write some of it down, without too much of the realistic syncopation. 

Krell was living in Chicago when it was considered the "sin city" of it's day, with all the "rag time's"(rowdy boardinghouse parties in 1890's slang), sporting houses, prostitution, gambling, and everything else that comes from a city of that type. The young people who took part in this society of "trouble-makers" does include Fred Hylands, and Frank P. Banta, as both of them were in Chicago between 1894 and 1896. Banta was there in 1894-95, and Hylands was there from 1893 to early 1896. Banta played in saloons and sporting houses while there, and not much else. This might be why some may be curious about those Chicago Talking Machine Company records from c.1894-96, as it might be one of those two pianists behind those singers. Or not, it's hard to know. I'm sure when Ossman and Banta were on tour in Chicago, Vess split with Banta for a little while to got and enjoy himself, if you know what I mean...

Anyhow, back to Krell. With his band, he was making the rounds in the Chicago area, and making sure that his band was the best of all, even though it was getting very tough to stay on top by the time his "Mississippi Rag" was published. He came out with another rag in 1898 called "Shake Yo' Dusters" which is a better example of a Rag from mid-1890's Chicago. The melodies of "Mississippi Rag' came from black southern melodies Krell and his band heard while out on tour along the Mississippi in 1896. So in later 1896, he had a band arrangement of an un-named tune, but by the beginning of the next year, he finally had a title for the piece, which became hereafter The Mississippi Rag. 
The tunes in Rag-Time he wrote were popular at the hall dances his band played, and at vaudeville venues, as well as being played by other performers in the area(like by Fred Hylands!). Sometimes Krell had guest instrumentalists, like Harry Diamond, who was that young violinist that Krell got into a terrible argument with in 1900 and ended up hurting him badly. He must have also had someone like Silas Leachman sing with his orchestra, since he still resided in Chicago, even though in 1900 he was well engaged in making records for local companies(but not Victor just yet!). He knew somehow, that after 1905, his popularity was going downhill far faster than he had ever thought, but he didn't admit if fully until the mid-1910's. By then, Chicago was no longer that Rag-Time powerhouse of the mid-1890's. 
It was a place that was described in many accounts, 1890's Chicago(post world's fair), described in negative ways, and positive ways, certainly a fascinating period of time in that area.

Now I mean to get into some records for this evening. Some of these records I have here are ones that I could have shared a while ago, but I haven't for some reason. 
Now this first one is a Victor disc from 1901 by Len Spencer. The question though, lies on the pianist identification. Here is that record:
Will Marion Cook's "On Emancipation Day" by Len Spencer
After a few listens, I really think I know who that pianist is. For a long time, this was just as confusing a record as any Victor for knowing the pianist, but now that I have really figured out the distinctions, that pianist on this is...
Yes indeed. 
From my post a little while back where I listed all the studio pianist attributes, it would seem that Banta fits into this one quite well. Pretty much every one of Banta's stylings are present on this record, and it is a Victor from before 1904 anyhow, so it's probably Banta. It is a fantastic example of early recorded Rag-Time, and Rag-Time by a black composer other and Bert Williams and George Walker. 

This next one is a record I just found this evening, and it's by a performer I don't think I've ever spoken of on this blog:
Charles D' Almaine. 
The violin extraordinaire on all of those Edison, Columbia, Victor and Berliner records in the late-1890's and 1900's. 
Now this record I have here, is an odd one, with questionable piano accompaniment, but a revealing date somehow. Now here you go with Charles D'Almaine's version of "Donkey and Driver" recorded in April, 1904. Since it was recorded in 1904 that rids of Banta from the guesses, but there are still three others it could be. I could be Fred Bachmann, Christopher Booth, or Fred Hylands. The one thing that makes me think it's more likely to be Hylands is how loud and jarring the fifths in the left hand are at the section starting at 0:46, also that he's not exactly playing the tune as written. Hylands was, anyway, the primary pianist for Victor in that short period of time after Banta's death in 1903 and the end of the piano accompaniment era in early 1905.
Speaking of D'Almaine, I just recalled another record from many years before, that just also happens to have Hylands on piano. 
Here's "The Mockingbird" by D'Almaine and Hylands, c.1898-99.
Now this is a weird record. Hylands is absolutely crazy on this one, and when I say that, I mean it! He's even more frantic than he is on any other record I've ever heard with his accompaniment. This is one of those few records where one would have to wonder what kind of drug Hylands was on when he did this take. There are a few more examples of this, but this one is a rare one from before 1900. 

I hope you enjoyed this! 

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