Notes and Editorial Reviews
The Whippoorwill Dance.
That Teasin’ Rag.
The Morocco Blues.
Double Fudge. Nappy Lee. J. J. J. Rag. Pekin Rag. Bouclaire Waltzes. Sweetie Dear Fox Trot. The Century March. Tango Two Step. Lovie Joe.
I am Waiting for You, Honey Dear.
Take Your Time.
Dat’s Ma Honey, Sho’s Yo’ Born.
He’s Coming Back!
An Afro-American Serenade
Rick Benjamin (pn),
cond; Bernadette Boerckel (sop);
Trevor Smith (ten);
Paragon Ragtime O
NEW WORLD 80649 (69:24)
A few decades back, the world rediscovered ragtime in the form of a gentle genius named Scott Joplin (1868–1917), but of course there were many other composer/performers working in the genre. One of the most versatile and successful was Joe Jordan (1882–1971). Born in Cincinnati, the young Jordan moved to St. Louis, where the new ragtime scene was buzzing. He played several instruments by ear, but wisely learned to read and write music (unlike the majority of his contemporaries). He spent three years at the Pekin Theater in Chicago, during which time he composed music and lyrics for a new musical comedy every two weeks, plus sundry minstrel and vaudeville shows, which he also orchestrated and conducted. He led the Pekin Café orchestra before and after the performances as well. Moving to New York, he wrote songs for stars like Fanny Brice. The booklet note tells of Brice (a Jewish girl from the Bronx) singing “Lovie Joe” in blackface—and giving several encores for the enthusiastic audience—while Jordan eavesdropped outside the theater which, as a black man, he was barred from entering. Jordan later provided the score for Orson Welles’s legendary black
, and worked organizing army bands during WW II. Rick Benjamin’s detailed, scholarly notes (to which I am indebted for all this information) are worth the price of the disc alone.
Most of the music on the disc comes from Jordan’s Chicago years (the early 1900s), and we can hear the familiar ragtime orchestrations: clarinet and trumpet in thirds, very active trombones doubling the bass line, and of course a dominant part for piano. Chicago ragtime, refined by Jordan, was livelier than the Missouri style epitomized by Joplin.
Jordan’s theatrical roots are evident in the songs, of which he wrote 600. While syncopation is always present, some of these ballads (such as
Take Your Time
) could be the work of contemporary theater composers like George M. Cohan. While several of the numbers are comic turns exhibiting, shall we say, a dated aesthetic (
Dat’s ma honey, sho’s yo’ born
), Jordan’s range included more serious, mainstream compositions (
) and even political songs:
He’s Coming Back!
(1912) is subtitled “Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose Song.”
For someone so active and prolific, Jordan did not have a significant recording career. Fortunately, the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra’s performances sound as authentic as you could wish (in up-to-date sound, of course). They are bouncy, joyous, and full of vaudevillian touches: the trombone slide gets quite a decent workout. Benjamin’s piano, which is featured solo on some tracks, is sensitive, yet swings when required. The vocalists are also up to scratch: Smith’s tenor would have wowed ’em a hundred years ago, and Boerckel, while perhaps no Fanny Brice, produces the slightly tremulous soprano we know from best-selling records of the leading ladies of yore. Speaking of old recordings, the disc concludes with two short extracts from an interview given by Jordan in 1962. All in all, an enjoyable and distinguished production.
FANFARE: Phillip Scott