Ragtime (sometimes spelled rag-time or rag time) is a musical style that enjoyed its peak popularity between 1895 and 1919. Its cardinal trait is its syncopated or “ragged” rhythm. Wikipedia

Originally developed in the U.S. in the late 19th century by various composers of whom one of he best known is Scott Joplin (whose most famous work is “Maple Leaf Rag”). In it’s earliest period ragtime was also associated with the cakewalk (a dance). After 1900 the ragtime style became very popular worldwide and there are many recordings of ragtime from the UK, Europe and elsewhere in the period before 1920 (but mostly before WWI).

Ragtime, while an obvious precursor of jazz, is a written [ie. composed] music rather than an improvised form of music. Despite sharing the syncopated base that was an essential element in later jazz, ragtime was performed as written and had a strict form (usually with an “A” section followed by a “B” section and then a return to the “A” section – or some variation of this) and was often played by military or brass bands. During it’s peak period (before 1920) most ragtime recordings are by orchestras or bands or are vocal recordings of ragtime songs. Ragtime recordings can frequently (but not always) be identified by the use of the word rag or ragtime in the title.

Although rags continued to be recorded in the period from 1920s to the 1940s, ragtime was no longer a common form during this period as jazz and later big bands or swing had became dominant. The ragtime tag should be used very sparingly after 1919. It should NOT be applied to any early jazz or popular music records unless the titles are specifically ragtime compositions. Just having a rhythmic or syncopated sound does not make a record ragtime and jazz or pop (or both) would be more appropriate.

During the 1920s & 1930s many recordings of novelty syncopated piano solos were made by artists such as Zez Confrey, Roy Bargy & Rube Bloom (in the U.S.) and many others worldwide including Billy Mayerl & Raie Da Costa (in the UK), Willie Eckstein (in Canada), Jean Wiener & Clement Doucet (in France), Mischa Spoliansky (in Germany), or Gil Dech & Beryl Newell (in Australia). While obviously influenced by ragtime these are not ragtime recordings and should be given the pop tag.

The ragtime influence on jazz was very significant and some early jazz performers (such as Jelly Roll Morton) both wrote and recorded rags. Some jazz pianists were more ragtime influenced than others with James P. Johnson and Thomas Waller (later better known as Fats Waller) recording in what is known as the stride style, while other jazz pianists such as Earl Hines and Duke Ellington created totally new styles of jazz piano. The ragtime tag does not apply to these or other similar jazz records.

By the 1950s interest in the ragtime style was re-emerging and there was something of a revival with many ragtime compositions being recorded (and some new ones written and recorded). An off-shoot of the ragtime revival was Honky-tonk which is not strictly ragtime and is more appropriately tagged pop.

Ragtime is a very well defined style and the tag should not be applied broadly unless it is a ragtime composition from the peak peak (1895-1919) or a ragtime composition recorded later. If jazz, pop or some other tag is applicable this should be preferred.

Ragtime musicians:

  • Louis Armstrong
  • Scott Joplin
  • Winifred Atwell
  • Joe “Fingers” Carr
  • Jelly Roll Morton
  • Del Wood
  • Johnny Maddox

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