Sunday, June 12, 2016

Pianist Hypotheses

As going along with my usual record listening yesterday, I came up with a strange hypothesis about Zon-O-Phone records, as well as Columbia's. Since there are many collectors who praise those Zono's with piano accompaniment, I have been digging into those to-day, trying to figure out the piano style that is dominant. From what I have heard, after 1901, there's a very strong and ragged style, not that there wasn't any before that, it was just a little different from 1901 onward. Now I know that this sort of this has been told to me before, but this time, I am really feeling strange about it. 

Before I get to the Zon-O-Phone's I must say that I have been having some suspicion with Columbia's piano accompanists. I know I have mentioned before the notion that Charles Prince is likely one of the other pianists that Columbia used, other than Edward Issler. It would seem now from all that I've been able to find, that Charles Prince was Columbia's third pianist. Here was the order:
Fred Hylands
Edward Issler
Charles Prince
(maybe George Schweinfest)

Being the Hylands freak, this really does mess with my mind. Only because this complicates my understanding of Columbia's pianists more than it needs to. The only thing that really convinced me that Prince accompanied more than just opera singers is the fact that he had his orchestra later, and they were recording Rag-Time regularly, from the time they began. The Columbia Band also appertains to this as well, since he led that group before he formed Prince's Band. They were recording tunes like "Any Rags" as early as 1903, so that says that Prince had some sort of knowledge when it came to Rag-Time. It really got me feeling weird when it came to that, though, Prince was not a natural Rag-Time pianist like Hylands who just happen to grow up where Rag-Time was early on developing. Prince was a much more respectable musician, as he had been a hidden Columbia member since 1891, doing some studio work, and occasionally coming to rehearse with the artists. Just for some reasonable examples, here are a few records with Prince on piano:
(these are all operatic Columbia's from 1903)

(Harry Spencer announces the first three!)

Now I'm not a huge operatic fanatic, but I do like some opera, and the four records above are fantastic early recordings of grand opera. But how about that piano playing? It's very lovely, and very fitting for the operatic singing. Hearing how good the piano playing is on those really makes me glad that they didn't keep Hylands for those recordings...

Speaking of Hylands, now to move into that Zon-O-Phone theory I have. Now, I know for a fact that Hylands didn't too often come into Columbia to make records after 1901, for his dedication to show business. Though, it seemed that Columbia partially dropped him around 1902, and probably because he started that first failed actors' union of his. He still technically worked at Columbia, as we can still hear some of those advertised "rag-time piano accompaniments" in 1902 to 1905. Of course, Charles Prince also knew Rag-Time...kind of(that didn't come till later). With this anger from the Columbia management, someone probably snapped, and told Hylands that they didn't need him as much, so with this, he ran off to Zon-O-Phone. Under Zon-O-Phone's management, he was free to play pretty much all the strange and rough Rag-Time he could, this is why we are left with hundreds of these records that have amazing Rag-Time piano accompaniment. It has always seemed suspicious to me that the piano accompaniment was so good on specifically Zon-O-Phone's, and that is was the same kind of "good" that late-1890's Columbia records had. With that observation made, Hylands worked more regularly at Zon-O-Phone  than I had ever thought, but when considering the union fail of 1902, it would make sense that Columbia's management would be cross with him about it, and therefore give him some time away from them, for Hylands' heat to cool down. 

While he was out from daily working for Columbia, he went out to Zon-O-Phone to forget his woes under Emerson and Easton. Under this "de-tox", Hylands played behind all of the same people he did at Columbia, just with a little more power and ostentation with syncopation. I knew there was something strange about how good the piano accompaniment was on all those Zon-O-Phone's. 

To begin with these records, the first one is by Arthur Collins, singing one of his popular coon songs, just as we'd expect. Here's Collins' "If Time was Money I'd be a Millionaire", from 1903. This record is played just a little too fast, as when I sat at the piano to play along with this, it came out to an even B natural. That is absolutely not right, it should be an even B flat in this case. The piano on this is really nice! That loud chord at 11 seconds in is fantastic! Also, the solo between the first chorus and the second verse is also great, and seems like Hylands after taking a few listens. It must be noted that at about 2:04, a quick chromatic thing begins, much like on the second chorus of Natus' "A Bird in a Gilded Cage", from 1900. The quick hurried ending on both of these also are very similar. 

This next one is another Collins record, but they are two different takes of the same song. Not all of these Zon-O-Phone's prove this theory I have, but these seem to have it the most on point. The piano accompaniment has literally everything that was distinct about Hylands' Rag-Time style, on both of these takes. Here is the first one:
I will never be able to get over how amazing the piano playing is on this one. that cannot be anyone else but Hylands. The main feature that I listen for when thinking of Hylands is the feel, which is very strange, yet very distinct. It really helps when listening to a label that is not as common, like Leeds or Zon-O-Phone. The feel is exactly the same as it was on all of those Rag-Time masterpieces that Hylands played behind Len Spencer in 1898-1900. 

Here are three examples of this "feel" I mean:
Behind Steve Porter in 1901.
(primarily the solos in between chorus and verse and at the end)
Behind Len Spencer in 1899.
(hear that style at the choruses and also at the very end.)
Also behind Spencer in 1899.(music starts at 6 minutes...)

again behind Spencer in 1899.
(the solo at the end is really what I mean here.)

For a newer example that is actually closer to the time he ran off to Zon-O-phone, here's him playing behind Denny in earlier 1902. 
Before I just listened to this one, I didn't realise how similar the style is to Collins' Zon-O-Phone of "Bill Bailey". This theory is beginning to reveal itself slowly. 

The next take of "Bill Bailey" by Collins is a much more unusual one, though it's still a Zon-O-Phone. Here's the take:
There's a lot of weird things going on here. The piano playing is still Hylands, but it sounds like he's making a joke of all of those Edison records with Benzler and Banta from the same time period that sound like this:
Collins' "I'm a Jonah Man" with Banta, early-1903.

Murray's "Up in a Cocoanut Tree" with Banta, mid-1903.

It's very funny really, and since Hylands was always up-to-date musically, he would certainly have been aware of that weird sound that Edison cylinders had in 1902-1903. The upper register piano playing is very odd, but Edison records had that distinct sound, and Hylands was probably making fun of it on the other take of "Bill Bailey" with Collins. It was that or it was Collins asking Hylands if he would try doing that style that Banta had at Edison at the same time. I would like to think that it was Hylands' genius will of parody in this situation. It's still something that can certainly catch the ears of a collector who's used to that piano style of Banta and Benzler at Edison in 1902-03. 

This next one is by Collins and Harlan, also from 1903, and it's an uncommon tune that they did. 
Here's "Ephasafa Dill" recorded in 1903. Now this one is also played a little too fast, but from what can be heard, it's a fantastic piece of Rag-Time. now it's much better than their Edison cylinder of it, which has that same distinctly Edison style. The Zon-O-Phone has some fantastic Rag-Time piano behind them, that would have to be Hylands, by the feel and the fact that he got along so well with Collins and Harlan, though more so Harlan. 

This final one I will share is a strange one by:
George Gaskin.
Gaskin made many earlier takes of this song, and this is about the latest of all those that I have heard. Here's his 1902 take of "Drill ye Tarriers Drill". This one also has Hylands on it, as the big loud sounds used for the "drills" are made from the piano, and I have only heard Hylands do that, on records behind Collins and Harlan or Len Spencer. Just for a good comparison, here's his infamous 1899 Berliner. That might have Banta on piano, since it's after Gaisberg went to England. The Zon-O-Phone certainly has Hylands on piano though. 

To close off this Zon-O-phone showcase, here's the most revealing of all these records for the pianist being Hylands:

Also, just for get some more variety, here are some of Edward Favor's 1902 Zon-O-Phone's:
(listen for yourself to find out if you think it's Hylands on piano!)
(if you're listening closely to the piano solos, there's a little bit of "Hot Time in the Old Town" in there.)

**If you are a collector who has some Zon-O-Phone's with piano accompaniment, that aren't any of the ones above, it would be lovely if you could volunteer mp3 files of your records as links in the comment section on this post! I would love to hear more of these amazing examples of Rag-Time, to get a better understanding of those Zon-O-phone's.** 

Hope you enjoyed this! 

No comments:

Post a Comment