Thursday, October 20, 2016

Digging into Ed Issler, and directly imitating the black singers

Most collectors of the earliest commercial band recordings certainly have heard of Edward Issler, since his parlor orchestra led the business of recording small studio orchestras for the first five years of the 1890's. Issler was not only the best overall musicians of the earliest studio pianists, he was the best at knowing how to balance instruments and balancing time and energy when it came to making round after round. he is a largely forgotten figure, despite his obvious mark on the amount of records made from 1889 to 1895. Not much of anything was known on him for fifty or sixty years, not knowing how long he had been dead for, or anything else really. It took until just a few months ago for all the essential information on him to be at last found, I am still trying to correct all the bios and articles that speak of Issler with this new information. 

For decades, it was assumed that Issler died in 1900, or sometime shortly after that. Since no one could dig up anything on him after his recording career supposedly ended(I don't think it ended there), most had assumed that looking for him in public records and such was a dead end. How they were damn wrong!
 Issler probably remained at Columbia a little bit after 1900, since thinking of the Hylands logic, they wouldn't just drop him after just a year of working there! Since Issler was the most valuable studio musician at the time, and he wasn't nearly as busy outside of the studio as Hylands, and remember, there would have been at least two different rooms of music going on at any given time at Columbia. 

Issler's talents and musical excellence was not paralleled in any recording studio at that time. Banta couldn't have surpassed Issler's abilities even with all of Banta's natural talent and smarts. Something about Issler's musical upbringing gave him the superior abilities he had, of course, that remains unknown, since his musical background will perhaps never be known, and none of that unfortunately was dug up amid the new findings on him. It has been known for decades, and was reassured in census records, that he was a music teacher before he became a bandleader in the mid-1880's or so. His background other than that is forgotten, but he was certainly gifted. The one thing about his playing that sets him apart from all of the other piano accompaniment era(1889-1905) pianists is his fantastic sense of rhythm. His sense of time was always perfect, and fast or slowed when needed. His time was really remarkable, better than Banta's, Hylands'(most of the time), and all the other early studio pianists I've heard. His sense of Ragged time was not really the best, but you could tell that he was really trying it, and was all-right at it for a man who was more of a conservative Germanic man than Banta was. Issler was forcd to learn how to syncopate early on, when I say early, I mean the early 1890's. It is evident that by 1896, Issler had a good understanding of this newly popular syncopated music. This is very clearly heard on this record here:
This syncopation that he plays on this record is really fascinating, as it's of the early Rag-Time style, and since this was recorded in 1896, that really gets the point across, and that it's IMPROVISED, ever more illustrates Issler's genius. 

This also gets the point I harshly argue about Rag-Time officially beginning as a craze in 1896, and hearing the same syncopation that was in Rag medleys from the year after really says something about what Max Hoffmann called "The present day fad". It seems that "fad" had begun in 1896 and spilled over into 1897. Issler had caught the bug, not bit as many times as Hylands or Burt Green, but had a little of it in him by 1896 and 1897. 

To listen to more of Issler's great records, we have come to the conclusion that he is on that infamous early 1897 Columbia of "Uncle Jefferson"by Billy Golden. You can hear that here:
It's still unclear whether it's young Fred Hylands or Issler on this record, but in this case, it's more likely Issler. The syncopation on much of this record also mirrors the other records where he's improvising syncopated melodies. An unexpectedly good example of Issler's semi-Ragtime playing can be heard on George W. Johnson's famous 1891 Edison of "The Whistling Coon".You can hear that historic cylinder here:
Other than it being the first record Johnson made, it's a very early example of Issler's pre-Ragtime playing. It's not syncopated very clearly, it would take a few very close listens to catch the syncopated playing in the accompaniment, as well as the very timely left hand rhythmic patterns. A clearer section of syncopation can be heard in the piano at 1:19-1:20, and that's one of the clearer things on this record behind Johnson's piercing whistling. Issler's playing on this unexpectedly "ragged" recording is very fitting with Johnson's very clearly syncopated whistling melodies. 

*It MUST be noted how syncopated and ragged Johnson's singing on this cylinder is, and it's not even "victorian" syncopation which isn't really ragged rhythmically, it just sounds like it is. Johnson's rhythm was very good, considering all of the rushy pianists he had behind him(not counting Issler), and this cylinder exemplifies that. His whistling is particularly syncopated, and needs, therefore, to be noted by Rag-Time scholars.*

I really mean it about Johnson's 1891 Edison of "The Whistling Coon", it's not only historic for what it is, but it's also a great example of pure and clear "Negro Dance" era(c.1886-1895) syncopation, or just simply, pre-Ragtime. This is essentially what pre-Rags sounded like before Ben Harney, Ned Wayburn, or Ernest Hogan came on the scene.

Now to somewhat tie the second section of this post to the end of the previous one, the second part of the post title is a subject often debated hotly among us record collectors and music historians. But with this, I have come across a fascinating comparison to address this controversial matter. After going through the Lost Sounds book once more yesterday, other than just going through the Johnson trial once more, I read over the relatively short section on Cousins and DeMoss, who were a fantastic black vaudeville duo much like Williams and Walker, but kept a more traditional style of black hymns, general music and instrumentation. Their two known records are among the best examples of traditional black American music. The particular record of theirs that I will address here in this touchy comparison is their fantastic Berliner no. 3012, "Who Broke the Lock", recorded in 1898. 
Here's the record:
skip to 1:12:40 for this transfer
It is one of the most danceable 1890's records I have ever heard, hands down, and it really sets the scene of a black dance floor better than anything the white orchestras tried to illustrate. It's a fantastic record all around, with a strange combination of a guitar and banjo, you can't go wrong. 

Now that you've heard that, compare that with the closing song of this Len Spencer creation from 1901:
It's very strange to compare these two records. 
Something tells me, though, that Spencer and Hylands probably set down and listened to Berliner 3012 at some point before this was recorded, also since Berliner recording this group must have caused a little stir among the Columbia clan. Spencer would have heard either way, since he was Johnson's advocate, any news of new black artists would have gotten to Spencer quick for sure. 
(a cartoon I did of Spencer in minstrel attire)
Thinking of Spencer, he probably spent time to listen to the two records Cousins and DeMoss recorded, and tried his best at imitating their fantastic and wholly authentic style, even if the 1901 minstrel record is not nearly as syncopated and authentic as the original 1898 recording. He would have at least listened to the record and mimicked them as best he could, he and Hylands seem the most likely to have done this. 

It's almost not a fair comparison, but it's very interesting that Spencer specifically chose "Who Broke the Lock"(or "Who Built the Ark", which sounds like a Spencer alteration anyway), is very suspicious, as it's a pretty unusual song for one of those minstrel records of his. Most of the songs he used were old favourites like "The Old log Cabin" or were more modern major hits like "Hello My Baby", not really more obscure tunes like the one on the 1901 recording. It must have been because of the Cousins and DeMoss recordings, if not, I'm not sure where else he would have gotten it from. It must be noted that Spencer used this tune on earlier versions of the same selection, such as their 1899 take(without Spencer for some reason...):

This is truly a fascinating comparison to make, and theory to consider, since it really is just another example of many of the white singers imitating the black ones because of how good the black performers were with the songs. This seems to be part of Spencer's strangely backward means of advocating for recording authentic black music, even if he had nothing to do with Berliner recording Cousins and DeMoss. If he had anything to do with recording Cousins and DeMoss(which he probably didn't) I would give him more credit for being more enlightened as far as race relations go. As far as everything that he did in his "advocacy", his grade in this matter would be a solid C. 

Hope you enjoyed this! 

Monday, October 17, 2016

Columbia as a workplace(1897-1904)

Despite the fact of Columbia's ledgers being long gone, we can piece together how complicated the building picture above was as a workplace for the talent, electricians, attorneys, laborers and everyone else. After a long discussion on this topic yesterday, it made me realise that Columbia was a larger operation than just the recording, even though it could be thought of that way beforehand. Columbia's 27th and Broadway headquarters were the center of the action for the staff in the late-1890's, it was where all the recording was done, exhibitions given, and primary store for record sales. The building seen in the image above was purchased by the Columbia management in 1896, and began operation in the first two months of 1897, a page from the July, 1897 issue of The Phonoscope wrote a very detailed description of the building seen above:
(it's the first article in the edition!)
The building was certainly one of the brightest things on Broadway, and every description of the ground floor parlor never fails to describe those electric lights. In the section above, it is said that there were seven hundred incandescent lights. Seven hundred! Damn! Seven hundred chances to start a beastly fire is what that is! I'm sure it happened at least a few times, like those times when Len Spencer thought he could go an fix something simple, but it turns into a big problem. Remember this here, that was referred to many times later by the Columbia staff as an ongoing joke:
Indeed so, thinking of Spencer, he probably would have offered to try to fix more things like this, even after the piano practically screamed at him not do it on his own, and got what he deserved in trying to do so. Maybe piano tuning, light bulb changing, and running the pantograph machines in the basement. Other dangerous things like that seemed something he would try just because he could. If they didn't have one of the younger boys working there go to change the lightbulbs or clean the windows, one of the more ambitious Columbia clan members would go to it, like Len Spencer or Russell Hunting, or maybe even Victor Emerson. Remember that this was the 1890's so there would be little kids(little boys) running around the studio rooms to do small practical jobs, like cleaning the windows, carrying around crates of cylinders, going to fetch things from wherever to bring to wherever, and cleaning up the studios, such as the supposed gilt mirrors they had in the exhibition parlor(that's stereotypical Victorian alright!). It is clear that they had electricians there, and since there was such a terrible mess of electrical there, they most certainly had more than one, other than Frank Capps. One thing that I wonder if they had there in parlor was the supposed fad of multicoloured light bulb displays. 

It has been said that many phonograph parlors had light bulb displays that weren't just yellow-ish or white, but were red, blue, green, violet, any colours that could be dyed into glass. Maybe every once in a while when exhibitions were held at Columbia, they changed out come of the light bulbs for red or blue ones, or something wild and somewhat psychedelic like that. If they ever did that, it certainly would have made it more of a spectacle than it already was.We know what those exhibitions were like, and the great picture I've used countless times explains it better than any descriptions I've found:
The recent finding of the three electric fans makes this picture even better. Just to refresh, I am going to attempt to point them out in this picture: one is at the very top of the rack to left of the column that cuts it almost in half, another is on the shelf just below it, immediately to the left of the column, and the third one is set on the piano platform just behind whoever's elbow that is standing next to AtLee in the center. You may notice that the fans were running when the picture was taken, as they're a bit blurry, and that adds a sense of charm to it that makes the picture seem ever more less staged than every other studio picture.

A few studio stars and workers kept their mail at the building, and that was probably stored in the basement of the building, or maybe on the top floor where all the recording rooms were, either place would have worked. The recording rooms were always said to have had music going on, with some kind of activity constantly going, and people always moving from room to room, up and down the stairs, and back and forth through the halls. It seemed there was always something brewing, and gossip and stories being thrown around at every corner. The season of exhibitions in 1898 however must have especially been this way, since so much planning and organization went into hosting these exhibitions.  This is exactly why The Phonoscope is such an interesting and rare look into Columbia's studio gossip and inner workings, in a way that having ledgers wouldn't, and this can be proven by going through Victor's very complete and well-preserved ledgers. 

I have gone on rants before about Columbia's studios at different times of the year, and with knowing the electric fan feuds, it brings a better sense of what it was like to work there in the summer. They could have had more than three though, that would have been really helpful and would have diminished the amount of fights that ensued from these. At least one in every room would have done the best, though I'm certain that Emerson's and Easton's offices had all the luxuries the studios upstairs didn't. Of course, times in the winter there wouldn't have been any better, after they sent one of the young worker boys down to the basement in the morning to light up the furnace, and  get the radiators running, even if that could have caused some racket, they probably didn't have them in the recording rooms, and since they were on the top floor, it would stay warmer up there, maybe. The studio at 1155 Broadway became a place for many famous people to make appearances, as indicated in a few sections from The Phonoscope, though it was stated that this was more so when exhibitions were held, which makes more sense in that matter. 

One thing that was mentioned a few times in later editions of you know what, was a comical section about how the studio stars would show up in paydays all dressed up, standing on the corner, lined up to "carry off the coin" as stated in the November edition. It must have been a real spectacle to see them all lined up, dressed like dandies and swells, all smiling to take home their hundreds of dollars for their weeks' or so pay. Wonder if this was so in every salary day? How that would have been great to witness at a distance, probably sitting there on the corner of the other street for hours drawing as much as I could! 

Now for some music! 

These newly slowed down transfers are continuing to come along, with fantastic ways to finally hear these records made at the studio pictures above, and in others that were of a different name, such as Edison and Zon-O-phone. The new transfers for this post are two records recorded in 1898, one is by J.W. Myers:
and the other is by everyone's favourite "temperant" Dan W. Quinn!

The first record to be exhibited(ha! inside joke!) is a fantastic take of a rather boring but pretty Victorian song. Many of these old Victorian songs could be described that way, unless they're Will O'the Wisp or Captain Jinks, heh, both of which Myers recorded incidentally! 
Anyhow, here's his fantastic and beautiful, newly slowed down 1898 recording of "Alice, Where Art Thou":
We can clearly hear that big long room they recorded this in, and the tone of the piano. I have explained before why I really like pianos to sound like the one on the cylinder just above, not just because old pianos generally sounds like that, but also because it actually has to do with how pianos were made in that time. With that old design, it made them sound more like guitars than a modern piano as we know it, and the sound of the piano in the record above exemplifies this fact. It's Columbia's old crappy piano, the one that was flipped over by Len Spencer in 1897, still sounding as aged and Victorian as ever, yet very pure, earthy, and dark. That's how Victorian pianos were supposed to sound, dark and "wirey", yet very pleasing to only certain ears. Many modern Rag-Time pianists don't realise this, they only think of it as an inaccurate stereotype, and many Scott Joplin freaks think that Joplin wouldn't have settled for a piano that sounded like the one on the cylinder above, but he probably hadn't a choice but to play a piano that sounded like so, since pianos generally sounded like that! 

Ha! take that neo-Classical Joplin freaks! 

Sorry, do excuse that. 
The second record to be listened to is a fantastic piece of 1898 Rag-Time by Dan Quinn, and it's one that many people didn't know had lyrics, here's Quinn's 1898 Columbia of "At a Georgia Campmeeting" newly slowed down:

It sounds amazing now, and all of Hylands' syncopation is very loud and clear, with all the typical yet atypical rhythmic stylings he had. This one particularly captures the syncopation better than most brown waxes he's on I've heard, and really captures the genius of Hylands' Rag style, that was very unique. His playing is so well captured on this record, that this transfer can be used as a reference in trying to identify his playing on other records from later on. It's very representative, and catches most of his distinctions, except for the walking octaves, which was an important aspect to his style. 

Keep yer ear-tubes runnin' out thar!

Hope you enjoyed this! 

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Exceptional and awful takes

For the seminar on Fred Hylands I will be giving in a little over a month, I have to pick two records that exhibit two sides of Hylands' studio playing. One is to be a very good take, and another is the worst of the worst we know of. The good take will be decided later, as that will be harder to choose than the bad takes. Last evening, I listened to many of the bad takes I know of, which just happened to be all from pre-1900, even though I have heard some bad takes from after then. Some of Hylands' bad takes are hard to believe that they were issued, with mistakes that are unbelievable. Of course, the bad takes are just as interesting as the good takes, in fact they are more so sometimes, because the mistakes are unexpected. The first record that Ryan Wishner and I discussed as far as the bad takes go is one by Steve Porter:
Steve Porter---Columbia's richest gambler

After taking a few listens to a few records by Porter, it seems that he wasn't really a very good singer early on, in fact, he was worse than Dan Quinn was, which is really saying something. Porter was really only integrated into the "Columbia Clan" because he was rich, and he had befriended Russell Hunting before everyone else did(in 1895 in fact). His massive wealth did him well at Columbia, and it earned him a job singing for their Graphophones in 1897, even if he wasn't a very good singer. He always had weekends playing golf or sailing in his yacht to look forward to after singing so much in the studio during the week(this actually stated in an edition of The Phonoscope). The record by Porter than was suggested for the bad takes to choose was an 1899 take of "In the Baggage Coach Ahead". 
Here's the take:
It's not a very good take as far as Hylands piano accompaniments go...
The piano playing is really scattered and rushed, much like most of the bad takes I know of. Much like Hylands usually did, if he was out-of-sync with a singer, he was ahead of them most of the time, and this Porter record does indeed exhibit that, but it's not clear enough to prove the point with a bad take. It's pretty awful regardless. Another bad take by Porter and Hylands is their 1901 recording of "Carrie Nation in Kansas". It's hilarious, but the piano playing is very weird and full of mistakes, such as Hylands' signature triplet thing at 38 seconds in. Hylands' rhythm is not the best either, it's pretty steady, but gets out of sync with Porter's singing at some points. Also! Listen to the sketch at the very end, which sounds much like those crazy Spam-war(Spanish-American war) 1898 descriptive selections by the Columbia orchestra(such as this fun one here!).

Who's that howling back there?

Damn! Who is that?! That's sure as hell some howl! It's more prominent than all of the ones on the Columbia orchestra descriptive selections about field battles. I can't tell if the howl comes from piano distance, but it sounds like it does. Hmm... ... ... Maybe that's a clue... ... ... 

Yes, all of the bad takes in terms of piano accompaniment are more likely than not recorded when Hylands or the featured singer was intoxicated. Of course, it would have to be just that, and the types of wild playing vary in fact, there's the anxious and very quick playing, and there's the scattered and weird slower playing like on the 1901 Porter cylinder above. Maybe those two different types of playing mean different influences...

The possibly white-ish powdered influence on Hylands can be heard on records like this one: 
(skip to just over a minute in for the record to finally start...)

The playing I mean here is the solo at the end primarily. It's quick, rushed, and scattered. It's very hard to keep up with when attempting to play the solo by ear, which is exactly what I'm getting at. I have heard this type of solo from Hylands a few times, one is from a disc of "Bye Bye my Honey" by Billy Golden, and another is from a 1903 recording of "The whistling Coon" by Billy Murray, as well as a 1902 Murray recording of "Has anybody Seen our Cat"(this is a newly slowed down transfer by the way!). 

These two in the links above are not really bad takes necessarily, but they're strange enough for to take notice. When I say bad takes, I mean records like these:

These bad takes are either bad on the piano players' part, the singer's, or both. Now when I say good takes, I mean these:

Len Spencer's 1899 Columbia concert of "Warmest Baby in the Bunch"
(can't share the link, sorry...)

It must be noted that the last cylinder listed here is a newly-posted record on Youtube, that was posted just to-day, and turned out to be among the best examples of Rag-Time on early Columbia records. All of the 1903 to 1905 Columbia's Roberts made with piano accompaniment sound like that record, with pristine and top-liner Rag-Time piano behind him. I hope I have made it clear that it's hard to choose just one record of these good and bad takes, though as far as the bad takes go, Johnson's "Whistling Girl" is especially so compared to the others listed, so does Spencer's "On Emancipation Day". Those two exhibit a mix of all the bad things about Hylands' playing when it wasn't at its best. On the other end, the good takes are more hard pressed when trying to pick one that is better than the others. The first one listed(that isn't a link) is one that can be considered a good and bad take, as it's a fantastic example of late-1890's Rag-Time, but Spencer's singing on it is particularly awful. The piano playing is weird and scattered, to make matters better, which is certainly Hylands by all means. 

With this dilemma, I would like ideas from other collectors on this, choosing one good take and a bad take, please drop your ideas in the comments on this post! 

As Hylands once advertised:
All mail cheerfully accepted!

Hope you enjoyed this! 

Saturday, October 8, 2016

analysis of the Johnson Trial, and inspiration from Hylands

The first part of the title seen just above is a subject that remains very dear to my psychological studies of these "show-biz" figures mentioned on this blog. The reason it is not only a great case study for the terms and morals of these performers, but how they operated when a sort of crisis befell them. It was so unexpected that it was expected when it came upon the Columbia staff, as Victor Emerson hadn't really been involved in any of the previous court battles of record companies(save for the fall of the U. S. Phonograph company in 1897, he was part of that somewhat). Emerson was the one who worried the most about this sort of thing, and the first time that Johnson got into trouble in 1898, it put everyone on the edge of the cliff for a brief moment, then when he was released from the courtroom innocent, everything and everyone went back to normal. The amount of trouble Emerson went through to create a fund for Johnson's defense ought to make anyone confused, as it was in this very era that concepts such as the "White-man's burden" became an important social implication in politics and in general knowledge. It remains very strange and backward that they all supported and valued Johnson so highly, seemingly forgetting their ingrained perspectives on race hierarchy. 

Of course, the strange fact that Johnson was convicted of killing a white woman the first time around(in 1898) didn't really effect the Columbia staff as much doesn't match morally(to the time period). The second time around(the murder trial), he was convicted of killing a supposed "mixed" woman, or Creole, as the existing evidence indicates. This would logically not be as important to the entirely white Columbia staff, though it seemed to hit them harder, in some way, that I cannot well understand, even by putting myself in their mindset. Yes, it is clear that the principal motivation for this contradicting support for his defense, would be money an profits, without doubt, that was what made Emerson, Fred Hylands, and Len Spencer scramble to begin this $2,000 fund for Johnson's defense. According to all the available sources, most of the money came from Columbia record exhibitors, as well as Columbia staff members. 

What must be noted here is that Johnson worked for Edison as well when this trial came along, and the Edison staff did nothing as this went by, as there's no way in hell that these companies would join together in this endeavor. They sat back and waited for Columbia's law department to take care of Johnson. 

None of these social implications seemed to matter when it was their only black man at stake. 
Everything was thrown out the window for the Johnson trial: all the disgruntled attitudes from having Johnson there, the previous mistakes he made, inequity from Johnson's race... it all went away until the trial was over and he was acquitted. One thing that I think I mentioned before in my Rollin Wooster post was about how in the years after being Hylands' lawyer and silent publishing partner, he became a Baptist preacher, probably out of the flaming guilt he had about advocating for Hylands, and for anything else sleazy he had done as a lawyer in the 1890's, which we know is quite a lot having stereotypes of lawyers being true. He must have believed his money was going to the wrong place as a lawyer, as it is clear that the man had money to burn before even becoming associated with the publishing firm with Len Spencer. For Hylands' next publishing endeavor of 1902, he must have gone to Wooster once more, asking if he would retake the place of legal advisor, but of course, he refused, then going through his transformation rather from an opportunist lawyer to a Baptist preacher. Rollin probably just scowled at Fred, and refused plainly, as it was obvious why he wouldn't join one of his ventures once more. We know that that publishing firm didn't last nearly as long as the previous one, primarily from his lack of donors and economic benefactors. 

Since everyone at Columbia was so focused on Hylands Spencer and Yeager, someone probably had to give them the news that this had happened, and it set everyone scrambling to come to solutions. Fred threw in some money to the defense fund, and attached Rollin Wooster to the money as one of Columbia's attorneys. It seems that Wooster had nothing to do whatsoever with Columbia before Hylands snatched him out of the Law department that the worked in at the time. Of course, much like the reason that Hylands took in Burt Green, Wooster was not only very smart and well-educated(remember in the last post I did on him, that he was a Yale Law Graduate), but was able to manage capital more effectively than Hylands. 

After reviewing the case for the hundredth time from Tim Brooks' Lost Sounds , Wooster is not mentioned at all as being associated with Fred Hylands and Len Spenccer, though it must be noted in such a strange matter as this. The fact that none of Johnson's fellow recording stars not testifying in the courtroom is of course one of the most suspicious of these factors that went into the presentation of the defense. Someone like Len Spencer could easily have testified, and told a great lie of how Johnson would have never done anything to hurt anyone, even though Johnson probably did nothing wrong to Spencer. 

Like I have said before, I still stand on the idea that Johnson did murder his common-law wife. Regardless of what anyone says about the matter, even the hard evidence of the court transcript won't convince me. 

Anyhow, enough moral talk, time for some music! 
This week one of those prominent record collectors posted a handful of records on Youtube this week, with one in particular that caught my ears. He posted a 1902 Moulded Edison cylinder of "Whistling Rufus" by Dan Quinn with Banta. 
It be about time to mention this great pianist and man once more. 
I was digging around on the Santa Barbara cylinder website a few days ago, and stumbled across two 1898 cylinders by Cal Stewart with Frank Banta. 
The first one is a very different take of George W. Johnson's famous "Laughing Coon", but Stewart took his own spin on it with this. At  the end of the record, there's 20 seconds of Banta playing a very interesting and well-structured solo, here you go:
Banta's solo at the end is very proper as far as Rag-Time goes, even though it can still be classified as such. The one thing that is really surprising about the quality of this record is how well-recorded the piano was, as well as the tone of the piano. Banta's solos between the chorus and verse is really interesting, though ht misses it the last time around, which is kind of funny, since we're not used to Banta playing such a prominent and clear mistake behind anyone. 

This next one is a similar story, with exactly the same format and sequencing as the last one, with the 20 second solo at the end just like the last one. This is also a Johnson specialty sung by Cal Stewart:
Banta is playing very proper and politely on these two records, even though he's throwing in those raucous fifths that don't seem to go with the very polite playing in the solos, but that's how Banta played. Of course we've heard him play much less so on records like this one here. 

This record I mentioned a little above that this record collector posted on Youtube is a strange version of "Whistling Rufus" by Dan Quinn with Banta, but there's something about the piano playing that kicks up some suspicion in comparison with another version of the same song. 
Here's the newly posted Quinn and Banta version:
The walking octaves. 
That's weird! 
That right there proves that Banta at least heard Hylands play, whether in person or on records, it proves my theory that once Hylands began working at Columbia, the Edison people took notice and forced Banta to listen to the new hot pianist at the competitor company. Just to get this point across further, here's Spencer and Hylands' 1899 version of the same song: to 6 minutes in for the music to start)
Of course, this version is just Hylands doing what he usually did behind Spencer amplified and added onto, with all the walking octaves a Rag-time pianist could handle. This version still remains one of the best Hylands Rag-Time examples out there, though I have heard better, but I cannot share the links on here. The best examples of course of Hylands playing Rag-Time is all on records with Spencer(go figure...), and my still relatively new acquisition of "On Emancipation Day" by them is no exception. All of these notions are things that I must take notes of in my Hylands seminar in November, since he is making to be more of an inspiration to other pianists than previously thought. 

To take this inspiration to another level, the great and hilarious black Vaudevillian Pete Hampton worked for Edison Bell and Nicole records in pre-1905 out in England, and with that, he worked with managers who worked often with Hylands before 1900. These managers were Steve Porter and Russell Hunting, and they seemed to be the best of luck for Hampton's studio pianists at these companies. Since Hampton recorded many fun "Coon" songs for these companies, the piano accompaniment on all of these is absolutely amazing for being British records! Charlie Judkins sent me a handful of these records this morning, and the ones that had piano accompaniment on them were exceptional! Two examples in particular were a record of "Bill Bailey" and one of "Any Rags", which were, first of all, recorded better than any American records from that time I have ever heard, in terms of piano accompaniment. I can hear every bass note, every trill, every syncopated note, it's all clear as a bell. It sounds like Steve Porter played recordings for the supposed pianist named Arthur Brooks that were by either Arthur Collins, or Len Spencer, with Hylands playing piano. That makes me assume that Brooks had amazing abilities in playing by ear, as he catches all of Hylands' characteristics better than anyone I have ever heard back then on records and even in Rag-Time communities now. If I didn't know any better, I'd've thought Hylands was playing piano! Porter and Hunting sure as hell kept something with them when they went overseas.

 I wonder if word got back to Hylands that Porter and Hunting were doing this...

Before the end of this post, I would like to share another newly slowed down transfer from this week. This time, it's a great original take of "The Laughing Coon" by George W. Johnson from 1898. The take in itself without any changes made has been used on this blog, but it always seemed too fast, so here's the newly fixed transfer:
Not all the piano playing can be heard, but it's better than it was. 
The solo at the end that Hylands plays is still a mess, even though when it's slower, it sounds better and fathomable. The tone of the piano can be heard better this time around, which is great, because it still sounds like that 1898-99 piano at Columbia, so that's reassuring to some extent. This record remains a good example of Hylands not playing his best, possibly from being somewhat intoxicated(that's always fun to hear!). Johnson is probably as such as well if you're really listening closely. 

Hope you enjoyed this! 

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Sallie Stembler and other thoughts and theories

This lovely lady was one of Fred Hylands' women pictured on many of his sheet music covers in 1899 and 1900. Amid her time within the affairs of Fred Hylands and Len Spencer, she was highly praised in a few sections in The Phonoscope, stating that she introduced a few of Hylands' relatively few publications. In fact, the image just above of her came from one of these music covers. To make matters more interesting, this lovely lady left the Hylands affairs and remained in show business for ten years before deciding to make records. It is unclear if Hylands perhaps dropped the idea of her making records when she was affiliated with him, but it probably happened at some point and was refused. She made a few records for Edison ten years after this endeavor, and still sounded like one of Fred's lady friends. What I'm trying to say is that she sounded like someone that Fred would have really approved of as far as lady singers go. With her great talent, it's unfortunate that she didn't make more records, as she would have been a fantastic edition to the Columbia staff back in the late 1890's. She actually might have been and Ada Jones type before Jones created a sort of monopoly among the early lady singers in the studio. Enough bluffing, here's one of her records:
She is genuinely the more fun and upbeat than many of these early studio ladies, even a bit more so than Ada Jones in some respects(who was also a cover-girl for Hylands' music at the same time). She's no May Irwin, but she's got a playful essence in her voice similar to Marie Dressler, who was another fantastic lady of this era, and my favourite as far as the Rag singers go. Just for your information, Dressler was in a fantastically funny silent film with Charlie Chaplin in 1914, of which you have to see if you haven't already! 
That's her in c.1909. Just a fantastic picture in all aspects. 
Speaking of Dressler, just for fun, here's my favourite of her records:
(that other voice at the sketch in the middle of the record is Ed Meeker by the way)

With all of this, we can assume that Fred's wife Marie probably sounded similar to Sallie Stembler or Dressler, since it seems that he preferred the talents of ladies who could sing hilarious and raucous Rag-Time songs, as they all were in the late-1890's(also going into this category are songs like the one listed above by Sallie Stembler). Marie Dressler and May Irwin were the best of the best when it comes to the early female singers of Rag-Time. 

Speaking of these lovely Rag-Time ladies, these last few days have been eventful in my dealings with the kind great nieces of Fred Hylands, in the area regarding Etta Hylands of course. I have explained in previous posts that Etta's children, particularly her oldest daughter Ethel, were popular stage attractions along with their mother. Etta seemed to have constantly been competing with Fred, as she was taking all of these pit orchestra jobs at the same times that Fred was, but at other times was working in the same business with him, in the same publishing firm or union in fact. She also ran her own pit orchestra playing for silent films at the same time that Fred was accompanying silent films(which was in 1909). Even with all of this obvious competition, it seemed Fred remained more popular in show-business than Etta for the most part, and that is what the kind descendants of Fred and Etta claimed upon asking them. The doings that went along within the past few days involved a few images and newspaper clippings being sent to me through them. They all had to do with Etta of course, but that is just as interesting on anything regarding Fred, since there's less known about her, and the more I learn, the more revolutionary and independent of a lady she becomes. She seems to have been rather progressive for her time, which is always welcome in my studies! 
Her daughter "Baby Ethel" as she was called on the stage, was the most popular of Etta's children, since she was a talented young mimic and singer, seeming like a Shirley Temple type in many ways, in fact she even had that essence about her! 
Here is one of the priceless images of her the descendants shared with me:
I had told my friend Charlie Judkins of this image, and he stated that she looked a little like her uncle:
Hmm. I kind of see it. Charlie specifically stated that she had his nose, which is kind of true, and made me laugh. The point is that she did  look like Fred an awful lot, and that gives me hints for future cartoons regarding Fred. Keep in mind that we still haven't dug up a really clear image of Fred, so all of the cartoons I have done of him are still my best guesses as to how he looked. The glasses are still there, that feud has passed, Fred wore glasses, no arguments. His glasses looked much like these here:
These Prince-Nez style spectacles were worn by most dandies of the 1890's including Fred Hylands for that matter(I'd classify him as a dandy in case you're wondering), and seemed a little less practical than the kind that George Schweinfest wore:
(Schweinfest in 1894)
I plan on getting a pair of these strange glasses that Hylands wore to use for comedic affect in my seminar regarding him in November. I will set them on only when reading a quote of Hylands' words, to create a more realistic atmosphere when it comes to his own words. 

Someone that I have been trying to dig up some information on lately has been Hylands' lyricist Will J. Hardman. Hylands had a slue of lyricist friends throughout his music writing career, beginning with Bill Hardman, and later J. Grant Gibson, and almost nothing on these mysterious men can be traced, especially Hardman. At least Gibson has been able to be tracked, and we know of why and how he became Fred's friend. Gibson was a behind-the-scenes man with Fred's musical productions in 1904 to 1907, and they had built a friendship further through the White Rats Union in 1905. Hardman remains interesting to Charlie Judkins and I solely for his true talent in writing lyrics for Fred's popular songs in his days publishing with Len Spencer. He wrote a few songs with Hylands in 1899 and 1900, which, according to the relatively small catalog they had as a firm, is quite a few. Most of the coon songs that Hylands wrote as a publisher at this time had the lyrics by Hardman, which is certainly something to get one suspicious. The partnership began with "You Don't Stop the World from Going 'Round", of Hylands' biggest success in terms of all the music he ever wrote(according to sheet music covers of his from the early 1910's), then three more popular and rare coon songs followed, many of which were advertised in The Phonoscope. With all of this, Hardman seems like an interesting character, since his lyrics were so masterfully executed accompanying Fred's strange and melodic music. It seems almost like Fred and Will were friends much like how Fred was with Spencer, except that they weren't studio partners. They seem like the pair of friends who would go out for a smoke after Fred's day in the studio was done, and amid their smoke plumes was where the song ideas were first composed. That's a funny thing to imagine, because it's not entirely inaccurate to tell the truth. It just seems suspicious that they wrote so many tunes together in such a short period of time, more than Fred wrote with Roger Harding, which is saying quite a lot. It seems Fred had many intertwining friendships during the time he was a publisher with Spencer, which makes the entire endeavor ever more interesting, and more complicated. 

*Once again, I cannot thank you enough Anna for the amazing images you shared with me! I hope for more in the future.*

Hope you enjoyed this! 

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Slowing down some records, and Zon-O-phone's Superior quality

My friend Ryan Wishner and I have been going through all of the transfers available of these records that were played at the wrong speeds, and with these, we have been changing the speed to sound right and according to singer's voices. So far, this endeavor has been going very well, and has opened my eyes(and ears) to what these records really sounded like, and debunks pretty much all the stereotypes and preconceptions people have about early acoustic recordings. I already assumed that these records sounded very loud and full, from a handful that I have heard(the ones I cannot share the links to), that sound like this, and they are just set on the machine and played, with no means of "fixing" or editing. 

Enough explanation, I must begin with these amazing new transfers.
This first one is perhaps one of the best-sounding brown waxes we have gone through so far after the slowing down, and revealed many assumed ideals I had about Hylands' playing before,that turned out to be true! 
To begin, here's the original transfer, played far too fast:

Far too fast, and quick to be normal, is what we had long assumed, as this one is a record I have wanted to hear slower for years. And here you go:

I could not get over how clear and full it sounded. Still can't. 
The one thing that really gives away that this is the right speed is the song and dance part at the end. It's at exactly the right tempo for a short dance part. Really try it out, get up and try to jump around to it a little, you'll realise that it's a perfect tempo for dancing. Also, the laughs in the background sound like they're piano distance, and I think we know what that means... it's probably Fred Hylands.
You can hear the room, the tone of the piano, and the distance at which the piano is, which is very uncommon for a brown wax cylinder. Also, for an added bonus, EVERY bass note can be heard, and this time I mean it, even if you're not very experienced in picking out bass notes on these records, you can hear them on this new transfer. 

This next one is by a singer I should probably mention more on this blog:
George J. Gaskin.
This is a record I have used for many reasons, most being the strange and important aspects of the piano accompaniment. It's one of those infamous coon songs that Gaskin recorded, that all the Columbia talent staff mocked him for. The piano accompaniment on this record is very folksy, in a way that Hylands' playing usually wasn't, which means that Rag-Time geeks should take note of this record. 
Here's the original transfer:
It sounded a bit fast according to Gaskin's voice, so this one wasn't really played too fast, but the piano sure sounded a whole lot different after it was slowed down. 
Here's the new transfer:
Hylands' playing on this sounds very folksy, with bluesy sounding grace notes, which I have heard him play before. Before I heard this new transfer, I didn't realise that Hylands was playing that strange bluesy thing that I had heard him play before, and finally, this revealed to be another example of this! This record turned out to be a better example of Rag-Time than previously thought, and also, it's in A flat, a key generally associated with early rags by black composers, which is even more interesting. 

This next one is by:
Dan Quinn once more! 
This record has been buried on the internet archive( for many years, and has been played far too many times at a very quick speed, far too much so in fact. This one required the most slowing down, and made the track much longer, longer than expected. Slowing down this one made the record just over thirty seconds longer. It made Quinn sound so much more natural, and it revealed the superior quality of early Zon-O-Phone records. I had assumed Zon-O-Phone records had better quality than all other disc record brands in the second half of the piano accompaniment era(1899-1905), but after slowing down this one, it really gets the point across. one thing that Zon-O-phone records did that other labels didn't was catch certain syllables that were spoken or sung. One common syllable that was most often not caught by records was the "sh", and this new transfer really caught it unusually well. 
Here's the original transfer:

And here's the three minute long fixed one, with all syllables and words intact:
Now that is what Dan W. Quinn sounded like. The new transfer of this really gives the best example of what Quinn really sounded like on records. I cannot get over how well the record caught the first lines of the song!

I must have been a silly sort of Josh
the fact that she's, a lot too fond of me
never out alone she'll let me stray--

This record really tests to the ability to catch certain syllables, as there's a lot of "s" and "sh" in the lyrics, so it really does do this. The fact that this record caught all of these rather well, as well as catching the piano accompaniment extremely well really gives a whole lot of merit to Zon-O-Phone records, more than previously thought. This record can be compared to this Zon-O-phone from the year before, where all of the same syllables are very clearly heard, especially the "sh". This is something that I will now consider when listening to a very clear Zon-O-Phone with piano accompaniment. 
The next one is also by Quinn, and it's one of more often used records on the internet, that has been used at the wrong speed for many years. Here's Quinn's 1894 cylinder of "And the Parrot Said" newly slowed down:
This cylinder sounded better quality wise than we could have expected, as we could hear the tone of the piano, and that the room this was recorded in was very small, though it sounded all-right. This record is also a great example of Fred Gaisberg's piano style, and you can hear it just as clear as the AtLee records from 1893 and early 1894. Other than that, there's not much to say about this new transfer, it's so much more fun to listen to now though. 

The recording that was on the Santa Barbara cylinder website of the Columbia orchestra playing Hylands' "The Darkey Volunteer" was played infamously fast, and prompted I, Charlie Judkins, and Ryan Wishner to learn the piece as we heard it on the transfer, even with the notion that it was played too fast. I had assumed that the record was originally played a half step too fast, but that seemed to be too quick yet, so it was slowed down even more to get to an even B flat to E flat, which made sense, though it sounded a bit slow. The tempo ended up being perfect, so I can't argue with that, and the arrangement seemed much more logical at that. Anyhow, here you go:

The arrangement can at last be understood, and sounds much better according to Hylands' tempo choices. It didn't make the record too much longer, which was pretty surprising, since there's a lot of music in the arrangement of this tune. It's surprising that Hylands was able to get as much of the piece on the record as they did. Wonder now if this was the key that Hylands intended the piece to be in?

Speaking of AtLee, we also got the chance to slow down the famous recording AtLee did with Fred Gaisberg in 1893, "Why Should I keep from Whistling". This was a record that I had not interpreted as being played too fast, but it made more sense after hearing it played slower, since it was in a more logical key once this was done. On the original transfer:
the key is A, which is a little weird, and awkward for us Rag-Time piano players, but on the new transfer, it's at an even A flat, which sounds very clear and pure, on the piano and AtLee's part in fact:
We can't understand the lyrics and better(don't think we ever will...), but now all of us early Rag-Time geeks and relearn the piece correctly, especially since the piano can be better heard. 

Now before I overwhelm you with even more transfers, I only want to share one more of these, but it's a real good one! It's that classic Hylands piece
Yes indeed.
(this is my copy of it by the way) 
The recording of it is Hylands and Spencer's famous April 1899 Berliner. Without further ado, here's the original transfer:
It's in a weird key that Spencer never sang in, and the piano playing is too fast to make out certain playing characteristics, so with all of that, here's the new transfer:
It's so much better, and the pianist can much better be distinguished. Spencer's voice also sounds very natural, more so than the original transfer. I still have yet to hear their original Columbia take, which is probably the best one they did of this tune, but this is just as good until I have the chance to hear it. 

There are many more records we fixed, including a few really early ones by Edward Favor and Gaskin, but I will save those for my next post, since it will make this one longer than it needs to be. There will be even more records fixed within the next few weeks, so many of these next posts will be on these records most likely. 

Hope you enjoyed this!