Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Mystery and search for "Violets"

That's the other pianist I mention often on this blog, and the man who was a true victim of his time. I had a chat with my dear friend Ryan Wishner this evening, and we spoke briefly of the search for Frank Banta's record of "Violets". The only reason that this rare record is an on-going pun with us is because it is so hard to find the original Banta take, as most of the time you see it, it is the Albert Benzler re-make from 1905. Banta's original 1903 take is only very hard to find because of the fact that it was so popular just after it was released, and more so after Banta died. After Banta died in 1903, it was a major tragedy in the recording business, more so than any other death in the business actually. It was really the first casualty of the early recording business, caused by the environment in which he worked. This is why it was such a big thing when he died. 

Banta's "Violets" is one of the most tragically beautiful records of the piano accompaniment era, as far as I have studied in that era. Why? Well, it's very deep and full of emotion, unlike most of the solos of that time. It's very tragic in the sense of the fact that Banta died literally six months after the record was made, and that this record was really what made all the record buyers fully recognise him as a world-class pianist and accompanist. After this record was issued, that was really when Banta became well recognised, and became more popular than he already was. If he hadn't died in November of 1903, he would likely have become more popular than Fred Hylands. Banta had so much potential in him, and it was all lost too early. 

I know I have said this before, but Banta was said to have made a brown wax of "Violets", probably in 1901, just at the end of the Brown wax era. To think of all the brown waxes that exist out there, any of those unidentified brown waxes could be Banta playing "Violets". That is another record that many piano-accompaniment mad collectors would be drooling over to have, or at the least, just to hear it once through. It is just like the original 1903 copy that he made, but on brown wax which would be even more uncommon and valuable, as it's older. I'm hoping that the brown wax version of it sounds halfway decent, as brown wax piano solos are the closest thing to impossible to find in record collections anywhere. From how good piano accompaniment sounds on brown wax records, I am not putting anything past the balancing skills of the late-1890's(into 1901 mind you), for the piano to sound reasonably good. Those studio workers knew how to record the piano, regardless of what all those ignorant collectors say about the piano being almost impossible to record in the acoustic era. Then why did they stay with the piano accompaniment for such a long time? Heh? It's something that is said far too often by collectors, to where it makes me sick sometimes, because of how untrue that notion is. 

The reason that Banta's "Violets" is so valued to a variety of collectors is because of all the good ideas that surround Banta from the artists who recalled him. Since they were all good things, the love got passed on through the generations of collectors, therefore keeping a certain amount of information on Banta in the light constantly, which makes any solos of his worthy of being collected by any early record nerd. Even those who aren't the biggest piano accompaniment buffs would find Banta's beautiful solo and kind personality too charming to pass up if they are encountered by a copy of his "Violets". 

Now another record that has caused some doings around in the early record collector community lately is Banta's "Hello Ma Baby" piano solo from 1900. This is a record that I have heard about for almost as long as I've been a collector, and has been an item of interest upon first hearing of its likely existence. When you look up the record on this link here:
You may notice that it states only 346 copies were made of this record, and as might be said, that's not very many to go around. Even in the case of Victor records just under 350 copies is not very many. That doesn't make it impossible though, there are some Silas Leachman records that I have held in my hands where less than a hundred were made, such as his mess-up of a record "My Maid from Hindoostan"(if you want to see it yourself, look it up on the website in the link above). Banta's solo of "Hello Ma Baby" has been confirmed to at least exist in one collections somewhere, indicating that someone is sitting on that one extraordinarily historic piece of Rag-Time. In very few situations does this matter, but it doesn't matter at all if that one copy is a mess or not, the condition doesn't matter in such a desperate matter as this, as it's so valuable, that it repeals all needs and wants for a clean-sounding take. That is how I feel about J. W. Myers' "Will O the Wisp", though it wouldn't hurt if I could hear it pretty well. It is listed here:
How I want to hear that cylinder awful badly...
A song about a man who hold people in a prison to torture them paired with amazing piano accompaniment is just too good to pass by. I really hope they digitize this one, of all the cylinders on their website, this is the one I would pay good money to hear. 

Anyhow, I hope to gather some more information on that "Hello Ma Baby" record soon, and as soon as I receive more news, I will report it here. 

Hope you enjoyed this! 

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