Saturday, October 5, 2019

The genius of Hylands and recording gods

Well, I promised I wouldn't let a month pass by before my next blog post, but I did anyway. For that, I apologize. After that last post, I got a lot of correspondence from various sources regarding Ring and Hager. Before I move forward, I must say that I still remain passionate and rightful in my thoughts on them in the last post. 

Anyway...Time to move on! This November, I am going to be giving a seminar at the West Coast ragtime festival. In the last month I have been consolidating a lot of the information I will use for this. This seminar will address the importance of why rag-time and music historians should study the studio pianists of the early acoustic era. I don't think I can explain this enough on my blog, as I have written so much on them, and keep spending more time thinking about them and their distinct styles. In recent weeks, I have spent a lot more time going back to my Hylands research, as I have been so buried in the Ring and Hager project. I often forget how visceral a reaction I get from hearing Hylands' accompaniments, more than all the others. There's just something about his playing that was so special and oddly emotional. 
(Hylands in 1912 and c.1892 , from the author's collection)

Recently, the UCSB website posted a fascinating transfer that I will most certainly use for highlighting Hylands' style. 
The second transfer listed here is the new one. I cannot fathom how perfect Hylands plays on this record. It is so loud and clear, fully exhibiting his rag-time accompaniment that was so highly praised right around 1898. Every important aspect to his playing is present on this one record, and with the rhythmic perfection of Billy Golden, it really doesn't get much better than this. When I heard this transfer for the first time, I just about fell out of my chair. It was unbelievable. Such loud and clear accompaniment, and a constant cut of Golden's time. 
So this got me thinking, what is it exactly about Hylands' playing that's so attractive? 
Other than the authentic Rag-time, what is it? 
It got me thinking...Hylands was technically the best accompanist the record labs had at that time, as his sole job outside of the labs was to accompany performers. He had been doing this since age 10, and was revered for it. When you hear his accompaniments, it's almost as though he knew what was coming next. He was a step ahead of everyone else, and could anticipate and follow at the same time. It's really an extraordinary thing to ponder. Someone like Banta often made mistakes in this matter, often vamping for a bar too many and throwing off the pulse of a record. Hylands never did this. He made more mistakes than the other studio pianists, but one thing Hylands never did was throw off rhythm or lose the performer. He was an accompanist, but as I have said before, he often led the record. A good example of this can be heard here: 
Even in 1897 when he just started working for Columbia, he was already doing this. Even while he was buried in an orchestra he could still push through. Here's a good early example: 
(you can hear him at the end song here)
That's some really hot accompaniment there! Funny story about this record...I asked the (former)owner of this record about the date. I asked if the "New York City" announcement could be applied to dates from 1896, and of this he was skeptical. He stated that these announcements prove 1897 dates. Later he went on to tell me how difficult it was to part with this record, due to the extraordinary early rag-time accompaniment. Understood!

Hylands may have been weird, and somewhat disliked by the recording staff and bandmen, but they knew he was the best accompanist they could ever have. This is why it's really a shame that he wasn't spoken of in the decades afterward. Well, he probably was mentioned, but not taken lightly I'd think. 

Just imagine it, listen to this record here:
This is an absolutely wild record, and not just because of Quinn or the song itself. That accompaniment is ridiculous! It constantly runs, and becomes relentless at times. Whenever I hear wild Hylands accompaniments like this, I always envision looking back there from the mouth of the horns and seeing those creepy dilated blue eyes downcast below a veritable afro of red hair. It must have been a sight many had planted in their minds till death. Certainly Hylands must been a sight in the recording lab, with a stare that many dreaded, but ability that was so unique and unequalled. There is certainly a reason that the Broadway media considered him one of the best accompanists you could get in the theaters. They considered him this right alongside Mike Bernard and Theodore Morse. 
So considering all this tragedy Hylands went through, I'd think that when Justin Ring came along it was a saving grace. 
(detail of Hylands and Ring c.1902-03).
It is still quite funny to me that there was substantial crossover between Hylands and Ring's terms in the Columbia studio. As I have explained before, it is very clear that Hylands had some influence over Ring and Hager. As Hylands was on his way out, there was Ring and Hager, young and green enough to take some lessons in recording and accompaniments from Hylands. The two of them would have been unassuming of Hylands' rotting reputation(Ring was probably at least). So that's where the Ring and Hager research comes in. 
So now when I listen to Columbias from 1900-1904 with piano accompaniment, I really need to be listening carefully. The pianist could be either Hylands or Ring. Thanks to many years of research, we know that Hylands left working at Columbia regularly in mid-1903, and for the rest of the year he was working at the majestic theater in Boston. 

So here's a good example, this recent transfer is very difficult for me to tell who the pianist is exactly. Other than the pianist difficulty, this record is outstanding, and has an oddly attractive piano sound.
The accompanist sounds more like Hylands, but it's so weird and wonky that it should technically be Ring. In fact, at the beginning solo, the pianist adds a few beats. Of course, this record is outstanding, aside from all the weirdness. Columbia's from 1901 particularly have this deceiving accompaniment sound. Right at the end of the brown wax era, Columbia went through more changes, a lot like they did back in 1896-97. 

So anyway, this has been a lot of my Columbia listening and research recently, and luckily I have been returning to my appreciation of Hylands' accompaniments. To this day I still do not know why Hylands was never spoken of by those who most certainly worked with him. 

Now moving on! 
So, a few posts back, I talked about the musician's club that Ring and Hager were part of for half of their lives, and I mentioned some of their fellow club members. One of the most important of their fellows is undoubtedly Edward Issler. 
I mentioned how Issler was one of their most respected members. So I was thinking back to this recently, pondering how extraordinary he really was, and how all the recording folks really looked up to him. As record collectors and scholars(who know about him), a lot of us acknowledge Issler as basically the father of orchestra recordings, and this he certainly was. What's fascinating to me is that we think of him this way now, and from what I have found, the so-called "second generation" recording folks thought of him the same way. They all were coming up hearing and hearing of his highest quality records, and the absolute precision of them. 
Isslet began recording in 1888, and he wasn't a youngster. Issler already had a career and a life by that time, he was 33 with a 6 year old daughter at home and a prominent music man in Newark(Banta was 22 when he started making records) . And unlike the studio pianists than came after him Issler had to take on recording as a project. He was part of the experimentation process, something that made him unique. Along with his sideman George Schweinfest, they were required to help learn the technology and techniques that went into making solid records, along with making hundreds of rounds a week. A great and historic example of this is the batch of piano solos and duets Issler and Schweinfest made in 1889. These records were obviously experimental, but they were made, and quite a few of them were. 
Issler led his orchestra better than any other studio band men that succeeded him, as he had to do everything. Everything from adjusting the machines to writing the arrangements, these were required for Issler to do. 
With all this in mind, it's no wonder that the younger recording folks of the late-1890's and post 1900 thought so highly of this man. 
Another thing to consider is what happened to Issler's musicians. I have written about this in the past, as I did a small project on tracking the members of Issler's orchestra, though all of it is still unclear. 
The particularly fascinating member of his orchestra is one of my favorite musicians of the entire era:
(George Schweinfest in 1898)
Schweinfest was arguably just as respectable as Issler, with enough talent to make all the NY conservatory boys jealous. When Issler started to fade from recording in 1897, Schweinfest stepped in to replace the position that Issler was in. With the management changes at Columbia and the fall of U.S., the Columbia folks were looking for a new musical director. I am almost certain their fist choice was Issler, but he likely very honorably turned it down, as he was just getting fed up with recording. At this time, I think that Issler had just joined the Newark musician's union and was quickly working his way up. He was getting wise to the entirely sinful ways of the recording labs. The studio managers chose Thomas Clark instead, a solid co-conductor and arranger for the Gilmore band(at that time the 22nd regiment band, being led in the public by Victor Herbert). Issler picked up and left, but Schweinfest had other things in mind and stuck around at Columbia. We know Schweinfest continued to make record for Columbia into the 1900's even when the brash and passionate Fred Hager took over in 1901. Schweinfest once again was forced to take a seat farther back from working his way up, but he continued to see it all play out. 

Now there's a man who would have been an outstanding resource, having borne witness to so many historic changes in recording. When Hager had finally calmed his climactic gasps with Columbia in 1904, that was when Schweinfest made his move. It is unclear exactly when he became one of Columbia's management, but it was mostly likely around the time Hager had left his high position there. Schweinfest was said to have remained in management until the mid-1920's, and it is likely that he also played in the studio orchestra or band along with his fellow Issler musician William Tuson. From there, Schweinfest lived a very modest quiet life, playing organ at the Catholic church he was part of. He lived this modest life until 1949, passing at the remarkable age of 87, outliving all of the earliest studio musicians(who began at the end of the 1880's). 
I believe that Schweinfest was contacted by Jim Walsh in the early 1940's, and I recall that he attended at least one of the John Bieling day gatherings(probably the earliest one in 1947). But other than that, I do not know much of his whereabouts after the 1920's. Considering his connections and interest in the recording business, he was probably interested in what was going in within the trade, I can see him thumbing through editions of Talking Machine World in the teen's and 1920's, sipping some strong tea, with his glasses tipped on his long straight nose. 
He knew everything, but he didn't talk much, a lot like how I've described an old wilting Justin Ring. 

So, before I close the post here, I'd like to share a really nice find while digging on Banta's family. A few days ago I went back and looked though the very detailed Banta family tree, just as a preliminary search, with no real intentions and focus. As I started digging I went through a lot of the same old stuff, and I saw a familiar looking cabinet card. 
It was unfortunately mis-labeled in the family tree, but I recognized that face before seeing the details. 
Oh my god! It's the clearest most beautiful portrait of Frank P. Banta!

Okay, if you ever wondered how passionate and emotional I am about all this stuff, how I reacted to seeing this picture really sums it up. 
When I saw it, I stared at it for a long while, and my my eyes got all teared up. I have no idea why it hit me so hard when seeing just a simple cabinet card as that(and one that I have already seen in newsprint). Seeing how he awkwardly knotted that tie, and gazing into those big black eyes almost makes me see the suffering he saw, and what little time he had left to see--that's what got me. Something is just captivating about seeing him in great detail like this. That black hair styled in a way reminiscent of his studio mentor(Edward Issler)--there's just something about Banta that makes him more intensely attractive than the other studio pianists(in terms if personality and appearance). You can see the intensity in him, but his kindness and wit seem to seep through in his sympathetic face, with that ever so slightly up-curled shadowed side of his mouth. 
Now I can firmly have that beady stare implanted in my mind when I hear his accompaniments. Those eyes will never escape my mind, and they will continue to haunt me, now in painfully sharp detail.

Anyway folks...I apologize for the kinda scattered writing this time around, I have had a lot of ideas in the last month, but I have been having trouble organizing them in a reasonable fashion. I really want to write another post within the next week, and with a article on Jimmy Hager to be published soon, hopefully I will have more to talk about. I hope this is a substantial post for the time being, it's pretty out of whack. I did not want to leave you all without some writing for more than a month. I must say, it was a bit difficult to follow up on the last post, but I appreciate all the feedback I received regarding it! 

Hope you enjoyed this! 

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

"inseparable" and Pryor's piano playing

It has been an interesting few weeks. 
Since writing the last post, I have been dwelling on a single thing, a mere pair of words Jim Walsh wrote in 1962. 
In the last post I used a section from an article Walsh wrote in 1962, here is that bit:
That pair of words...inseparable companion. That made me lose some sleep wondering after I read it. Something about the particular word choice that Walsh used there is very intriguing. If I were to write a definitive short description of the two of them, I wouldn't necessarily use companion to describe Ring's relationship with Hager. This got me wondering. 
I was wondering about the sort of things that Hager told Walsh. I'm thinking that Hager had so much to say, and was willing to talk anyone's ear off about it all. Hager probably gave Walsh too much information. I imagine that when Walsh asked about Ringleben, Hager was so anxious to talk about their relationship, as 50 years of friendship is something to be proud of. Aside from what Hager may have told Walsh(he may have used those specific words to Walsh in the first place), I went back in all the sources I could to see if I could find any scraps of hints. 
One of the major things that seemed fit to check were the songs they wrote together. Luckily, I own the first piece with both their names on it, so that was a good place to start. 
This is that piece:
(dated 1902, from my collection)
Seems a fitting piece for to kick off their relationship of over 50 years. 
So I kept going back to this piece, opening the music, reading and re-reading the lyrics(as that's what they're credited to). The lyrics of this piece are very curious to read through. They are very flowery, poetic, and speak of a blond haired youth, perfumed air, and other sweet stuff like that. 
As I dove in deeper for hints, I noticed how much of Hager's lyrics were like that. Even by 1920, Hager was still writing in that way. A good example to contrast is this one here:
So, as I explained to a respected musician friend this last week, with Ring and Hager pieces, Hager wrote those flowery lyrics, and Ring wrote the interesting and quite often inventive melodies.
So keeping that in mind, why were Ring and Hager both credited as the lyric writers on their first piece together?
Well, actually I don't know why. 
But I am wondering about that. Obviously Hager's words are all over those words, just from my previous study of his lyric writing and storytelling. I wouldn't think of Ring being so flowery and romantic with his words, melodies yes, but words no. So it is a little off putting to see the both of them credited for writing words. 
Anyway, the point of that is, Hager's writing was rosy and romantic, which isn't really too surprising, somehow I could always see Hager being that way. 
The next thing I went digging through were some of the pictures I've seen of them together. 
As is a theme through the artwork I have done regarding Ring and Hager, Ring doesn't smile much. So, keeping this in mind, I went looking for the places I've seen him with a smile on his face. So, it didn't come as much of a surprise to see that Ring had the most genuine smiles when he was with Hager. 
Ring(the tan one) and Hager with the Heinemann's in 1922.
Ring's smile there is a bit awkward, but the next one is the most contented one I have seen.
There we go! Aww...
Ring seemed difficult to please. But ultimately he seemed most comfortable and contented around his very social and extroverted Hager. 
This is solely based on the group photos I have seen of them, and bits of other things I've picked up along the way. 
It's been a few weeks, but all of that is still on my mind, the slightly suggestive phrasing that Walsh gave in that very minor description of the two of them is fascinating. I gather that Ring wasn't entirely happy with his wife, as he married in his mid-30's, and she clearly ran the house, until the day she died. Ring was always buried in music, and cared little about doing normal things like caring so attentively for his family, and producing a bunch of kids. to contrast, Hager made sure to get all of that stuff out of the way before he was 30.
So what about the logistics of their relationship? Their history goes back to 1900 at the earliest, and by 1901 and 1902, they were really getting together all the while it seems. It could be quite possible that Hager almost left his family entirely to live with Ring at least for a little while sometime between 1902 and 1904. In 1906, they had to split up, as they went their separate ways to work on different projects. Hager moved across the street from their previous publishing location to work with J. Fred Helf. 
Now where would I come up with such a crazy idea like Hager leaving his family almost entirely? Well, it has to do with his relationship with his daughters. Hager's older daughters, Clara and Florence, were born in 1898 and 1900, so they would have been young children at that essential, most impressionable age when their father started hanging around with Ring. From what I have gathered from owning and studying Hager's papers, his older daughters did not care for their parents so much, particularly dad. Hager's youngest daughter, Ethel, was most attached to him, so it is because of her that any of his papers survive(thanks Ethel!). She was born right at the beginning of Hager's term working with J. Fred Helf(in 1906), which was a safer job than much of the recording work he had been doing a few years before that. 
So there's that story. Hopefully I can dig up some more from Hager's papers. It is all quite vague at the moment, but there are enough tantalizing hints to keep me persistent here. 

Now moving on!
Last week, something very important was sent to me. This month's edition of The Syncopated Times features and article I wrote regarding Arthur Pryor's composition style. In the article I went on for a good few lines about how significant it would be for a copy of Pryor's one piano solo would be. I had spent several months perfecting what Pryor's piano playing likely sounded like,  based solely on his written music and his trombone playing. This has been a sort of side project aside from the intensive and long-term Ring and Hager project. 
So, in 1900, Pryor made one piano solo. He recorded his own obscure composition "A Cork Dance", for improved gramophone(to become victor the following year). It is likely that fewer than 300 copies were made of this particular record. Even with the extreme rarity of this record, a good transfer of it was sent to me last week. 
I had just awakened in the morning, and I opened my email to check, and there it was! Thanks to the great generosity of Tim Brooks, I have been able to spend a good amount of time studying his playing. After a lot of time spent listening to the record, I realized quite a few interesting things. 
(Pryor, c.1895)
It took quite a few listens, but I was able to find period examples of accompaniment that matched Pryor's. 
So, first of all, Pryor's region was absolutely as distinct as Hylands'. Pryor was from the northwestern corner of Missouri, up by Kansas City. So, that got me wondering, maybe studying a few Kansas City records from the 1890's would be helpful. So, that turned out to be a great idea! 
I went back to this old thing here:
I have access to a few more Kansas city record transfers, but I cannot share them. 
Anyway, this particular one is fascinating, because it actually includes a lot of the same aggressive and eccentric rhythm that is all over Pryor's solo. The slightly syncopated nature of the playing on the Kansas City record also corresponds with Pryor's playing. So everything lines up, Pryor was a Kansas City musician. 
So now I can distinctly describe Pryor's piano style. It was purely in an early 1890's Kansas City style. It was aggressive, very classical, but very down to earth and eccentric. The way that a lot of Pryor's early rags are composed line up perfectly with how he played "A Cork Dance", a good pair of examples being these here:

The distinctly eccentric way these rags are composed is exactly as he played "a Cork Dance". Everything down to the rollicking and responsive bass, translated to trombone parts on the "Arkansaw Husking Bee" record. I remember awhile back I spent a little bit of time highlighting a pair of rags published in Pryor's hometown of St. Joseph Missouri, proving that rags from that very town and concentrated region have a distinct style that wasn't heard anywhere else. The main characteristic of this region that sets it apart from other regional styles is the rollicking and active bass. This is one of the examples I used in that post awhile back:

This particular rag, although published in 1916, reminds me a lot of Pryor's "Razzazza Mazzazza", as well as his "Frozen Bill". There are bits of very odd and eccentric syncopation that are just like that of those two Pryor rags. 
Here's my favorite record of Pryor's "Razzazza Mazzazza":
So after this major discovery, it seems that Pryor's very detailed compositions were true to his actual playing style. Even with this being true, the aggression and extra push that Pryor obviously had will have to be planted by the pianist playing his pieces. Since really studying his music, I have really been trying to get that in my playing of his pieces, but it is quite difficult. It is difficult to imitate a style of playing that doesn't come naturally to the imitator. This is something I have been learning with my research on Ring and Hager's playing. I believe I have explained in detail the frustration in attempting to replicate Ring's aggressive style. 

Anyway, that's all I got this time folks. I have more to talk about, but I'd prefer to save it for the next post, which I promise won't be done nearly a month apart from this one. 

Hope you enjoyed this! 

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Back to 33 and Levels of Preservation

It's been awhile since I've written about Hylands, Spencer and Yeager. With all that I've written about them so far, I still haven't completely exhausted all there is to know about them. It would be good to spend some time speaking of them, as I have been so buried in Ring and Hager material for the last few months. 

So, we all remember them! 
In the last few days, I have spent a lot of time thinking back to the old stories I read about them in The Phonoscope and the brief mentionings of it throughout Jim Walsh's writing. 

I observed something very curious while doing this. 
I hadn't really thought long about how Roger Harding set up a publishing house across the street from Hylands in 1900. The more I spent thinking on it, the whole thing seemed more odd and interesting. 
So just to refresh, in 1899, Hylands and Harding were the main driving forces for the Hylands Spencer and Yeager firm. Harding was essentially the fourth name in the firm. Hylands and Harding collaborated on a few songs they published in 1899, and it seems that they were working together perfectly. But, in early 1900, Harding picked up and left Hylands and the crew to set up his own publishing firm across the street from the Columbia studio. 
Something odd happened. And in this last week, I really started thinking about how odd this was. Hylands and Harding abruptly split up, and considering what came about in the time succeeding this, whatever happened couldn't have been good. But! Harding wasn't the first to jump ship. In mid-1900, it seemed that all the tight knit Columbia studio community started breaking up, all jumping ship one by one. In the few 1900 editions of The Phonoscope that I have flipped through, I noticed that slowly it seemed a lot more the community who wrote for and were mentioned in that publication were starting to split up. One of the pieces I recall  from around mid-1900 stated that Hylands himself was beginning to take jobs elsewhere, and working in vaudeville again(as he had been doing before recording).  That particular statement seems odd to me. 
There's that section!
So the "big sales" thing doesn't seem to fit too well. By mid-1900, the publishing firm thing was starting to wind down, and it was doing so quite fast. It was in that time frame that Roger Harding picked up and left, and when folks were starting to become intrigued with the new fangled Zon-O-Phone. By fall of 1900, the fine Turkish carpet he had so hardly worked for had been torn from under Hylands. Everyone had abandoned him and the publishing firm. 

But why?

For a year, the Hylands Spencer and Yeager thing was booming, and Hylands had made his way up to the top from being the deadbeat rag-time pianist Columbia hired in 1897. Keep in mind that he was a nobody when he started at Columbia in 1897, in 1898 his significance became clear with the popularity of his signature rag-time accompaniments. Something devastating happened, and I have no idea what it was. It caused such important benefactors like Roger Harding and Steve Porter to quickly take their leave before the others. 
(Harding in 1895, from a friend's collection)
(Steve Porter at the recording horns in 1897)
Whatever it was that forced these close friends to all break up so quickly, it kept them apart. Hylands still worked at Columbia, as he had to, but a lot of the crew, like Steve Porter, Gaskin, Quinn, etc, didn't work together much after 1900. For example, the Imperial Minstrels records had stopped by 1901, no longer was the old crew working in big groups like that. Everyone started going off and doing other things, such as working for other companies and heading into recording management(George Schweinfest did the latter for example). Russell Hunting left in 1899, Steve Porter left for the far east in 1902, and Spencer started working for Lambert, Edison, Zono, and more. 
Something went seriously wrong with the publishing firm, and as I said, I have no idea why, and I don't really have any good solid guesses. 
One thing that came to mind however, is that this where Ring and Hager come in. Ring started working at Columbia right as the Hylands Spencer and Yeager thing was falling apart. So of course someone like him would have been so valuable at that point. The 25 year old Ringleben was as willing to work as Banta, had no place to live, was caring for an aged father, and willing to try anything to get decent money. The coming of Ring may also have helped out Hylands put out the fires that were still burning from the collapse of the publishing firm. 
 (most likely Hylands and Ring around 1902)
As Columbia was transitioning into the 20th century, it seemed that it was perfect timing for Ring and Hager to start making their way into the lab. Hager had his ambitions elsewhere, but Ring was working for the then orchestra director Thomas Clark, next Hager, then ultimately Prince. Hylands was taking jobs elsewhere by 1901, though he was still working regularly at Columbia. I suspect tensions were high when one of the old guard at Columbia had to work with Hylands then. Someone like Spencer would have been bitter working with Hylands after 1900, but it did happen, and luckily with the new talent acquisitions at that point, Spencer wouldn't have to work with Hylands as much. 
I believe I have mentioned that based on the sequence of studio pianists, each previous pianist was to mentor the next one, as it required very specific skills to become proficient as a phonograph accompanist. Hylands likely mentored Ring for a short period of time, this time being right after Hylands Spencer and Yeager.

Anyway, I'm starting to talk about something else, so I'll leave it at that.
Who knows what it was that split up the tight knit Columbia community in 1900...The fact that it happened so quickly is tantalizing, and because of this i will continue to look for hints. There's really no way to definitively find out why this happened, but there might be hints. I hope you recall that no one talked about Hylands in interviews. So all of this Hylands Spencer and Yeager nonsense was never well documented in the first place. Folks like Quinn and Porter didn't say a word of it, even though we know for certain they were part of it.

And that is a good transition to my next topic! 

Back to some Ring and Hager research!  One thing that has always fascinated me as a researcher of this very scant area of music history is how the characters involved in the history spoke of and interpreted it. Jim Walsh spoke with the last bunch of the original recording stars, Quinn, Joe Belmont, Byron Harlan, and Hager to name a few. Quinn's writings to Walsh are among the most extensive accounts of the earliest recording business. A long while ago I did a very detailed post where I pulled apart parts of Quinn's letters. As researchers now, we have everything laid out before us, but even with that being true, we have to spend many hours decoding all this information. A lot of things are mixed up and don't exactly go together the ways that the original participants stated. A few posts ago I detailed Hager's accounts of the OkeH field recordings of 1923-1925, and how his accounts are very valuable, but present issues. 

I just got an article on Justin Ring published, and it was a very difficult undertaking. It was this way for many reasons, and I don't even know some of them. I want to write a definitive article on Hager, but there's so much information on Hager, that a single article won't do. I ran into this problem with the Justin Ring project.

(Ring in 1903 and Hager in 1895 or so) 
I spent months getting frustrated about how I could find so little on Ring in that essential period after 1885 and before 1910. This is still proving true unfortunately. So as my mind works, I started asking the questions as to why it would be so difficult to find any information on Ring in general. Hager was easy to find information on, at this point I actually have a pretty good idea of what he was like as a person, and what interviewing him would have been like. With Ring, it has always been a dead end. 
So I keep going back and pouring through the primary sources(including Hager's own papers) to see if I could get some second handed hints. While doing this, it occurred to me how much Hager loved talking about his past and the projects he was part of. He probably had thousands of papers very meticulously organized in folders, and records and books too. This becomes very clear while flipping through Walsh's writings from Hager in his articles. When Walsh started writing to him in the 1940's, Hager realized that all his memories and written history would be important, and that's where he started gathering everything, and started to spend a good amount of time writing about the history he drove and witnessed. Soon he became consumed with the joy of reminiscence and digging through his papers and books. 

(a bit from Hager's writing published in the April, 1951 edition of Hobbies)
You can tell Hager loved going through his stuff. When Walsh reminded him of something, he would go and look for it, if he couldn't find it, he'd ask others who would probably have it. Hager had taken most of Cal Stewart's material by the time he was writing to Walsh, so much of the information we have on Stewart was from Hager's own very meticulous descriptions in his letters to Walsh. So, clearly Hager was very involved in and aware of his past. He knew that what he did was important. But what about Ring?
Hager wrote so much and very much enjoyed getting buried in his past, as he had a very carefully organized scrapbook to accompany the thousands of papers he kept regarding himself and others like Cal Stewart. When Walsh was writing to Hager, he mentioned his partner Ring a bunch of times, as even then it was difficult to separate them. 
(Walsh's September 1962 description of the photo below)
(from a friend's collection)
Even Walsh described them as inseparable. It's possible that Walsh wrote to the old Ring, but he didn't get anything back. Walsh unfortunately had the same situation happen with Arthur Collins. He wrote to Collins in 1932, but never got anything back. A few years later Collins' wife Anna wrote back and told Walsh that he received and pondered on his letter, but ultimately decided it wasn't worth it to write back. 
So I'm thinking that a similar situation may have happened with Ring. Now this is where Ring and Hager were opposites. Hager kept everything, and Ring kept nothing. This is the point I was getting to here. This may be why it is so difficult to find anything on Ring. So consider how he lived while working for Hager and Prince. He had no place to live, he wasn't married, and writing arrangements and playing accompaniments wherever he could. With that frugal lifestyle, there was no way he could have kept anything. He was constantly adapting to the times, so of course he had little interest in preserving the past. 

So consider this...
If you were to go and visit Hager for an interview in say, 1953, he would so very much enjoy talking to you about history. He would gladly answer every question, and would tangent on that to tell another story, and another...and...another. He would go and dig things out as you spoke. the amount of information would be invaluable, and there would be so much of it you'd either be there all day and night or you'd have to come back for more. So the point being, that Hager would be the ideal person to interview about this stuff. You'd probably leave with a few things of his too. 

So let's say you made the trip down to mid-eastern Florida in 1960 to visit Justin Ring. You'd get to his place, and one of his daughters would answer the door. You'd be kicked off his property. Ring would quietly be sipping tea listening to the radio or thumbing through Variety, with his glasses tipped down on his nose. It would all be there...everything...all the sounds, people, words, and memories, but they were never to leave his mind. He wouldn't talk about any of it. He preferred to leave it all behind,  and being the sole survivor of his family by then, he had no business thinking about all his dead friends. 

But like the last subject I wrote about in this post, why?

Who knows?
Considering the amount of things he did, and the kind of people he had to work for and with in those 50 years, he probably had good reasons to keep-a-movin. All the way back to Hylands in 1898, he saw everything, and probably escaped death several times while all his friends were dropping dead around him, starting with Frank P. Banta in 1903, and ending with his brother Franz in 1960. 
Ring is a lot like how I'd think Banta would have been if he had lived long. Banta was perfectly content being the quiet and obedient accompanist, and likely spent little time talking about work with those who weren't in the business. He was so buried in work that many other things in life were not important. So interviewing him about recording would he difficult. 

This is why I study the neglected accompanists. They saw everything, and despite their lower reputations in the musical community(excluding issler), they got the last word. And you know what? 

Ring got the last word. 

He may not have spoke it, but he got it all-right. 
The accompanists we hear on these records were not famous in their day as accompanists, and they weren't famous in general. We always hear about these big names like Ben Harney, Eddie Foy, Anna Held, even Mike Bernard, and they were so highly regarded in their day, but, with the exception of Bernard, they aren't the ones whose voices and legacies were immortalized. It's the ultimate payback, the most neglected and overworked performers in the early studios got the last word back then, and even now. I'm talking about the accompanists of course. Issler, Banta, Hylands, Ring and the rest got the last word, the last driving notes, after the main performers finish. The accompanists and studio workers are the ones we can get to know better than even the main performers, as we hear them on everything, not on just some things. 

So, anyway, this has been a hell of a case study! Before I close out I'd like to share a pair of records that I believe are arrangements by Justin Ring. Based on the composition style compared to his accompaniments, these arrangements line up to that style. I am also thinking that after Ring and Hager split up from 1906 to 1912 or so, Ring worked for Prince at Columbia. 

So there ya go folks! 

Hope you enjoyed this!

Monday, July 22, 2019

Musician's Club and the Phono-Cut

Okay, to begin, scratch all of that I said in the last post about the OkeH record I bought recently. After speaking with a few collectors about the record, we have concluded that the speaker at the beginning of that record is Ernest Hare. 

I was wrong, and I apologize for getting any of you especially excited about it. Yes I am a bit disappointed, but that record is still a valuable artifact, as it features a celeste solo by Justin Ring that takes up about 90% of the side. The other side is equally as delightful. The other side features Hager's Concert orchestra, playing another piece by Ring and Hager. 

Anyway, time to move on. 
With the recent access of Hager's scrapbook, I have been really digging into the specific sources that Hager clipped his favorite bits from. This is my first instinct of course, to ask the question, where did this come from? 
And luckily with the help of an accomplished Rag-time researcher, I was able to thumb through one of the major sources that was scattered in bits in Hager's scrapbook. As I flipped through the bits in Hager's scrapbook, I noticed a specific term mentioned, and I had no idea what this was, but obviously I assumed it was something important to return to. 
So, then a respected Rag-Time researcher sent me this link:
So, this opens up a lot of information. This was that very book that Hager saved a lot of his clippings from. It made so much sense as I started flipping through. Hager was one of the major leaders of this inner community of the St. Cecile lodge. If you were to look up Hager's name in this book, he comes up quite often, both as musical director and as an assistant to ceremonies and meetings. Someone else who shows up a fair amount is his sidekick Justin Ring. 
(Ring in 1903, and Hager around 1895)
But that wasn't it! 
I started looking to see who else was mentioned in this book, and lo and behold, there were dozens more of important figures!
Just to name a few:
Frank P. Banta
Vess Ossman
Edward Issler
John W. Bratton(Rag and popular composer)
Ed Horatio King(Eddie King's father)
Percy Wenrich
Thomas Hindley(composer of "patrol comique")
Herbert L. Clarke
Isidore Witmark
Julius Witmark
Jacob Witmark
Nat Mann(Coon song composer)
William Lorraine 
Theodore Pusinelli(Hager's clarinet soloist)
Albert Von Tilzer 
Gus Williams 

So that's only a small fraction of who was mentioned in there. The mentioning of Issler got me intrigued, as I had heard of his significance in musicians' clubs and unions. One of the major times he was mentioned in this book, he is portrayed as a sort of grandmaster of the business and of recording. In a piece dated to 1913, many of the musicians of the lodge went to hold a large party in honor of Edward Issler in Newark. 
For the last few years, my research on Issler has proven him to be a literal hero to all the recording folks who came after him. It would be difficult to think otherwise when you know that he was the first studio musician and an advocate for musicians' rights. So I can safely say now that even in his era, Edward Issler was the oracle of studio recording. Issler's prominence is clear, and it was made clearer by this book. 

So what can we say about all of this? 
Well, it's fascinating to see hard evidence that a lot of these studio workers did indeed know each other outside of their competing studios. It is also interesting to note that Rag composers and band and orchestra members intermingled outside of the studios and publishing houses. This book also illustrates how interconnected these musicians were, and how well folks like Ring and Hager got around to making connections and deals. 
Keep in mind that this was only one community of musicians like this. There were dozens more in NY at this time. When flipping through the index at the end of the book, it can be intriguing to see who isn't mentioned. For example, there were quite a few of Sousa's musicians mentioned as being members if this lodge, but where were Arthur Pryor and Henry Higgins? 
To answer that question, they were members of the Elks lodge. A lot of these musicians were scattered(scattered in close proximity), though it is interesting to note which ones were together in certain communities. 
When I saw the list of members of this lodge, I knew almost immediately that I wouldn't see Hylands or J. Fred Helf. I recall seeing Helf listed as being part of the White rats, and we know the same is true for Hylands. So all of this digging illustrates that all of these musicians knew each other, and those who you think may have known each other and exchanged ideas, probably did. 

Before I move on to the information regarding Phono-Cut, I'd like to mention something on that Columbia band(orchestra) group photo. In the past I have gone on about this photo: 
We know which guy is Justin Ring(most likely) 

After I went back and stared at the picture some more, I noticed that the guy directly to Ring's left looks almost familiar. 
Who is that slightly familiar guy next to Ring? My first guess was Hylands. Well, I know it might seem a bit odd to guess that, but after I did some more staring, it started to look more like Hylands. The pointed out ears, sunken eyes, high cheekbones, distinct nose, bright hair, broad shoulders, and the distinct height difference--it all looks familiar. I can see those very specific slopes of the eyebrows. Up to the time i'm writing this, I have probably spent several hours of time looking at that picture, comparing the clear portraits of Ring and Hylands next to the group photo. And you know what, it is truly amazing to think that they are together in this photo, and right aside each other for that matter. So this makes it pretty solid that Hylands worked for Columbia after 1900. I cannot stress enough how much that looks like Hylands next to Ring there. Now this is a picture we NEED to find a better copy of. There are over a dozen more famous and important studio figures in that picture. Along with my mission to find the rest of Hager's paper materials and record collection, I am making it a mission to find a good copy of this photo, a print would be ideal. 
Just think, in this photo I have already identified Charles Prince, Frank Mazziotta, The Mygrants brothers, and Eddie King is hiding there in the back somewhere. 
Anyway, I will keep looking for a better copy of this important picture. I sure hope that Hylands and Ring are together in that corner. 

Time to move on!
In the last few months, I have been anticipating writing about this topic--Phono-cut records. 
There we go. These were among the earliest vertical cut records to be sold in the United States. Now why do I have such an especial fondness in these? Well, it's actually quite simple--Hager. Hager was one of the founders and directors of this small and short- lived label.
a nice article regarding this topic can be seen here, if you're extra curious!
(I would highly recommend subscribing to this blog if you aren't already!)
This short but effective venture in vertical recordings gripped the recording media from 1910 to 1913, being mentioned all over the place in Talking Machine World and other media. This label was started in 1910 by a Boston Millionaire who invested a big chunk of money in this new independent vertical record company. Hager was called on as the first choice for director and ringmaster for this venture, and with that Hager was brought back into the recording business. It was that year that J. Fred Helf's publishing firm seemed to be winding down a bit, so the timing seemed perfect for Hager to jump at it. As it turns out, this venture allowed Hager to take a lot of suspenseful risks with recording. As Zon-O-Phone was winding down, Hager decided to re-ignite the sentiment and repertoire he had been so dedicated to a decade before. A good example being this one here:
And you know Hager is in that orchestra because the moaning violin comes through like a screech. 
Hager brought in performers like Bob Roberts and Collins and Harlan, which is definitely reminiscent of the early days of Zon-O-Phone. 
But why exactly was Hager's work with the Phono-cut so important? 
One of the ongoing stories throughout the 1911-12 editions of Talking Machine World was Hager's episodes with members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. In 1910, Hager set out to use his symphonic connections and prowess to lure in many prominent members of the BSO to make recordings for the Phono-cut. Clearly it took some convincing, but as the press indicated, he soon became closely acquainted with them. The press made sure to keep up to date on Hager's actions at Phono-cut, which allows for a pretty good chronology of what happened with this unusual label. 
Hager(at center) and two of the Phono-cut fellows, dated 1911 from Talking Machine World. 
 Hager got an oddball group to record for Phono-cut, and they were called the Longy Club. This was no small potatoes, these were the woodwinds of the BSO, and it was the first time this was known to have happened, in terms of issued symphonic recordings(in the US). These records were the entire Longy Club with piano accompaniment. 
(sorry the picture is so small)
(this record is not in my collection, courtesy of a friend)
Furthermore, another place where I found some more hard evidence of Hager's courting of the BSO members, was this odd photo:

(detail of Hager)
A few of the fellows in this odd photo include Boston Symphony musicians, a few being part of the Longy Club. This photo was featured in Talking Machine World in early 1912. 
Starting in 1911(but probably before that) Hager began hosting these lavish gatherings of phonograph workers at beer garden type places for "beefsteak" parties, and by the end of 1912, Hager was known for these, being the organizer of them. I drew a pair of cartoons to illustrate this odd combination of ideas:
Hager and Georges Longy.
Hager and half of the Longy Club. 
(I used a high resolution print of the group to make sure I rendered everyone accordingly)
Yes indeed, Hager had evolved into something quite different by 1911. 
So I have only heard one of these Longy Club records, but I tell you what, it was fascinating enough to get me started on a secondary research project. I am wondering if any of this connection between Hager and the BSO has been written about in any history books about the BSO and symphonic recordings. As I keep learning more bits about Phono-cut records, I will write about them more in future posts. When I was at ARSC back in May I asked around for any information about the connection between the BSO and Hager at Phono-cut, but got no leads. In spite of that, I have been able to find just enough on this odd label to keep my curiosity peaked. These records did sound good, and they had some very interesting and diverse material recorded on them, with the addition of Hager, what could be better? 

Anyway, that's all I got for now folks. There's a lot more to write about but I don't want to keep going on about unrelated material. I'd rather stick to things that I can pull together in at least a kind of decent manner. 

With that,

Hope you enjoyed this!