School of Syncopation - Jazz, Stride, Novelties & the Like

Piano, Fortepiano and Harpsichord Music
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fhimpsl
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Re: School of Syncopation - Jazz, Stride, Novelties & the Like.

Post by fhimpsl » Mon May 17, 2010 7:33 pm

Hello Friends,
In the last few weeks we have had some very interesting discussions posted on the Syncopations thread, with topics ranging from ragtime to blues to stride and novelty piano! Luigi Ranalli has presented us with several extremely interesting historical overviews dealing with such subjects as the "Texas Ragtime" sound and the "New Orleans" sound. He has also posted examples of both sheet music and 78rpm recordings to illustrate differences in playing styles which existed in the early days of ragtime.

We have also discussed George W. Thomas; a composer who can rightfully lay claim to be the originator of "boogie woogie" piano. I would like to post the works of this important composer in the form of a series of piano roll recordings. Most all of these rolls are extremely rare, and represent the combined collecting efforts of acclaimed jazz researcher Mike Montgomery and myself from 1950 to the present day. Listening to these recordings will reveal George W. Thomas as a true "original" in the jazz world, with an eccentric and esoteric style which grew out of his early roots in Houston and New Orleans. Towards this end, I would like to begin by posting two of Thomas' best-known compositions: "The Rocks," and "The Fives."

About the rolls....Thomas was a self promoter who published his own original music, and paid to have piano rolls made by the Kimball Player Roll Co. of Chicago. These rolls are essentially highly orchestrated arrangements made from lead sheet scores, but most likely under the supervision of either Thomas himself or his pianistically gifted younger brother Hersal. They are in essence a cross between orchestrated, mechanical sounding piano rolls and true hand-played performances. Thomas sold these rolls (and sheet music as well) out of his own publishing house which he established in Chicago (mostly by mail order & advertising in Black newspapers and music trade journals). If one of his tunes gained sufficient popularity, it would be picked up by the recording companies and also other piano roll manufacturers, the most important of which were the QRS Company and United States Music Roll Co., all of which were Chicago-based. With QRS and US, J. Lawrence Cook was generally the artist used to arrange hand-played rolls of blues compositions. In all cases the earliest roll version (and that most directly linked to Thomas) is that issued on the Kimball label.

So here are the issued piano roll versions of "The Rocks" and "The Fives" by George W. Thomas....

All best,

Frank
Thomas - The Rocks - Kimball Roll 10287.mid
Thomas - The Rocks - USM pld by J.Lawrence Cook.mid
Thomas - The Rocks - QRS pld by J.Lawrence Cook.mid
Thomas - The Fives - Kimball 10222.mid
Thomas - The Fives - QRS pld by J.Lawrence Cook.mid
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benjamin75

Re: School of Syncopation - Jazz, Stride, Novelties & the Like.

Post by benjamin75 » Mon May 17, 2010 7:47 pm

Thank you so much, Frank!

benjamin75

Re: School of Syncopation - Jazz, Stride, Novelties & the Like.

Post by benjamin75 » Mon May 17, 2010 8:00 pm

May I ask you if you have more infos about QRS and US rolls numbers and dates, please?
There are incredible, and so close to the Thomas Waller/JPJ/Blythe blues-oriented soli recorded on piano rolls in the early 20's...

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Re: School of Syncopation - Jazz, Stride, Novelties & the Like.

Post by gigiranalli » Mon May 17, 2010 8:46 pm

Thanks SO MUCH, Frank!!! :D
These piano rolls are great! Especially the Kimball piano rolls!!! :)
fhimpsl wrote:About the rolls....Thomas was a self promoter who published his own original music, and paid to have piano rolls made by the Kimball Player Roll Co. of Chicago. These rolls are essentially highly orchestrated arrangements made from lead sheet scores, but most likely under the supervision of either Thomas himself or his pianistically gifted younger brother Hersal. They are in essence a cross between orchestrated, mechanical sounding piano rolls and true hand-played performances.
It's interesting to compare this fantastic Kimball Roll 10287 of "The Rocks" with the 1923 recording played by George W. Thomas himself that I posted some days ago, since they're so similar!!! And in both versions "That Rat Proof Rag" is included, also played in the same manner, with the exception that the piano roll also included the second strain!
Although they're orchestrated, Thomas' supervision is very evident and the roll is quite faithful to what George played! Invaluable!!! It's great to see the notes played in this roll (midi scans are so precious in this respect ;) ).
Same story for the Kimball piano roll of "The Fives", attributed to Hersal Thomas: of the rolls you posted, that's the only one I've heard before (in a Biograph disc) and I'm very happy that you included it, since there are additional strains and improvisations not present in the published sheet music!
Then it's fascinating to compare these two very authentic documents of Thomas' music with the modernized versions by J. Lawrence Cook, who made these other very personal arrangements (well, he almost re-composed the pieces...).
It would be funny to know what Cook may have thought about Thomas...in a letter he remembered Jelly Roll Morton as a sloppy hear pianist... :lol:
I bet he certainly preferred to work with the music of Fats Waller who was closer to his hear.
Anyway, although this kind of barrelhouse piano was confined to certain areas and didn't gain success, since the kind of boogie woogie that imposed itself in the late 1930s was quite a different kind of thing, with very sophisticated musicians like Ammons, Lewis, Johnson, who were quite different from pioneers like Speckled Red, George Thomas, Cow Cow Davenport or Clarence Lofton, it's just fantastic to see how this rough rural music really never died. It was still there in the late '50s and '60s, with Little Richard, Lloyd Price, etc...
I don't see so much difference between different genres like Ray Charles' "What'd I Say" and Charles Hunter's "Tickled To Death". And Lloyd Price was still singing "Stagger Lee", while Little Richard had a success with "Keep A Knockin'" (that's simply the "Long Lost Blues", once sung by Ben Harney).
Although confined to underworld for decades, it never really died and finally had moments of glory...
I'm really rambling now...
Thanks for these great piano rolls! I like to call this kind of music the "real thing", may that be ragtime, boogie woogie, jazz or blues.
Best
Luigi

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Re: School of Syncopation - Jazz, Stride, Novelties & the Like.

Post by fhimpsl » Mon May 17, 2010 9:11 pm

Hi Luigi and Benjamin,
I am very glad you are enjoying the George W. Thomas rolls, and share your thoughts and sentiments regarding them. :D In answer to Benjamin's question, I will try to include serial number and release information in future postings. The problem with roll release dates is that they don't correspond to the copyright dates necessarily. It was common practice to issue a tune on roll before having it copyrighted, just to see if it would sell. On the other hand, some tunes were published in sheet music form way before any piano rolls were issued. Roll catalogs are helpful, but Mike Montgomery found that the best way to estimate a roll release date was to study monthly issues of "The Music Trade Indicator" for new roll announcement information. Right now my data on copyright entry numbers is in storage and I can't easily access it, but I can provide you with serial numbers and in some cases release dates as well. From what was previously posted:

"The Rocks"
Kimball roll No. 10287 issued late 1922 based on extrapolated data from "The Music Trade Indicator" and roll catalogs
QRS Roll No. 2371 issued October 1923 based on roll label; played by J.Lawrence Cook
US Roll No. 41339 unknown issue date, probably late 1923; played by Eubie Jones (a JLC pseudonym) as per label, but the recording sounds a bit more like George W. Thomas' actual playing so he might be the true artist

"The Fives"
Kimball Roll No. 10222 issued April 1922 according to announcements in the 4/22 issue of "The Music Trade Indicator"
QRS Roll No. 2370 issued October 1923 based on roll label; played by J.Lawrence Cook

Luigi, many thanks for your insightful comments and also for remarking about the similarity of "The Rocks" on Kimball and the Okeh record played by Thomas under the Clay Custer pseudonym! The fact that the "Rat Proof Rag" melody is included in both recordings is pretty good evidence that George W. Thomas had a lot to say about how the Kimball rolls were arranged, even if they were not 100% hand played!

All best,

Frank

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Re: School of Syncopation - Jazz, Stride, Novelties & the Like.

Post by fhimpsl » Mon May 17, 2010 10:41 pm

Hello All,
Here are several more compositions by George W. Thomas as were originally issued on player piano rolls. These three pieces represent GWT's biggest hits in the music business. Clarence Williams remembered "New Orleans Hop Scop Blues" as the first published composition to incorporate a true boogie-woogie bass line. To this day Thomas' "Muscle Shoals Blues" is popular with traditional jazz bands and pianists.

Rollographical Information:

"New Orleans Hop Scop Blues"
Kimball Roll No. 10070; issued February 1921 according to the 2/21 issue of "The Music Trade Indicator"
Meloart Roll No. 700; issued 1923 as per roll label; played by "Lee" Jackson, a pseudonym for songwriter Woody Frisino who made the Meloart roll arrangements

"Muscle Shoals Blues"
Kimball Roll No. 10069; issued Febrary 1921 according to the 2/21 issue of MTI
QRS Roll No. 1888; Issued April 1922 according to roll label; played by James P. Johnson
US Roll No. 40258; unknown issue date, probably mid-1922; played by "Chet" Gordon, a pseudonym used by blues pianist Clarence Johnson

"Houston Blues"
Kimball Roll No. 10217; issued April 1922 according to the 4/22 issue of MTI
Capitol Nickelodeon Roll No. 2254, selection No. 8; unknown date of issue, probably 1923-24; played either by James Blythe or Clarence Johnson

Frank
Thomas - New Orleans Hop Scop Blues - Kimball 10070.mid
Thomas - New Orleans Hop Scop Blues - Meloart pb Lee Jackson.mid
Thomas - Muscle Shoals Blues - Kimball 10069.mid
Thomas - Muscle Shoals Blues - QRS 1888 pld by James P. Johnson.mid
Thomas - Muscle Shoals Blues - USM 40258 pld by Clarence Johnson.mid
Thomas - Houston Blues - Kimball 10217.mid
Thomas - Houston Blues - Capitol Nickelodeon Roll.mid
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Re: School of Syncopation - Jazz, Stride, Novelties & the Like.

Post by fhimpsl » Mon May 17, 2010 11:15 pm

An addendum to the first George W. Thomas piano rolls listing which I missed:

"The Fives"
Imperial Roll No. X5243; issue date 1923; played by Jack Clyde (chances are that Jack Clyde was a real person; it is also probable that J.Lawrence Cook used this name as a pseudonym sometimes)

Frank
Thomas - The Fives - Imperial X5243 pld by Jack Clyde.mid
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Re: School of Syncopation - Jazz, Stride, Novelties & the Like.

Post by fhimpsl » Tue May 18, 2010 12:01 am

Following are some of the earliest George W. Thomas compositions to appear on piano rolls. All of these date from Thomas' New Orleans days (ca. 1917-1920). It's difficult on these to place a definite release date other than that they are all prior to 1920.

Frank
Thomas - Be Careful, Mr. Strange Man - Wurlitzer 20243-8.mid
Thomas - Don't Say Nothing - Kimball 7040.mid
Thomas - I'm Goin' To That Jazz Ball - Connorized Custom 102A.mid
Thomas - Registration Day In The USA -Automatic A-401-10.mid
Thomas - Sweet Baby Doll - Connorized Custom 101A.mid
Thomas - Sweet Baby Doll - Automatic A-540-7.mid
Thomas - That Bull Frog Rag - Kimball 7203.mid
Thomas - That Rat Proof Rag - Wurly And FLH Arrs.mid
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Re: School of Syncopation - Jazz, Stride, Novelties & the Like.

Post by fhimpsl » Tue May 18, 2010 3:39 pm

George W. Thomas and the Saga of the National Piano Roll Company.
The National Piano Roll Company was a completely independent manufacturer of rolls for coin-operated nickelodeon pianos. They were located in Grand Rapids, Michigan (which isn't that far from Chicago). The National rolls were unique in that instead of multiple tune rolls, they issued each tune individually as a 1 or 2-tune roll. These rolls were held on a carousel type of apparatus in the piano which could rotate around and give the customer the opportunity to select whichever tune that was desired once the nickel was dropped into the slot. This feature did not exist on most pianos which used large multi=tune rolls. The problem with National rolls was their rewind system. Instead of a slow gear driven mechanism, the National rolls were re-wound after play using spring tension, and at a very high speed. As a result, very few Naional rolls exist today...many were shredded to pieces by the piano's rewind mechanism. The National rolls all have a very hand-played sound, although it is known that they did not possess roll recording equipment. It is believed that individual artists visited the shop and played their tunes, which were transcribed directly by drafting board musical technicians. A very difficult process, but there is no doubt that most of the National rolls were based on true hand-playing and are not arrangements from music scores.

Around 1922 George W. Thomas had a number of his tunes cut on National rolls. How many is not known; in fact nothing more is known about this GWT venture except for the rolls which were cut there. The few Thomas rolls which exist would date from the 1922-1924 most likely.

Perhaps the most important National roll discovery was made several years ago when I found a hand-played National roll of "Hersal Blues" played by GWT's younger brother Hersal Thomas. Sadly, Hersal was murdered while only in his teens. He managed to record one solo 78rpm for Okeh records, with "Hersal Blues" and "Suitcase Blues" on the flipside. Both tunes were composed and played by Hersal Thomas. It is interesting to compare the version of "Hersal Blues" on record with that on the National roll. Hersal Thomas was an incredibly talented pianist, with jazz ideas that were way before his time.

Here are the existing National coin-op rolls which have been discovered thus far (as far as I am aware):


Frank
Thomas - Block Avenue Blues - National Roll No. 8928.mid
Thomas - Boot It, Boy - National Roll No. 9060.mid
Thomas - Harbor Blues - National Roll No. Unknown.mid
Thomas, Hersal - Hersal Blues - National 8808.mid
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Re: School of Syncopation - Jazz, Stride, Novelties & the Like.

Post by fhimpsl » Tue May 18, 2010 5:30 pm

George W. Thomas' middle period (ca. 1922-25) includes the first credited hand played rolls by both George W. and his brother Hersal. The Kimball rolls issued during this period are particularly interesting, because frequently they contain original ragtime interludes. Several rolls have pieces of "That Rat Proof Rag" in the interlude section, but there are others where the original rag (portion) is completely unknown. All the serial number and issue date (as far as I know it) are summarized below:

Rollographical Information - GWT Middle Period Part 1

"Caldonia Blues"
Kimball Roll No. 10526; issue date 1924 from roll label
US Roll No. 42255; issue date October 1924 from ad in the "Music Trade Indicator" - played by the composer George W. Thomas
QRS Roll No. 2810; issue date September 1924 from roll label; played by Sid Laney (a pseudonym for J.Lawrence Cook)

"Feed That Mule"
Kimball Roll No. 10352; issue date 1923 from roll label; - this roll contains the last strain of "That Rat Proof Rag" as an interlude section

"Fish Tail Dance"
Kimball Roll No. 10592; issue date 1925 from roll label; roll contains interesting novelty licks

Frank
Thomas - Caldonia Blues - Kimball No. 10526.mid
Thomas - Caldonia Blues - USM 4225 pld by Composer.mid
Thomas - Caldonia Blues - QRS No. 2810.mid
Thomas - Feed That Mule - Kimball 10352.mid
Thomas- Fish Tail Dance - Kimball 10592.mid
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