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Black Manhattan, Vol. 2 / Benjamin, Paragon Ragtime Orchestra

Benjamin / Paragon Ragtime Orch / Benjamin
Release Date: 12/11/2012 
Label:  New World Records   Catalog #: 80731   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  William AccooeEubie BlakeBert WilliamsWilbur C. Sweatman,   ... 
Performer:  Anita JohnsonRobert MackEdward PleasantLinda Thompson Williams
Conductor:  Rick Benjamin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Paragon Ragtime Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews



BLACK MANHATTAN, Vol. 2 Rick Benjamin (pn, cond); Anita Johnson (sop); Robert Mack (ten); Edward Pleasant (bar); Linda Thompson Williams (blues singer); Paragon Ragtime O NEW WORLD 90731-2 (71:31)


Music by BLAKE, WILLIAMS, JOHNS, DIXON, SMITH, COOK, BRYAN, ACCOE, EUROPE, DABNEY, HANDY, BRYMN, HILL, SWEATMAN, VAUGHAN, JOPLIN


Once upon a time I put together a program of short American pieces for a few friends and was struck by the number of the composers I Read more had chosen who had expired in nearby Gotham: Edward McDowell, Victor Herbert, Stephen Foster (!), Amy Cheney Beach, Charles Ives, Samuel Barber, Jerome Kern, Leonard Bernstein, Richard Rodgers. I had bypassed such similarly deceased luminaries as Irving Berlin, Harold Arlen, James P. Johnson (“Charleston”), Eubie Blake, Duke Ellington, and Joseph Lamb. John Cage died in New York, as did John Lennon and Scott Joplin. Of these only McDowell, Kern, and Rodgers were native New Yorkers. I do not wish to imply that composers come to the Big Apple to die—George Gershwin, that quintessential New Yorker, did so in Hollywood—only that it’s a wonderful town for great musicians to make their mark. Most of the aforementioned did just that, but there were unhappy exceptions, of course. Foster died drunk and penniless in Metropolis, and Lennon was most foully murdered. Joplin was institutionalized.


Of the composers represented here, only one, Frederick M. Bryan, was born in present-day New York City, actually in Brooklyn, which was a separate city at the time of his birth. James J. Vaughan was from Boston, but the other 13 came north—Blake from Baltimore, Will Marion Cook, Ford T. Dabney, and Al Johns from Washington, D.C., Will H. Dixon from West Virginia, and the rest, save Bert A. William of Antigua, from former Confederate states.


Present-day listeners may be surprised that Joplin, the King of Ragtime, was not a major player in the flourishing musical life of black Manhattan. Although some of his finest rags date from his New York years— Solace, Magnetic Rag, Scott Joplin’s New Rag are examples—he was obsessed with his opera, Treemonisha, and reportedly wrote a symphony and a piano concerto, both now lost, in his futile attempt to break into the elite circle of “classical” composers. He eschewed the popular and show business idiom that sustained many of his contemporaries. His only entry in this program was an unfortunate attempt to create a song—commercially advantageous—by adding words to his Pine Apple Rag.


There are unadulterated rags on the program (as the name of the performing ensemble implies)— That’s Got ’Em by Wilbur C. Sweatman, The Bell Hop Rag by Bryan, and Oh! You Devil by Dabney—but the bulk of the disc is devoted to show tunes and dances—concert waltzes that would not feel out of place in Austria: Black Patti Waltzes by Will Accoe (son of a Methodist minister), Valse Angelique by J. Tim Brymn, and Dixon’s Breath of Autumn ; a Latin-sounding tango-intermezzo, Brazilian Dreams, also by Dixon; and some all-American one-steps: Down in the Honky Tonky Town by Chris Smith, The Castle Walk (made famous by Irene and Vernon Castle and even more famous by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers) by Dabney with James Reese Europe, and Fizz Water , Blake’s calling card to the New York scene. The show tunes dominate the program, which opens with Overture to the (Noble) Sissle and Blake’s Broadway hit show Shuffle Along (arranged by Will H. Vodery). Europe’s Goodnight Angeline and J. Leubrie Hill’s At the Ball, That’s All are peppy show stoppers; Honey Lamb by Chris Smith and Vaughan’s When the Moon Shines are touching romantic ballads. Vaughan’s song was written for a Broadway flop and nearly disappeared. One of the best remembered composers on the disc (after Joplin and Blake), W. C. Handy, is represented, appropriately, by a blues song, Aunt Hagar’s Children Blues, which is belted out by Linda Thompson Williams.


Much of the program comes across as fairly colorblind, but two poignant and thought-provoking songs illuminate the African-American experience. Returned: A Negro Ballad by Cook addresses the disillusionment that followed the great migration—the cruelty of Southern segregation replaced by the cruelty of Northern indifference and neglect. Bert Williams was one of the most popular performers of his day. His signature piece, Nobody , a comedic bit, or so it was generally received by his admiring audiences, is really a reflection of the African-American dilemma—how to cope with one’s invisibility.


The Paragon Ragtime Orchestra, Rick Benjamin’s brainchild, is based in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. It is, according to the booklet, “the world’s only year-round professional ensemble specializing in the recreation of ‘America’s Original Music.’” Its roster lists a string quartet with a bass, two woodwinds (flute/piccolo and clarinet), three brasses (two cornets and a trombone), two percussionists, and a piano. (An oboe was added for the Overture.) If it’s not already labeled a national treasure, it should be. This disc is treasurable. The soloists are equally accomplished. Benjamin’s notes are more than informative; they’re invaluable. One wonders what these marvelous musicians might have accomplished if the elusive “classical” choice had been available to them. Would they have created something extraordinary? Or were the restraints they encountered have allowed them to do extraordinary things with the ordinary? Black Manhattan, Volume 2 is a must. If you missed the first Black Manhattan (New World 80611-2, Fanfare 27:5 [with an egregiously embarrassing authorial flub by yours truly]), get that, too.


FANFARE: George Chien
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Works on This Recording

1.
Black Patti Waltzes by William Accooe
Conductor:  Rick Benjamin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Paragon Ragtime Orchestra
2.
Shuffle Along by Eubie Blake
Conductor:  Rick Benjamin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Paragon Ragtime Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1921; USA 
3.
Nobody by Bert Williams
Conductor:  Rick Benjamin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Paragon Ragtime Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1905 
4.
That’s Got ’Em Rag by Wilbur C. Sweatman
Conductor:  Rick Benjamin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Paragon Ragtime Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1919 
5.
Honey Lamb by Al Johns
Conductor:  Rick Benjamin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Paragon Ragtime Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1914 
6.
Brazilian Dreams by Willie Dixon
Conductor:  Rick Benjamin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Paragon Ragtime Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1914 
7.
Down in Honky Tonky Town by Chris Smith
Conductor:  Rick Benjamin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Paragon Ragtime Orchestra
8.
Returned by Will Marion Cook
Conductor:  Rick Benjamin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Paragon Ragtime Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: USA 
9.
The Bell Hop Rag by Frederick Bryan
Conductor:  Rick Benjamin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Paragon Ragtime Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1914 
10.
Goodnight Angeline by James Reese Europe
Conductor:  Rick Benjamin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Paragon Ragtime Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1919 
11.
The Castle Walk by James Reese Europe
Conductor:  Rick Benjamin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Paragon Ragtime Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1914 
12.
Aunt Hagar's Children Blues by W.C. Handy
Conductor:  Rick Benjamin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Paragon Ragtime Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1921; USA 
13.
Valse Angelique by James Timothy Brymn
Conductor:  Rick Benjamin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Paragon Ragtime Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1913 
14.
At the Ball, That’s All by J. Leubrie Hill
Performer:  Anita Johnson (Soprano)
Conductor:  Rick Benjamin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Paragon Ragtime Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1913 
15.
In Dahomey: When the Moon Shines by James J. Vaughan
Performer:  Robert Mack (Tenor), Edward Pleasant (Baritone), Linda Thompson Williams (Voice)
Conductor:  Rick Benjamin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Paragon Ragtime Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1904 
16.
Oh, You Devil Rag by Ford Dabney
Conductor:  Rick Benjamin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Paragon Ragtime Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: USA 
17.
Breath of Autumn by Willie Dixon
Conductor:  Rick Benjamin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Paragon Ragtime Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1913 
18.
Pine Apple Rag by Scott Joplin
Conductor:  Rick Benjamin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Paragon Ragtime Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1908; USA 
19.
Fizz Water by Eubie Blake
Conductor:  Rick Benjamin
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Paragon Ragtime Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1914 

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