Saturday, January 18, 2020

A trip to the City

A few days ago, I got back from a five day trip to New York City. For many years i had been wanting so badly to visit New York to seek out all the important recording history locations that I write about so often here on this blog. This trip had been planned for a few months, and that gave me time to plan out what I was to do while there. 
In the weeks before leaving, I made a handwritten list of all the addresses to go and visit, to cross them off as I went. There were nearly 30 addresses on this list, and many of them got crossed off. 
Going to all these places was emotionally, and ultimately physically taxing for me. My first day there I was overanxious to start walking down Broadway to 1155 where the 1890's Columbia studio and offices were. I was trembling with excitement, all dressed up in a simple black and white dress dated to around 1901, and could hardly believe I was walking down this famous street, surrounded by all this history. 

Along the way to 1155 I saw a few other addresses on the list, one being 1180(1),where Roger Harding set up his short lived publishing firm in 1900-1901. When I got t0 1155, it was overwhelming. The address had changed so much, yet the number remained the same, and somehow the exterior of the building remained somewhat intact. It wasn't difficult to picture the place in its original state when all the recorders made their way in. 

Wanted to make sure I took a picture in front of the address with something that was sold there. I stood there for awhile, and after mustering up some courage, I approached two security guards standing by the front door. I commenced to lecture these young men about the unbelievable amount history that occurred right where we were standing. Showed them the supplement pictured above, and the several pictures taken inside the building in the 1890's. These young men were unusually curious about this history, and they seemed quite amazed that the columns on the inside of the building are still standing to this day. After lecturing for about 20 minutes, I headed to 28th street where the original "Tin Pan Alley" was. I heard of a recently finalized proposition to make these five or so intact buildings a historical landmark and have them somewhat restored. 
It was so nice to see these buildings, even though they are a bit beat up and sketchy looking as of now, thankfully that is scheduled to change soon. Here on this block and the next included the Witmark publishing, W. B. Gray, Hylands Spencer and Yeager, Helf and Hager, and several more over time. The one specific address I was most curious to see on this block was 55. 55 was where Ring and Hager published together in 1904, and where Helf and Hager first set up the next year. 
After  going to cross off a bunch more addresses in Tin Pan Alley, I set out to Hell's Kitchen where Frank P. Banta grew up. I wrote down the address that the Banta's lived in according to the 1880 census, so this is most likely where Frank and his siblings grew up. As I approached the number, my eyes started to tear up, as I was walking along the street that little Banta once did to go and tune pianos in the surrounding area. 
This building looks very much intact, and probably didn't look too much different when Banta lived there. The house number is even the same as it was in 1880. 

The next morning I returned to 28th street. I was waiting for some friends to meet with, was stupidly early, so I decided to sit on the steps of 55 until my friends showed up. 

Sat there for over two hours, meditating on all the music that was first conceived there. Sat there in the cold and damp with my gloved hands running over the iron bars once held by so many musicians and writers, Ring and Hager being only two of perhaps hundreds. 
When my friends arrived we headed to 27th street where Hylands Spencer and Yeager were. This building appeared to be intact, though it was being worked on, so we couldn't get inside to poke around. Then we passed through where Dan W. Quinn lived in the late 1890's, and later where he lived from 1906 to his death in 1938. The later Quinn address is the one that he lived in when he was writing to Jim Walsh in the 1930's, and where he also operated a booking office. This address was also very nicely preserved, with lots of pretty marble carving and ceiling decoration. 
After we went by there, we headed to 14th street where all the 1880's and 90's theaters were. Before Tin Pan Alley reigned in the late-1890's and beyond, 14th street was where all the publishers and performers lived. Here we walked by the original site of Pastor's theater, where Ben Harney first introduced Rag-time, and where countless other performers played. Just two blocks farther along was 223, where Fred Hylands lived from 1896 to 1898. We were lucky enough to sneak in behind a resident, which just happened to be the first time any of us had gotten inside. The inside of the building looked to have been remodeled in the 1920's, but we could definitely tell it was an old seedy building that Hylands could easily be seen in. 
This apartment was definitely seedy, but in a charming sort of way. 
The stairs of this building were kind of awful, so I could see Hylands complaining about them often going and coming from work at the record lab or Pastor's. This building was where the "Darkey Volunteer" was published, and where Hylands trod in night after night of performing at Columbia's exhibitions. Performers like Burt Green, Max Hoffmann, and Mike Bernard likely also went up and down those stairs. 
As we started to head to a friend's house near Queens, we passed by where Antonin Dvorak lived in the 1890's. Thankfully there is a plaque dedicating the history of this address. On the plaque it states that he wrote his New World Symphony here in this apartment, which is pretty nice to see. 

The next morning I went to visit a famed broadway and vaudeville historian. This man's house is packed on the walls with posters of all kinds, dating from 1816 to the 1940's. Two examples:
There are hundreds more in this guy's collection. It really was a feast for the eyes to see all these gorgeous colorful posters. He told me that every few months he switches out the posters so there are different ones hanging on the walls. While I was there he pulled out two beautiful posters he had gotten from a recent trip to Paris, which included early art nouveau artwork much like the first poster pictured above. Next I went out with this collector/historian to find Frank P. Banta's grave. We got on the subway and headed to near Wall Street where I assumed it was, but ultimately wasn't able to find his grave there. It was way up in Harlem. I didn't want to spend another two hours going there and back to find his grave, that, as the cemetery directors stated, was in a very large cemetery. So with that I split with my new friend and headed to the Bowery to walk along the neighborhood of so much lore and history, and where Justin Ring grew up. 

After a decent trip on the subway, I turned a corner of Canal Street and was finally walking along the Bowery. The weather was perfect for setting the solemn mood I was in as I walked, it was 45 degrees and damp, with a blanket of clouds ready to drop rain at any moment. As I kept walking, I could really feel the intense weight of history on me, all the struggle and suffering of the many thousands of souls who lived in this area, all of it seemed to congregate as I scuffed the sidewalks. Had never felt such an intense feeling of unbelievable history before, everywhere I looked some image of the past seemed to appear. So much music, so much life, so much suffering, it seemed that walking along here was really where the spirit of the era I study came out. As I neared the street I was looking for, the area seemed to get a little seedier than where I got off, but that added to the atmosphere of the old Bowery I was immersing myself in. When I got to the short street where the Ringleben family once lived, it started to rain. The address looked very much reminiscent of the late-19th century, with so much of its original interior intact. The facade  of the building appeared to have been redone after the Ringleben's had moved out, but much of the older inside was perfectly intact. The building itself would have looked like the one next door when the Ringleben family lived there. 

My hand on one of the walls. 
There was even a beautiful mosaic tile floor still intact. 
I walked all the way up and down the stairs, and looked out a few of the windows to see such a lovely view. 
As I trod around the building I could almost hear the violin of young Justus as he was being taught, and his angry father writing out stock arrangements as his children learned how to write music. It was a lot to take in. 
It was getting dark by the time I started walking back to the subway, and it was raining. Another thing that so charmed me about being in New York was the subway. Lots of folks threw me mixed opinions about the subway before I went, but I was determined to witness the intense history of this old system. It felt like a time capsule, with all the mosaic tiling intact, and every time I stood on a platform the smell of 120 year old pneumatics filled my throat. That smell is entirely unique and old-fashioned. It's like being at an old train station but with no steam to be found. The inside of the subway is truly the smell of the past, with little change since its opening in 1904. There's nothing quite like the smell of 120 year old pneumatics that still heave and work every day. 

Well, wish i had more to say on this trip, but as I'm writing this I am still processing the emotional toll it took on me. Visiting all these places was very moving to me, as it was where all this history happened, and few few people know about it. Despite few knowing of these places, it seems that those who live and work around these places are somewhat curious, and that is hopeful. 
I apologize for not including any recordings in this post, as I usually like to do so. 
Within the next week I hope to start a project on Voss' 1st regiment band. This band has been a sources of mild interest for a few years now, after learning that all of Issler's orchestra performed in this band for many years. Based on this, it seems that this band gave us many of the earliest and most prominent studio orchestra musicians of the 1890's and 1900's. So with this in mind, it seems important to see what I can find on this group.

Before I close out here, I must say that some big news has come down! In the last few months I mentioned Hager's scrapbook and papers, well folks...
Now I have these things in my collection! 
Since they arrived in the mail a few weeks ago, it has been a lot of process, and I have been holding off doing a major post dedicated to this matter. Just to give you a sneak peek into what's in there, here's one of the more unusual pages from the scrapbook:
That's supposed to be Hager's orchestra in the background I guess, that's why he saved it. 
More to come! 

Hope you enjoyed this!

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Prince and new records

All-right folks, I apologize for not writing so frequently. It's been difficult to sit down and write  single blog post, and as you know it's holiday time. Here I have been stuck at home often recently with all the rain we've been getting here in northern California. So with that in mind, it seems like a good time to get a post in. 

In the last post I promised I'd write about Charles Prince, and so I will. A little over a month ago, I started doing some preliminary digging on Prince, thinking that it wouldn't lead to much. Well, I was sure wrong there...
In the past I had heard from a few collectors and notes in Jim Walsh's articles that Prince was a difficult person, but I never would have expected the amount of difficulty to be discovered. 
Prince around 1904. 
On previous digs I found bits on Prince regarding his early days in San Francisco, as that was where he grew up. 
So here's a summary of what I found:
Prince was born most likely in December of 1867, in San Francisco. In 1870 his family was living in the small logging village of Santa Cruz(it was difficult to get to this town before 1872). Prince's family had relative status to old California standards, being in the fruit packing business. They also prided themselves on being married into the famous Adams family, descended from presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams. This is where the Adams middle name comes from. By the mid-1870's, the Adams-Prince family had moved back into SF, settling nearer to the Barbary Coast than to the "slot"(where the cable cars were to be built in just a few years). It is unclear when Charles entered in the music business, but it was likely very early on, and he played piano to start. In his mid-teens' Charles was working as a lifeguard of some kind along the north shore of the city. At age 20(1888), he married a woman whose name I could not track down. he lived with his wife and father Henry in the northern part of the city(toward the top of Larkin street to be more specific for you SF scholars).In 1892 he decided to head east to New York for better music work. 

Somehow he got tangled in the new-fangled business of recording sound. It is possible that Prince knew the four Emerson brothers in SF before they all headed back east, and this may have been how he got into recording. However he got involved, he entered in the exclusive crowd with some of the major recording workers, such as Frank P. Banta and Dan W. Quinn. He made his first batch of records as an accompanist on July 30th, 1892. It's uncertain when he left recording, but it was likely within the next year or two after that first few sessions with Banta. Sometimes between 1890 and 1895 he likely divorced his mysterious first wife, and left New York to go and live in the Kansas City area. While in Kansas city he hastily married an 18 year old girl named Sadie(there is a chance she may not have been 18 when they married). By 1899, he and Sadie were back in New York, and he was working in the family business of packing fruit.  
From his first experience in recording, Prince stayed in touch with the media and press around the then fast growing recording business. he was likely one of those few outside figures who had a regular subscription to The Phonoscope. His friends from the previous decade probably knew of his return to New York, keeping at the back of their minds that he was around and could be a candidate for a director's job in a studio. It took until the end of 1902 for Prince to finally return to recording as an accompanist. When he returned, he accompanied the first operatic Columbia records issued. Prince just happened to join at a very touchy time for Columbia, as Fred Hager was leading the studio orchestra, playing a regular weekly park gig, composing popular pieces, and Hager and Justin Ringleben were being mentored by the then fading studio pianist Fred Hylands. So, in summary, there was little room for Prince when he initially joined the Columbia staff. In early 1903, Hager's name was still being aptly advertised in Columbia's catalogs and supplements. It took until the middle of that year for Hager's stronghold on the Columbia lab to collapse. As with all of Hager's other ambitions, the other record companies he had in his control all came crashing down at once(this includes Columbia, Victor, Lambert and Leeds). Amid Hager's lamenting, Prince made his way in, and with that he brought in many new musicians, but also kept many of Hager's still employed. 

Prince received an awfully warm reception from the old Columbia guard. Len Spencer and Henry Burr took an especial liking to him. Prince wrote out several descriptive pieces with Spencer in the first few years of his employment at Columbia, such as this one here:
You can hear Spencer's voice shouting throughout. 
Prince gladly employed Justin Ring as his chief arranger and assistant, much like Hager had. He also had Hager's brother Jimmy in the band as a percussionist. 
And as we know, in the next few years, Prince's band and orchestra became a respectable rival to Sousa's and Arthur Pryor's bands on records. While Prince was gaining fame in the record field, he tended to a few of the wandering record folks he employed. In 1905, Prince had Henry Burr boarding at his place, and it is likely that he also had Ring and Jimmy Hager stay there when they needed it. 
Once we get to the teen's this is when Prince's personal life gets complicated again. Between 1910 and 1925, he was married and divorced several times, and when I combed through each census and other public records in this period, he wasn't living with his wife most of the time. His daughter Catherine, from his marriage to Sadie, remained with him throughout these times, but the others living with him changed frequently, but all of these folks he lived with where strategic and somewhat related to his line of work, whether it be recording or performing in pit orchestras. 
In 1918, another orchestra director began making his way into the Columbia studio, much like Prince himself had nearly 20 years earlier. This new director was Robert Hood Bowers. It took until 1923 for Bowers to take Prince's place, but this didn't mean that he was gone from Columbia for good just yet. As his job at Columbia was fading out, he took a brief job at the company who made Paramount records. By the next year, Prince signed a somewhat brief contract with Victor. Prince conducted a bunch of sessions for the next year, and played piano accompaniments for singers such as Billy Murray and Ed Smalle. Prince may not have been at Victor for long, but he happened to be there at an essential time, amid the transition from acoustic to electric recording. 
By the end of 1925, he was out of recording for good. 
By the end of the 1920's, he was working in radio, likely due to his contact with Justin Ring, who at that time was getting steady work as a sound effects man on the radio. By the worst part of the depression, he moved back to California, settling in San Rafael with his daughter Catherine. In the years before he died, he conducted a community orchestra and worked as a music teacher. He died on October 11th, 1937. 
He is buried in Colma, California. None of his wives were buried near him.

Well there ya go. Never could have expected how fruitful that dig was. Adding all this to what Jim Walsh wrote about him creates a very solid story. Walsh described him as a sporty type, being very much into baseball and horse races. He was also a prominent member or sporting clubs, the Masons, and the Lamb's Club of new York. I guess this helps to paint the picture of why he was so difficult and couldn't keep a wife for many years. 

So after I did all this research and writing(this information was consolidated into an article for The Syncopated Times). I felt an aggressive obligation to pay my respects to Prince, so the day after all this digging I paid his grave a visit. 
His headstone even has the signature Columbia notes on it. 
So at least we know more about Prince now. 

Now moving on!

At the end of the last post I hinted at a record that was coming in the mail, and it has since gotten to me. The record was listed incorrectly, but it was definitely not a disappointment! This record came in a lot of three records I won in an auction, and all three of them are stellar copies. Here is that Climax record I was talking about:
It looks a bit rough, and its value was harpooned by a small crack, but these things do not take from the historical importance of the record. 
First of all, this is a 10-inch Climax record. Those are much more uncommon than the 7-inch Climax records. A collector told me that for every 50 7-inch Climax records, there is one 10-inch. The next thing that this record has going for it is the fact that the composer is specifically listed on the label. Only for very special occasions were the composers listed on the label. In the first few years of Columbia making disc records, they almost never credited composers on the labels. This record also has an announcer that sounds just slightly different from the usual Zon-O-phone-Climax/Columbia announcer(who I think is probably Hager). Anyway, here's a mediocre transfer of the record:
I had heard a 7 inch version of this record, but never the entire piece as it is played here. This is one of Justin Ring's very fist pieces, published in early 1902. This record was likely one of the unissued takes that was saved to be issued on the Climax label. When they recorded this, they recorded 7 take of this piece. Takes 1, 6, and 7 were overtly issued, but takes 2 to 5 are nowhere to be seen. This unusual take is likely take 2 or 3. Keep in mind that on all Climax records they left out the take numbers. 
This record is a great piece of history amid the depths of my Ring and Hager project. No less were the other two records I won in this auction. 
This record here, was recorded in 1900, and is basically the closest thing you an get to an E condition record of this era. It includes some of the loudest and clearest piano accompaniment I've heard of this era. 
Here you go:
Other than the loud piano accompaniment, one of the first things I noticed about this record is how similar it is to the 1901 Climax recording of it. You can hear that here: 
The similarities are astonishing. 
This Zon-O-Phone record did not disappoint, and it makes sense why it was so much more expensive than the other two I got. 
So here's the third one:
This record was made on the same day as the previous one. It has the number right after the last one. It looks to be in much rougher shape than the other, but it's actually not nearly as bad as it looks. In some ways it has a fuller sound than the other one. 
Here you go:
Before I got this record, I was only able to hear a crappy transfer of it online. 
Both of these Zon-O-phone records are exceptional examples of the height of their sound quality. Both of these are also prime examples of Ring and Hager's relationship, as well as their great chemistry musically. These were recorded before they really got into composing together, but you can see that the foundation for this decades long friendship was already there. 

Anyway, I was going to dive into a longer subject on Columbia matrix numbers, but I don't want to get into that just yet. This subject deserves its own post. 

Hope all your holidays are going well so far!

Happy holidays.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Hylands' web of spies

Well folks, the West Coast Ragtime Festival is coming up, so I've been real busy getting art done, and getting all of my pianist research ready for a prime-time seminar. While I've been in this frenzied state I have spent a lot of time going back and critically thinking over the research I've done on Fred Hylands. In the last week, a few unexpected discoveries came up while on digs for other things. 
Last night I was going though that book that much of Hager's scrapbook was covered in, the one documenting 50 years of the Masonic lodge Hager and Ring were in, and I combed through the membership list again. 

I saw a name that was oddly familiar. The name Sampson Gelder was listed as a member. Now, I don't know if I've ever mentioned this name before here on this blog, but he is most definitely connected with Hylands. But how?
So he was initiated into the Masonic lodge of Hager and Ring in 1903, and 10 years later he was growing closer to Hylands' recently widowed wife Marie. In 1915, Marie married Sam and they moved back to Chicago where she and Fred married 20 years before. So that tripped me out, seeing Sam Gelder listed as part of the same lodge as Hager and Ring. I wonder if it was Hager to introduced Sam to the Hylands', or who knows how all three of them are connected. 
So this got me thinking...from my past research on Hylands, he wasn't really allowed in any major clubs or lodges, due to his oddly toxic presence and personality(or whatever it was). So I'm wondering if he had made lots of friends in these organizations to get information from. Someone like Burt Green would certainly have provided Hylands lots of information about what was going on in the inner crowd of Broadway, and his sketchy assistant James Phelan Cuddy would have similar insight into the publishing business. 
James Phelan Cuddy, date uncertain, possibly the mid-1890's. 

Another thing to note in this idea is that Hylands knew everything about the George W. Johnson murder trial through Rollin Wooster. Hylands had no business whatsoever inserting himself into this matter, but how he did. So essentially Hylands knew where all the bodies were buried, almost quite literally in this case. I'm sure having this level of power over everyone at work didn't bode well for Hylands' already rotten reputation. After all the publishing ordeal, Hylands had moved on to something else, Ring and Hager. 
Considering Hylands' scary good sense of observation and his web of spies, he knew about Hager from the start. Hager was known before he started making records in 1898, as he was known as the youngest professional bandleader in New York. It took until mid 1898 for minor recording companies to finally take him in to make violin records. His arrival in the recording community was plastered all over phonograph trade magazines, particularly The Phonoscope, so clearly it was a big deal. Hylands was being mentioned back to back with Hager in The Phonoscope, so without a doubt he knew about this new hot young thing(Hager) that was making violin record and leading an exceptional band. 
Hager around 1898. 

When Hager had made his way to Zon-O-Phone in 1899-1900, it seems more likely now that Hylands helped Hager and young Ring to find talent to record for them. The only thing that connects Hylands with Hager and Ring in 1899-1900 is the fact that Vess Ossman recorded "The Darkey Volunteer" on a very early blank Zon-O-phone. On this record(which I have not heard yet), would have to have Ring piano accompaniment, and wherever this piece was recorded, Hylands was involved in its approval. Another thing to note here is that Hylands published a piece with Spencer by a guy named Dick Thomas, who was an off-Broadway vaudeville performer, likely picked up by Hylands through Burt Green. Luckily, I happen to own this particular sheet:

This piece was published in 1900, the same year that Thomas recorded for Zon-O-Phone, so I'm thinking that Hylands had something to do with that. Ring and Hager recorded other small time vaudevillians and songwriters on Zono in 1900, and it wouldn't surprise me if Hylands was part of those as well. 
It was also around this time that Ring started working for Columbia as a pianist. In 1900 only do we hear records by Columbia and Zono with strikingly similar accompaniments on the same songs. For example, I've heard a 1900 Columbia record of "say you love me sue" and a 1900 Zono of the same song by Edward Favor, and the accompaniment is almost identical, but they are most certainly not the same pianists playing. 
When Ring and Hager formally joined Columbia in 1901, Hylands was still holding steady there, and that meant they'd be getting bossed around and gossiped about by him. Hager may have been the director for the Columbia orchestra and all, but Hylands was still the accompanist. It was in this period of 1901-1903 that Ring and Hager developed compositional styles somewhat similar to and obviously informed by Hylands. In previous posts I highlighted the striking similarities between Hylands' "The Darkey volunteer" and Hager's "Handsome Harry". 
All of this went away when Hylands left Columbia around the middle of 1903, which was good for Ring and Hager, and I'm sure the management was all quite relieved as well. Hylands left recording, but he kept his will to keep friends in various communities he wasn't allowed in. He remained a distant friend of Burt Green's, and after Columbia he was forced to cultivate different friends, this time mostly in the theater and publishing fields. His influence on Ring and Hager remained however, as Ring played accompaniments similar to Hylands as late as the mid-1920's. 

Anyway folks, that's all I got on that matter. Before I close out here, I'd like to highlight what will be in the next post. In the last few days I did some digging on Charles Prince and found a lot more than I  bargained for. I even went to visit his grave upon hearing that he was buried not far from me. It turns out that he was a much more difficult character than anyone had ever made him out to be. The other thing I hope to write about in the next post, is a single record that I won in an auction recently. 
I got the auction list and missed the record several times reading through, and once a friend pointed it out to me, it hit me like a loving slap across the face. It seemed impossible, it seemed like a dream...

It's a Climax record from 1901 with the performer listed as J. Ringleben Jr.'s orchestra.
WHAT? How could this be? 
There's no way.
But yes indeed, it's real, and there's no evidence of it being known to exist before it showed up in the auction. I have not gotten the record in the mail just yet, so I will wait until it comes to write about it in detail. The existence of this record is still confusing me, even all these weeks after learning of it. 

With that...

Hope you enjoyed this! 

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!