Saturday, January 14, 2017

Columbia in 1897

The more we read about early Columbia, the more we want to know and try to figure out on our own, but of course, that isn't possible most of the time. However, as it has been stated on this blog, Columbia went through a painful transition period of two years from 1896 to 1897, where pretty much every part of Columbia's staff and location was changed. Come to think of it, Columbia had a few of these transition years, another being 1903 to 1904. They were usually long, and straining to all of the staff members, which meant that many of them were laid off and many were hired. They were unsure times for Columbia. 

Of course we know that the inception of Columbia was unsure by all means, and in some ways not even supposed to have happened. That was harsh for them, but after all of the Edison business passed over them, they were smooth sailing until the recession of 1894-1895. After then came the transition period. This was not nearly as unsure as the previous years, it was more of a period of housekeeping, because it was when they finally became a larger company. Moving to New York was for first step of making Columbia what it became. They were no longer under the supervision of Edison, now they were an independent company with no ties at all to Edison. They happened to set up in the middle of what was to become "tin pan alley", because all of the big publishers were located within easy walking distance of the corner of 27th and Broadway. The next thing that they did was hire a new studio manager, and this was when Victor Emerson began at Columbia, and since the U. S. Phonograph company blew to bits in early 1897, that meant that those who were thrown out of the collapsing company were free to take. That's exactly what Columbia did, took them all when they were dropping out of the U. S. Company. It's surprising how quickly the recording stars dropped out of that company, within only a matter of weeks, they were all gone, and Columbia had taken them. During this "purge" of a sort was likely when Hylands came into the picture, since it couldn't have been any earlier than when this was all going on, and since this was a matter of staffing, it wouldn't be too unusual if this was the case.  In thinking of it that way, that would mean that Hylands was hired to work for Columbia around March-April 1897. Hmm, that's earlier than previously thought. It's not too unreasonable though. Of course with this new pianist meant that Issler was just barely holding on to his place working there. This is also logical, with this, it's important to keep in mind that Issler was a little harder to work with in terms of keeping his orchestra well-paid. 

According to our previous findings on Issler, he always had money issues when it came to his orchestras, and this is why many of his scheduled performances were dropped, due to not being paid fairly. This is likely a reason why Issler probably refused to work at Columbia after 1897. Wow, that's more blunt than Hylands' union leadership! At least it took a few years for Hylands to slam his hand on the manager's desk for better pay. Issler was surprisingly quick to it. 
Issler wouldn't be in that chair too much longer when this picture was taken. Of course with the new fad of "Rag Time" becoming such an essential for recordings, Issler tried his best to keep up with it, but inevitably 25 year old Fred Hylands was just what Columbia needed to end their hunt for a decent Rag pianist. This was a major change to the overall sound of Columbia records, because they no longer sounded like records like this late-1896 Columbia. Of course, the record in the link above was from the very short period where Columbia's announcement was "...of New York City", which is, in many ways, the rarest of all Columbia announcements. This announcement was really only said for the second half of 1896 into the earliest months of 1897. 

Speaking of this short period of Columbia, a recording made around the same time(within the same month probably),as the cylinder in the link above, also be favor has interesting piano accompaniment that I haven't seemed to really notice until now. Edward Favor's "Bonnie My Queen", has interesting piano accompaniment that seems very characteristic of that transition period. It's a sound that's very unusual, and sounds like a cross between Issler and Hylands, which makes sense, but doesn't seem to help it trying to attach one of these two names to the accompaniment. Many Columbia's of this period sound this way, and there doesn't seem to be a reason why. It's likely that during this period, Issler and Hylands rotated a lot more clearly than what may be supposed later. Maybe the two of them were able to deal with one another a little better early on, by early on, only 1897 is meant, because by 1898, most of the recordings seem to have that one style, not a mix of two or three pianists. 

For example, this 1897 Billy Golden cylinder, seems to have more of a Hylands piano style, despite the very early announcement for him to be there. A recording that comes to mind in similarity to this one, would have to be George W. Johnson's 1898-ish cylinder of "The Laughing Coon". This cylinder oddly enough, sounds like the same pianist, and they were recorded rather far apart from each other. The only thing that really makes these records seem to have the same accompanist is that one thing that the pianist plays on the 1897 cylinder many times, such as at 26 seconds in, and that quick thing at 47 seconds in, which is played in exactly the same way as it is on the Johnson cylinder from later. On the Johnson record, you can hear this little thing at both choruses, at just before a minute in and later at just after 2 minutes in. It's hard to tell if the pianist on both these similar takes is Issler or Hylands, but maybe if we turn to two recordings we are safely decided on the pianist being one of these two. 
Here's "The Whistling Coon" by George W. Johnson and Issler from 1891.
take that in.
Here's "Turkey in the Straw" by Golden and Hylands from 1899.

Even after listening to two safely identified takes by these two, it's still hard pressed to figure this out. Like always I want to think that Hylands is on that early take of "The Mockingbird", because that would make him being there earlier than previously thought, but there's very little to distinguish the pianist on the record, less than "The Laughing Coon". How about we turn to a later 1897 Columbia. 
Here's "Patrol Comique" by Schweinfest from 1897(this is a newly slowed down transfer by the way!) 

This record give a clearer point to the pianist being Hylands, just a little more energetic than other records he's on. It's strange to take this into consideration, but when listening to the recording, it's got accompaniment that's full of life and mirth, just as Hylands' playing usually did, but a little more so than usual. Come to think of it, it kind of makes sense that this is so when looking at a very early image of Hylands:
Ah yes, an image where Hylands actually looks rather handsome!
And yes, I still am firmly standing on my belief that this is Hylands.  

This image fits in very well with the subject of this post, since it is almost certainly dated at 1897, and it hasn't Issler at the piano is especially interesting. An image from 1897 Columbia, we would assume it to be more like the one with George W. Johnson and Issler, with the pianist being one of the old order(the "round" era), not expecting Hylands already working there by the middle of 1897(when the image above was most likely taken). 
With this, we know that records from 1897 Columbia are like flipping a coin when it comes to who the pianist is, more so than any other year of the piano accompaniment era. 


This is making more sense now, since being able to understand this pattern on 1897 Columbia's was becoming an awful dilemma. Maybe we're underestimating the first impressions Hylands made on Issler, and vice versa. 1897 may have been all-right for them, but we know that 1898 was Issler's finish with Columbia, even after almost ten years with them. 

Anyway, before I end this post, I'd like to share one record that isn't and 1897 Columbia record, but is an exceptional piece of Rag-Time. Oddly enough, there are occasional Berliner's that sound decent on part of the piano playing, because they usually are known for not being very clear in their last two years. 
Here's "Telegraph My Baby" by Ed. Favor, recorded in 1899. Toward the beginning of the cylinder, there's a whole lot of interesting Ragged playing, with syncopation patterns that are very distinct. By this, I mean distinct of Banta. This is a characteristic of Banta to keep in mind when listening to Berliner's, and Edison's, because he didn't do this all the time, there are a bunch of records that have this type of syncopation in the accompaniment.

Keep listening and identifying out there! 

Hope you enjoyed this! 


  1. Here's an interesting cylinder from the UCSB archive -
    Interesting take on Stars and Stripes Forever

    1. Oddly enough to, this cylinder has become a sort of musical quagmire between many of us early Rag recording scholars, and it makes all of us really hope it might be a test recording of Columbia's auditioning from 1897, but there's no way to know for sure.
      A while back, I did a post detailing the mystery that surrounds this recording.
      This take is fascinating by all means, and with that has a very distinct style that sounds relatively similar to early studio pianists. It's also a great example of rag playing before 1900.

    2. Cool; thanks for that info! I haven't had time to keep up reading all the posts but they shed light on an era that was in the dark depth of history until recently...

  2. This one, while just a march, has a familiar sound to it though I can't think of the title [perhaps you know] - is another interesting one...
    Heck, searching "piano solo home" brings up some fascinating recordings [not all ragtime but there are some mysteries to be solved yet]

  3. "Here's "Patrol Comique" by Schweinfest from 1897(this is a newly slowed down transfer by the way!)"

    Sorry to say so but I think you went a step too far with your slowing down here! Not only does the announcer sound sluggish and "boomy", but it comes out in D-flat which is a very unpleasant to key to play on a piccolo. D natural (6% faster) would be more like it!