Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Black Mirror to Fred Hylands

The famous "Rosebud Bar" owner Tom Turpin
and another, much more obscure, Rag-Time legend Fred Hylands.

Why am I putting these two greats together for comparison? Well, in many ways, they weren't all the different from each other, even though they were based in different areas of the U. S. Turpin in Missouri, and Hylands in New York. With all of those many thousand miles of separation, they were pretty much the same kind of Rag-Time performers in the areas in which they lived.
To begin:
 Turpin was, essentially, the black mirror of Hylands. 

What is meant by that is the fact that Turpin was writing Ragged music since 1896(as was Hylands!), and was said to have been playing it since 1892, as said by most historical sources. Which that does indeed make some sense, whether those people who don't believe it feel that way or not, it was probably true. Hylands essentially played the same sort of way that Turpin's Rags were written. From his "Harlem Rag" to "The Buffalo Rag" they have the same essence to them that Hylands had when playing behind Len Spencer or Billy Golden. Also, we could look to the most obvious thing here, Turpin looked like Hylands. Turpin was six feet tall, and three-hundred pounds, and Hylands was exactly the same way. Heh, in some way, they also kind of had the same lips to them, maybe? Nah. They still look like reversed races of each other regardless. Of course, as we all can assume, Hylands would probably snap at anyone who compared him with a "negro" pianist(or any other racial slur that we know very well, go on, replace it there.) Being a proud member of the White Rats Union would say for itself, and having discontented feelings toward George W. Johnson also proves that point. Without a doubt, Hylands took his inspiration from hearing black pianists when he was younger, hence the habit of playing walking octaves so often, and improvising blues-like patterns. Turpin had a similar way of playing, as from just developing his own style in being surrounded by black pianists, and also with the added bonus of all the famous Rag-Time composers being around him. It certainly helped that he knew Scott Joplin, Louis Chauvin, Arthur Marshall, and all the other Missouri Rag-Time crew. 
Now, the only way that this comparison becomes more so credible is by having some examples. So in that, I have some here for the matter. To begin, I will share a few cylinders with Hylands playing on them, much like Turpin's Rags were written. 
To begin, here is one of Turpin's famous Rags:
(from Professor Bill's website)
This rag particularly has the most "Hylands-like" characteristics to it, as it's often considered the one of Turpin's few published Rags that are written to the closest likeness to how he actually played. I firmly believe that statement, as it has much more natural melodic flow and not "simplified" sections to it, with little things sprinkled all over the music that sound odd and progressive for the time, but really weren't(if you study recordings from that time that is...). 
Anyhow, here's the Rag:
Turpin's added sections of improvisations even more so make for a likeness to Hylands. If you study Turpin's Rags, you are very aware of his single-keyed Rags that have two or three improvised sections after the main melody was introduced, and all of his tunes have this pattern. That sounds an awful lot like the sequencing of Hylands' playing on his 1898 cylinder of  "Roll On De Ground"with Billy Golden. Hm. You can hear that here: 
There's that syncopation! 
It's that same kind that was in much of Turpin's "The Buffalo Rag". Though it has the same kind of syncopation, I would beg to differ in thinking that his 1899 take of "Turkey in the Straw" with Golden is a little bit more like "The Buffalo rag" a little more clearly. Though Hylands' playing at the last 30 seconds of the cylinder is actually quite a lot like "The Buffalo Rag", if you listen really closely. Just to confirm what I just said, here is Golden and Hylands'  "Turkey in the Straw":
(**I have come to believe that this cylinder is actually not from 1898, but more likely 1899 or even as late as 1900. Why? well, the announcement, and the sound of the piano in the big room**)

This one actually has more of a Turpin style to it, though Hylands probably only heard the name Tom Turpin probably once back in 1896 or 1897. One thing is for sure, since Hylands was a "Rag-Time" pianist, and from people assuming things about a 25-26 year old misfit, they probably mentioned Turpin to him at least once(someone had to at some point before 1900). Hylands wouldn't at all have been aware of the fact that his style was actually being played to some extent by a black man in Missouri who owned a Rag-Time saloon, while he slaved away in front of five horns for Columbia every day of the week. The solo at the last 30 seconds or so of "Turkey in the Straw" is not only just a fantastical piece of hot Rag-Time, it's also much like Turpin's playing. Turpin had that style of Rag that was, I hate to say it, frivolous and full of rhythmic notes. It's a style that is one full of quick syncopated melodies, though the tune itself may not be all that quick. It's the style that Max Hoffmann wrote out in both of his famed Rag medleys of 1897 and 1898, that pretty much sums it up. 

Now for a much more obvious and indirect comparison. Turpin wrote a tune in 1900 called "A Rag-Time Nightmare", which was actually a slight knockoff of G. L. Lansing's famous banjo piece "The Darkies' Dream" from way back in 1891. As we know very well as record collectors, Vess L. Ossman took off with that tune, starting from the year of its composition. As we also know, he recorded the tune with Fred Hylands, and probably performed it a few times with him as well in 1898. Hylands took it an ran with it when he played it with Ossman, like he did with most things he played. Here is the 1898 take of "The Darkies' Dream" by Ossman and Hylands(announced by Len Spencer). Now when I say that Hylands took it and ran off(kind of, if you know what I mean!), he really did, as he put that famous melody of "The Darkies' Dream" into his prized piece "The Darkey Volunteer", which, not surprisingly, he dedicated to Vess Ossman. He only did this because he recorded the tune with him earlier in 1898, and he wanted respect from the banjo king, and badly.  So to compare this with Turpin, his "Rag-Time Nightmare" has a little bit of that Lansing tune toward the beginning, but it's still there:
Other than the knockoff intro, the rag also has that signature syncopation that Hylands played just like Turpin. 

Another comparison that seems a little more direct is the style presented in the 1897 arrangement of Turpin's "Harlem Rag". There are a few things in this Rag that sounds like other improvisations that Hylands played on records. Here's Turpin's  1897 "Harlem Rag". Now the one thing that sticks out to me on this one is that section that begins at 1:19, as it sounds almost identical to Hylands' playing at the 22 seconds of  this messy cylinder here. It's almost suspiciously similar somehow. It's the one thing that makes me think that Hylands probably had a copy of Turpin's "Harlem Rag" kept deep in his case of music. That wouldn't really be surprising if that was the case. The "Harlem Rag" also reminds me of Hylands' playing on the choruses and between interlude on this cylinder here:
Hylands is fantastic on this cylinder by the way! He gives not a rap about Steve Porter according to his playing!
It also reminds me of this one here, which for some reason actually has more similarities to "The Buffalo Rag". That boogie-ish thing at about 0:58 to a minute is really the thing that reminds me of the last strain of Turpin's "St. Louis Rag":
It's very odd how similar these pianists really were, though they lived thousands of miles from each other, and probably only one of them knew vaguely of the other. 

Since to-day was Frank P. Banta's birthday, I thought it would be appropriate to include the famous band arrangement of his "Ragged William" from 1899:
Both were recorded in 1901 obviously, and you can hear Banta count them off at the beginning after the announcement on the first take listed here. Classic Banta! 

I hope you enjoyed this! 

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