Monday, February 20, 2017

A new Picture and quoting

Let's begin with a new image:
What a perfect image! Now that we've seen this amazing picture, let's get to identifying! 
I pretty much knew who everyone was when Charlie Judkins sent me the Ebay auction that this came from. Thankfully there was a picture also identifying everyone, to check my answers as to who they are! 
So close! Those damn Emerson's are always the hardest ones. 
It's only because I've only seen one of them(Victor). Oddly enough, I had guessed Georgie Emerson was a really young and handsome chap, assumed to be the best-looking of the Emerson boys, and what d'ya know! That was a complete wildcard guess, and it just happened to be true! At first glance, I thought Steve Porter was someone else(thought he was J. W. Myers...), because of that young and new mustache he's got. He looks very strange with facial hair, though he fits the "dandy" category even more than he regularly did. But one thing is for sure, we can now prove that one of the singers in that infernal pianist picture from 1897 IS Porter. Take a look:
That is certainly the same physique as Porter in the other picture. 

Now let's not kid ourselves, I really freaked out when I saw this new picture because of Spencer. Finally! A clear, full length image of Spencer. That's exactly what I needed. Spencer looks pretty much exactly as we would all expect him to look. Luckily, he's not hard to spot. Strangely enough, I drew a cartoon of Spencer last evening, and now that we've got comparison, I wasn't too far off! It's the strangest thing really, being able to educatedly guess the physique of a character and have drawn them many times, to only see fully what they looked like perhaps years after first learning of them. That's pretty much what happened with my cartoons of Spencer, and now they will be pristine in their accuracy! Now that I've seen this picture, I can actually picture Spencer making all those records.
Perfect. Now he can haunt me in my dreams.

Yep, it seems fitting now. Before seeing this image, I couldn't really set the strange face to the records, but now it's clear. This is going to make listening to Spencer records a whole lot more fun. He's just as much a dandy as expected, and how much of a stereotype is it to have Spencer right next to Ossman? That's almost to be expected of them. Never really thought that duo was the best, but maybe we're wrong. I have long assumed that Ossman's picky nature and short temper couldn't have gone over well with Spencer, but maybe they were the types that could go out for a drink after the studio day(like he and Hylands the year after this picture was taken). Speaking of that, this picture was taken in 1898, and the specific date can be seen in an edition of The Phonoscope, of which a section was published describing the exact event that this picture was taken. All the names were listed too, so that even better identifies everyone in the picture. This was a day where the leading Columbia talent(then where's Hylands?) went to the Berliner company to make some records, including unusual talent members like George Schweinfest and George Graham(!). 

How weird is it to see George Graham in another photo? Very much so. Going from completely mysterious and only one image, to a full-length image where he pretty much looks the same. Something so note, everyone looks pretty much how we've been told personality wise, as well as their appearance. Gaskin actually looks like he's relatively short, something a little unexpected, however, he certainly looks an Irish stereotype to the highest degree. Ossman, Spencer and Porter are dressed flashy, as expected. Gaskin is smoking, and so are Spencer and Ossman, but oddly enough, something about seeing Quinn with a cigar is a little unfitting. Everything about Hunting is fantastic, like every picture of him there is, even that funny-looking, slightly cockide tie and little jeweled drop on his chain. Schweinfest is pretty much exactly as we'd expect him to be, modest, squinting a little(no glasses though hmm...) with a somewhat serious face. Certainly looks the Issler orchestra member he was.
Looks like a guy you'd like to know. And he was!

He also looks a German stereotype, much like how Gaskin does with the Irish thing. It's also nice to really get an idea of height difference since that's really the hardest thing to perfect with my cartoons of these figures. Of course Spencer is the tallest, and Gaskin, Quinn, Schweinfest, and Clyde Emerson are the shorter ones, which is really helpful to see. It's actually great to see the height difference of Spencer and Ossman very clearly, since Ossman appears to be taller than some had previously thought. Ossman had lots of leg, and that's clear in the many images of him out there. This has been made clear by this image. Spencer had a long neck and lots hair, both of those things can be observed here(not really the hair thing, but kind of). 

Like most pictures of Quinn he looks a little awkward in this one, though that same smile he had in the 42 Edison artists picture is there. In fact, I think he even had the same hat in his hand. It looks like he has the same hat on in this new picture that he's holding in the 42 artists picture. Wow, that's strange. Victor Emerson doesn't look inviting at all, like he really was! The only Emerson here that's remotely welcoming is George, of course it doesn't help that he's the youngest one in the picture. He was surprisingly good-looking, almost on par with Fred Hager(Haga) respectfully. Georgie was practically a teenager when this image was taken(21-22). 

I could go on forever about this picture, since there's so much to take in. I will certainly be using that picture of Spencer very often though. It really does channel everything about him, including the slightly frightening eyes. Also the bit with George Emerson, since now we know what he looked like, and that he was the baby-faced young man, likely with red or blond hair. Soon I will have a better quality scan of this image to use more frequently. 






Now for some music quoting! 
An important part of the humor of the late-19th century is certainly knowing all the popular songs of the era. Something that was done as an indirect type of humor was quoting popular songs of the past and the present to continue a point or end a joke. This is something that musicians did all the time, and this is evident since the studio pianists were always doing this behind the singers. Something was know very well is that Hylands loved to quote other songs, and this is all over his written music. Just listen to his 1898 recording of "The Darkey Volunteer" with the Columbia orchestra:
There's quotes everywhere, and the second section is the main melody of "The Darkies' Dream", of which Ossman recorded with Hylands already by the time he wrote this piece. These are common quotes, ones that many pianists used in their pieces. How about more unusual ones? 
Take Denny's 1898 Columbia of "Time Is Money" for example, Hylands plays the piece straight throughout, until he plays that strange Rag-Time tag at the very end. This is no random improvisation of Hylands', he' quoting that popular Rag-Time song "Get Your money's Worth", which is really funny! Just to confirm this, here's his and Spencer's 1898 Columbia of it:
The melody in the chorus is exactly the same, just with Hylands playing it in that really ragged and slightly Les Copeland-like way. Oddly enough, that messy and scattered solo Hylands plays at the end of Denny's 1899 Columbia of "How'd You like to be the Iceman?" is actually a quote of "Get Your Money's Worth". Well, as messy as the cylinder gets at the solo part, I can still pick out that same melody. But to add to the unusual nature of quoting this song, we look to Denny's Edison of "How'd You Like to be the Iceman?":
(the transfer is played too fast, sorry about that...)
Banta also quotes "Get Your money's Worth" at the end! The way Banta took the melody and ran is really fantastic. That's essentially what he did with it on the Edison take. Hylands just made it weird in that way he did. 


Other strange Hylands quotes include these:

his not-so-great tag of "Telegraph My Baby" at the end of Johnson's "The Whistling Girl": https://archive.org/details/TheWhistlingGirl1898JohnsonandHylands

Playing "Mister Johnson, Turn me Loose" at the end of Johnson's "Laughing Song":
Now THAT  is ironic humor right there. Playing "Mister Johnson Turn me Loose" at the end of a George W. Johnson record. Wow Hylands...
(by the way, this is one of those great pantographed copies where you can actually hear the left hand chords Hylands plays)

and of course, playing "Mister Johnson" again behind Billy Golden in 1899:
(Banta did this too, playing it his way behind Golden in 1897)



Of course, with this humor being most of what he hear from Hylands, there are quotes that we cannot identify, such as what Hylands plays at the end of that infamous take of "The Laughing Song" by Johnson:
(it sounds like a quote, though it's likely an improvised tag of his)
This recording is still one of the best recordings of Hylands out there, and just general Rag-Time too. 

Another mystery quote is this end of one here:
Anyone know what it is? Everyone I've asked has no idea. But they do recognize it from somewhere, which means that it IS a quote, but we don't know of what. 
If you know what it is, PLEASE enter your input by commenting on this post! 






Well, that's all for to-day, hopefully I can get another post in before the Santa Cruz Rag-Time festival next weekend! Please continue to keep writing sections for the Our Tattler contest, the ones I have received so far have been great, and hope to receive more! 

*Congratulations on winning the picture Charlie! 


Hope you enjoyed this! 











Friday, February 17, 2017

The Our Tattler Contest

After looking over some of the gems from Our Tattler in The Phonoscope, an idea struck me. How about a contest? 

With this, the contest of a sort will be a time to write the best and funniest mock sections from Our Tattler. Anyone is welcome to write a comical section, but I must lay out a few rules:

No Smut(by 1890's standards and modern standards)

Keep to historical accuracy!(please!)

Not all sections have to be on early recording stars, but ones that do are preferred. 

Shorter sections are preferred, since the best ones from the original column were usually three to four sentences, or even shorter. 

I will(as well as a few friends) will choose the best ones to put into a blog post, and set them next to the old ones for comparison. 

To get you all started(please don't let this just pass by! This could really turn into something fantastic!), here are a bunch of the best sections from Our Tattler as well as General News:









PLEASE send in some of these mock sections, and do this by commenting on this blog post, I will choose the best ones that are submitted and compile them into a post on Our Tattler. Again, PLEASE participate! This really would be a fantastic piece of commentary from us collectors, and a good way to get out and share our inside jokes and humor in a creative way. 


Please send some of these mock sections in! Make them funny for everyone!









Sunday, February 12, 2017

Columbia's Jack of All Trades--Len Spencer

Well, it seems to be about the time to do a post on Len Spencer once more, especially since it's his 150th birthday! It would be hard to speak about the early recording business in general means without at least mentioning Len Spencer. You can't talk about the history of Columbia without mentioning Spencer, so he must be important. 

Talking about Spencer never gets old, since there's so much that goes into anything about him, and his personality seemed to never be dull. He was just like one of those supposed 800 electric lights that Columbia set up at their headquarters at 1155 Broadway, so bright and seemingly everlasting. 
Of course, there's not really a great account out there that best describes Spencer's character, but from the little bits we get here and there in The Phonoscope and in Theatrical magazines, we can piece together a fantastic personality. We could just begin with the way Spencer looked, since he was someone who couldn't be missed at Columbia, or anywhere for that matter. He was likely one of the tallest members of Columbia's staff, at about 6 foot 4, he made any recording session an adventure in balancing an setup. Also, how could you forget that crazy hair! His hair always seemed to look different, no matter what day it was, or what was in fashion(notice that his hair looked different in every photograph of him). Most often, he had to straighten his hair with irons it seemed, because oddly enough, his hair naturally appeared similar to that "Dandy Sandy" character he portrayed on all those recordings. By that, it is meant that his hair was a kinky, curly mess when it wasn't cared for. In burnt cork, you would barely notice if he was white, being that his bright green eyes only gave that away. Even most who came to the exhibitions were shocked to see that Spencer was white, thinking before that he was most certainly a black man, since his records were so convincing to most listeners. 

We know very well that he began working at Columbia by chance in 1888, when his father, Henry Caleb Spencer Sr., bought a phonograph to use as an office dictation device, and almost as soon as it was acquired, young teacher Len caught wind of it. Recall that Len was a teacher at this time(still don't know what he was teaching...), and comfortably married with a baby girl at home, so he seemed like any normal 21-year-old in the late-1880's. Of course, playing around with this new recording device completely dissolved his previous career, unknowingly it did this. Once he began frequently experimenting with the thing, he began going back and forth to the newly established Columbia headquarters, to further dig into what this new contraption held. By 1889, the Columbia staff hired him finally, out of his boiling curiosity and desire to work for them. He had to do everything himself though, set up the machines, play the piano accompaniment, state the announcements, and of course sing for the machines, all at once. During these earliest days at Columbia, Spencer oddly enough used the pseudonym of "Gary Allen", and he used this name until about 1893, why? I don't know. There had to have been a reason for it. Something certainly Columbia related. I've only had the chance to hear a snippet of one of these few surviving records of Spencer's. While doing that, Spencer also worked as Edward Issler's "roadie" of a sort, which meant that he went to Issler performances outside of the studio(having to do with record companies), as well as being Issler's sound man in the studios. Issler's orchestra records are the oldest examples of Spencer we have so far, even if they are just announcements and sound effects, they are still important recordings, and not just for Issler. 

By 1896, Spencer was recording not for Columbia, but the U. S. Phonograph company. Recall that this company was essentially the test run for Columbia's setup in management in the later part of the decade. I'm only saying this because Victor Emerson ran the company for the entirety of its existence. Spencer also happened to remain there for that long as well, working there for the most part in the mid-1890's. Spencer's pianist in the studio for everyday work was Issler so nothing was changed from before. It was all business as usual for Len, other than getting himself in a tangle with the film business in 1895-96. What was this? Well, we can thank Russell Hunting and Steve Porter for this scramble, since they were the ones who decided to start a small film company in that period. This somehow pulled in Spencer, and when I say Spencer, I mean both of them. Though Henry(Harry) was the one who ended up with all of the film equipment, Len was also involved in this endeavor, and it was inevitable that he would be, since his natural curiosity pulled him in, and it was Hunting's idea after all. After that passed over, it left Len ever-curious about film and photography, and this never seemed to leave him for the rest of his life. In 1897, Len was forced out of the U. S. Company, jut as everyone else was, since the company was crumbling quick. With that gone, Len was fully engaged with Columbia, soon signing a contract to ensure this until after 1900. Around the same time as becoming Columbia's main baritone and everything man, a new unusual face entered in Columbia's studio, and this was not just a new manager or singer. 
That new face was this one:
Fred Hylands. 
Spencer had likely heard around of the management searching around for a "Rag-Time" pianist, and once they found him, Spencer probably was very interested in who this might be. Soon Spencer was in for a surprise, he was different from the previous Columbia pianists, a fantastic Rag pianist, and a genuine one too, fresh out of Chicago's clubs. Spencer quickly got to know this strange young Indiana chap, and was wanting to know more of him. Whether he liked it or not, Spencer saw Hylands every day at Columbia, on his good days, and bad ones. Spencer had been used to working with the agreeable and industrious Issler, so seeing him leave Columbia by the end of 1897 was a little awkward for him, he now was only to be stuck with this still slightly strange "rag" pianist. Once 1898 came along, Issler was gone, and Columbia was fully settled in their New York office, so was Spencer. This year was a very productive one for Spencer's repertoire, as all of these fantastic Rag-Time songs were published, and that meant that Spencer had to try and grasp all of them, but that also meant a lot more time with Hylands in the studio. His records with Spencer are(sorry for saying this for the hundredth time...)  among the best examples of Rag-Time out there, and his 1898 Columbia recordings are some of the better ones in fact. 

It seems that Spencer and Hylands had a complicated friendship, more so that many would think by just hearing their records. There are layers to this. The first thing to note and consider with Spencer and Hylands is the fact that Spencer was essentially the vocalist equivalent to Hylands, and Hylands was the pianist equivalent to Spencer as a vocalist. Their abilities and tendencies with Rag-Time and music in general were the same, and this is why they worked so well together, it's also why their records are so much fun to listen to. They also had their differences... Spencer was serious about his work, and therefore very industrious in this matter, but Fred was not like that by any means. Fred(at least by the middle of 1898, remember that he was heavier at this point in time) had grown weary of Columbia to some extent, and like none of the pianists preceding him he grew tired and moody with later takes and later recordings in the days. 
I would always like to imagine one of these conversations as thus:

"What's wrong with you Fred? We've still got a few more songs to go at."

"Aww Len...don't make me do it. Ah'm all worn out. Ah'm drenched with sweat all over, no fan could help me here. Ya might as well go one home."

"Quit that Fred, and play! We've got to get to our finish Freddy."

Something like that. If you haven't already guessed, I really like to write dialogue between Spencer and Hylands. Their banter between takes must have been just as good as the material on the records. As we know, Spencer's relationship with Hylands didn't stop there, as we well know of the whole publishing venture of the next year. It seems that the publishing firm was started because the two of them thought they were a good enough duo in the studio to where they thought the business aspect of music could agree with them. Of course, we don't really know which one of the trio(Hylands, Spencer, and Yeager) dropped the idea in the first place, but it's likely that Hylands did, since he must have been flustered over the last failure with Roger Harding and Steve Porter("The Knickerbockers"), he was more than happy to sign the next year and a half of his life to Spencer and Harry Yeager. Recall that Harry Yeager was Spencer's booking agent, for that minstrel troupe that he forced to travel around in horrible weather...yep, that one. Harry was likely pulled into the partnership by Hylands, who needed as much stability as he could get with this firm, so Yeager helped to provided for some of this. Spencer created that beautiful footer:
(from my collection)
And it made their pieces of music attractive to a degree that not many other publishers had at that time. At the beginning of the firm, Spencer was the sole reason that they were publishing music, because of "You Don't Stop the World From Goin Round", which was essentially their biggest hit, as Hylands had long assumed, as did other publishers. As much as Spencer ran the firm, he wasn't the sole leader, since he had recording to get to every day, and so did the man who owned the firm(Hylands). While bound together under the firm, Hylands and Spencer still went to the studio to fulfill their duties in recording. It was during this period of the publishing firm that we get some of their best recordings, and also when we see the most of Hylands in the studio, behind every one of those singers, and in the studio orchestra always. Spencer also took to having Hylands as his stage accompanist, which meant that he would go on the tours that his minstrel troupe went on in 1899-1900. He was playing piano most of the time, though sometimes playing bones(!) and running sound effects to some extent.  Here's a more detailed description of one of these performances:
Who's Harry Cooke?  
(it might mean that we found another Columbia Rag pianist... here we go again...)

Anyway, back to Spencer... These tours took place at the end of 1898, 1899, and in May 1900(thank you Phonoscope!), and they were for promoting much of Columbia's records, the Imperial minstrels series, as well as Hylands Spencer and Yeager music, which by late-1899, was relatively popular, with agents in Toronto and in London. With all of that in place, it seemed that the firm was actually going to last, and benefit Columbia more than Emerson or Easton ever could have thought. By early 1900, the firm was at its height, though Spencer couldn't actually contribute to Hylands' cause nearly as much at that point. A little bitter, Hylands probably acted as such around him for this short period of time(of course until the performances they did in May of that year, such as the one in the image above), when Hylands supposedly got a crap ton of music sales after that tour(don't know if that's true...), of course he could forget his bitter taste with Spencer. That didn't last long though, by the middle of the year(summer more or less), Hylands rarely saw Spencer outside the studio, and then the bitterness came back. Of course in the studio they were almost every day making records still, that couldn't be avoided, and unfortunately for Spencer, Fred's bitterness was just the same. Spencer was getting in all his engagements with Harry Yeager, some with Hylands, some not, but this angered Fred, since it meant he was essentially all alone with the whole publishing thing, everyone else by this time was disbanding, as it was also this time that the old "Columbia Clan" was beginning to break up. By Fall, Spencer didn't seem to bother with Fred's publishing any more, as his new engagements with Victor and Berliner were becoming more important, and his contract with Columbia was soon to wear off. By October and November, Fred had sent out a scathing letter to everyone involved, and published one in The Music Trade Review around this time as well. Of course, Spencer was not happy about this, likely being indifferent with Fred, but at the same time avoiding as much conversation as before the whole thing. We can well assume Fred to be a moody chap, using the scathing letter in The Music Trade Review as an example. 

Despite this, Spencer slowly drifted away from solely doing recording work, and became more a a businessman in dealing vaudeville than a performer. We know that in 1903, Spencer was the manager of the Crystal Theater on Union Square, which was actually a very prestigious theater at the time, and it came as a surprise when I found this. Of course, we only know this because of theatrical magazines at the time, but mainly because of that hilariously ridiculous fight he got into with one of his performers. 

Yep, that one. 
Again, seems typical of Spencer. Recall that he had a scar on his face from getting into a knife fight as a youth. Sums up a lot about him. Wouldn't be surprising if Spencer got into fights with Hylands, or anyone like that for that matter. It is likely that the Crystal Theater did not keep him there after this incident, and with that he went off to start his own theater, or Lyceum as it was called. Here he employed some old friends from the recording business, including George W. Johnson as we well know. Johnson was his doorman, all dressed up to greet people who had no idea who he was. Spencer also employed some of his performer friends, like Hylands(this can be confirmed now), and also someone like Vess Ossman was also probably a performer at Spencer's Lyceum. 
During the period of 1905-1910, Spencer made records for Edison, Columbia, Indestructible, Victor, Zon-O-phone, Leeds, and pretty much every other disc label at the time. Some of his records made during this time are throwbacks to what he did ten years before, such as this one with Steve Porter from 1909. It's the same Spencer as ten years before, and oddly enough, Hylands was doing pretty much the same thing in 1909, expect that he was making records anymore. Spencer made many records with Ada Jones in this timeframe, and they were made for all the companies he worked for, which was every one of them that existed at the time. 



I don't need to get into detail about the last years of his life and how he died, because I've done that many times on this blog already, and I hate for this to seem too repetitive. So we'll just skip to the music and records! 

Since it is Spencer's birthday, here are some of my favourite records of his(that I've heard so far, because there are so many!)


 Spencer's hilarious "Having Fun with the Orchestra" with Banta and the Metropolitan orchestra


Two takes of his "My Gal is a High-Born Lady":
and

Two fantastic takes of "I Don't Care if you Never Comes Back":
and 






There are so many more I could share, but these are the ones I could immediately consider favourites. The thing about Spencer is that there's such a strange variety of selections to choose from. 




Hope you enjoyed this! Starting to get ready for the Santa Cruz Rag-Time festival in two weeks! 















Sunday, February 5, 2017

Digging into Hunting's Smut and Comparing styles

Just a little disclaimer of a sort, I'm not going to write out any of the words or full sketches that Hunting and James white recorded from 1892 to 1896, that is not really the intention of writing this post. The only way I discuss that with others is through face-to-face conversation about the recordings. Since I was finally able to listen to the entirety of the Actionable Offenses CD put out by Archeophone about ten years ago, I finally have more to say about the whole smut cylinder venture. It was very surprising, despite the expectations I had before on Hunting, as well as James White. Hunting's sense of humor was especially crass, though he threw the especially bawdy sketches at his friend James White. 
Just like always, I was impressed at Hunting's great ability in storytelling, despite the language and nature of the sketches. 
Like any of his stories, they were full of all sorts of humor, some that's typical of the era, and some that's still very relatable even to modern listeners. The degree to which Hunting had to complicate this scheme of selling these recordings soon became a network, not long after beginning the whole thing in 1892. He quickly acquired an assistant, Charles Carson, who is actually turning out to be an interesting character after doing a little research of him recently.Hunting and Carson were the ones essentially running the entire business of selling these smut cylinders to saloons and phonograph parlors all over the eastern U.S.(it would be interesting if they shipped some of these records to the few phonograph parlors in the San Francisco area!), running the operation from a few different locations in New York, with the main headquarters for this being Hunting's house at 45 Clinton Place(go out and visit if you live near there!). With this, it's likely that Carson stayed frequently with Hunting, since he was doing much of the engineering work and bookkeeping for the operation. 
Just something to keep in mind about Carson, he was likely to have been gay, all of the social status that surrounded him remained exactly the same for his entire life. Just throwing that out there. 

Hunting likely found Carson amid the madness of the earliest years of Columbia. His first days in Columbia's studio would have involved Carson in some way, probably as an engineer. It is this quickly bounded friendship that prompted the invention of the infernal contraption for dubbing and making copies of records. This was invented in 1892 by Hunting and Carson, but later they regretted doing so, since the demand for original records became higher around 1897 and 1898, due to their superior quality and clarity. from there. Hunting and Carson became fully trusted business partners, and the venture of the smut cylinders tested their friendship for many years. This proved a great time for Hunting,despite the amount of secrecy and need for trickery of the authorities. Of course, I would have more to say if I had the liner notes in front of me, but those did not come along with what my friend sent me. That will come later. Anyway, I would highly encourage going out on Newspaper websites and digging around on Hunting and Carson, because there's actually a lot more on their arrest and trial in court than one would expect. Well, that's why Archeophone put out the CD in the first place...


One place that's free I would highly recommend is this site here:

If I've already put this link in a post a while ago, my apologies. There's a surprising amount of articles on many of these recording stars, even Issler! 






Now to move to another subject, something I enjoy talking over with fellow Rag-Time enthusiasts. The styles of the early studio pianists are very different from one another, yet they are all so similar and intertwined in the strangest ways. As Charlie Judkins and I have discussed many times, the pianists were actually not chronological in their playing styles, one supposed to be right after the other in style and age indication. 
Allow me to explain this better...
Issler:
He was supposed to have the oldest sounding style and touch of the studio pianists, which in many ways he did, but his sense of rhythm set him in an oddly progressive direction. We know now that he lived to see the birth and death of Rag-Time, as well as classic jazz(yes, he lived that long...), so he pretty much saw every musical fad from the Victorian era to the beginning of swing, giving him a very unique viewpoint of music as a whole. But of course, when he played in the studios in the 1890's, he seemed that tame and ingenious man at the piano on most of the earliest recordings we all cannot get over the age to the point of where we miss that there's a piano player behind the singer. We also know well that Issler experimented with playing syncopation, which is no small thing, especially since he was the generation before the one who first played and published Rag-Time. He wouldn't have grown up with strictly syncopated music, though it's important to note that he was born and was a young child in the last few years of the original era of syncopated music(1830-c.1867) before that fell out of favor in the 1870's. Luckily for Issler, he was beginning to teach music and perform in orchestras at the time when syncopation was coming back into favor(mid-1880's), so he was just in the middle of it when the permanent era of ragged music was just starting. It was also around this time that he began his parlor orchestra, which seemed to be at a prime time to do so as well. As widely known, Issler began working for Edison in 1889, and there he would remain until the fall of North American in 1894. It was during his early time at Edison that he learned at last how to play syncopated rhythm, much like George W. Johnson did naturally in his whistling. In fact, it is likely that working with Johnson in 1891-1892 contributed to Issler learning how to play syncopated time. A way to back up this theory is to listen to the one true example of Issler playing improvised syncopation, and compare that with Johnson's whistling. 
Here's Issler playing syncopated time(at a little after 1:20) with his orchestra in 1896:

Now here's the 1891 "Whistling Coon" by Johnson with Issler, pay attention the rhythm of his whistling:

Even with all of this, Issler was a little more progressive than Hylands in that way, being able to transition over(kind of) from his traditional Victorian, which is a big step forward, since he was born before and raised during the civil war. Keep in mind that Hylands grew up in an atmosphere just right for Rag-Time to become part of him, so it's not too surprising that he caught the bug so early on. Of course, like anything involving these pianists, it would be perfectly fine and much easier to figure all of this out if those actually issued solos by Issler existed...or someone found them more or less. 

Now lets think of Banta and Hager for a moment. We know of Banta very well, because of the amount of times the old recording stars mentioned him, especially Dan Quinn. Knowing more about Banta is great, but it did more to eclipse the other studio pianists who did exactly what he did. It's the reason Hylands is not really well known, even Hager for that matter. Speaking of Hager, I meant to go back to my last post on him and add that his birth name was actually:

Frederick Wallace Haga

Hmm...that's an odd last name. It's not one that's very common. Wonder where that comes from...
Anyway, it's likely now that Hager was actually another early Edison pianist, despite the fact that they already had Banta there to handle the Rag-Time. Oddly enough, we wouldn't expect Hager(or Haga) to become an accomplished Rag pianist according to his background, even he had a more prestigious background than Issler, which should have promoted an even more conservative outlook on music. But nope...Hager(or Haga) became just as good a Rag pianist as Banta, and that's no small thing. Banta was the top-of-the-line when it came to Rag pianists, since he rarely made mistakes, and was able to change direction behind a singer in a split second. Not even Hylands was paying attention enough to be able to do that. A good example of Banta's extraordinary ability to keep track of himself and the singer at the same time is of course these two fantastic records here:
and
These records are hard to beat, though a newly slowed down transfer of Collins' "All I Wants is my Chickens" is just as fine:
Now that this is at the correct speed, we can really tell how great and clear this recording is! It's a very well recorded cylinder, and the piano comes through rather well, like many 1898-1899 Edison cylinders. Recall that this is one of those few cylinders where the pianist is either Banta or Hager(or Haga), and every time I listen to it, it gets me more confused, since there are bits of Banta and Hager(Haga) all over the place in the playing. It's such a good recording though, as far as early Rag-Time recordings go, this one is certainly up there. It wouldn't make any sense why Banta and Hager(Haga) sound similar, since Banta was from New York, essentially self-taught(well, that's debatable...), yet he had some characteristics of folk Rag pianists, but it seems a little more weird that Hager(Haga) had more of these. Hager(Haga) played fifths in the left hand, and played left hand rhythms that were syncopated, which is a little strange just in general(the Argentine tangos written around this time have some of this, such as some of this here.)though he was from Pennsylvania, not anywhere farther in the midwest like Hylands. It seems Hager probably took from the surrounding pianists in the record business, despite all of them usually staying to their own styles.  
Keep in mind that Hager(Haga) was the same age as Fred Gaisberg:
Though they were the same age, their playing styles were very different. Gaisberg was a much more typical pianist of the day, not saying that he wasn't good, his playing was exceptional, but it was a style that better fits into the time period. Hylands would have been playing pieces like this one as early 1891(note that this piece is in the earliest style of cake-walks, such as in 1891-92), and Banta would have been playing similarly by at least 1893. And what was Gaisberg playing in 1893? Well, he was playing this sort of thing. Yep. Pretty different from Banta, Hylands, and Hager(Haga). Also, it's important to note that Max Hoffmann was the same age as Gaisberg and Hager, and Hoffmann wrote all those fantastic Rag medleys in that signature style of Chicago pianists from 1896-97. Despite Gaisberg being the same age as Hoffmann, he played Rag-Time(in 1896!) in a pretty awkward way, the best example being Gaskin's 1896 Berliner of "All Coons Look Alike to Me". Even Issler played syncopation more naturally than he! Hager especially made progress for his age, and it's particularly weird for Hager(Haga) since he had all of that prestige and status as a musician. He was a fantastic rag pianist! Other than being an even better arranger... Hager(Haga)was arguably just as good as Banta, and it's clear he was the best studio arranger of the era, which is really saying a lot, since he had Issler and Tom Clark to beat(Tom Clark was a member of the last installment of Gilmore's Band, beginning about the late-1870's, and recall that Hager's band was deemed better than Gilmore's after Gilmore died in 1892). That must have been a little awkward, Hager(Haga) working as the main music man at Zon-O-Phone and his old rival Tom Clark running the Columbia orchestra and Band until 1903, much like when Charles Prince came into Columbia in 1903 with the rival musicians to the old Issler crew(i. e. Tuson and Schweinfest). 


Now to listen to some more newly slowed down transfers! 
Now to move back to Issler for a moment. 
I have a deep respect and love to Issler's playing, since he was the best of these early studio pianists, and he just happened to be the first studio pianist! This first one is actually one of J. W. Myers' earliest recordings, dated to about 1891-92. Since it is that early, it is certainly a North American cylinder, since that's where he started making records, Myers and Issler. Anyway, here's:
This truly is a fantastic recording, even with the age that comes with it. It's a prime example of what Victorian music sounded like, even with Issler seeming to imitate the pianists he would have heard when he was younger(or just the old Viennese style of waltzes). It's essentially Issler putting on his old style in the piano accompaniment, and still not missing a note. 

The next one is by George W. Johnson, in honor or black history month(though it's always black history month ;-)  
Here's the newly slowed down transfer of George W. Johnson's "The Whistling Girl" with Fred Hylands:
This is played in the same key as his fantastic 1891 take of "The Whistling Coon" with Issler, that's what was used as reference here. 

The next one is one of those classic comic songs by Will F. Denny.
(love that picture! You can almost imagine a crazy smile on his face!)
It's just as funny as all of those other comic songs he recorded from 1893 to 1903, but this time, rather than the take being made a little more strange with Hylands as the pianist, it's an Edison cylinder! That means that the pianist is Banta. Here's Denny's hilarious and weird Edison take of "Can't Stop" from late-1899:
Just like Quinn and Edward Favor, most people play Denny's records too fast,  because of misconceptions of what they think his voice sounded like. His voice, just like the others listed in the last sentence, was a little deeper than most would assume. Just compare the original transfer of "Can't Stop" to the new one, here's the original transfer:
This is what most collectors assume Denny sounded like. Just like Quinn, he was not as high of a tenor as people have long assumed. The only reason I know this is because of how natural his voice sounds at this slower speed, as well as the tempo of the song and piano accompaniment. 
The best example of how Denny really sounded comes from an unusual place to find such examples. Here's the record: 
(music starts at 3:35...)
Yep. Now that's Denny. It's a perfect speed, he sounds much more natural, and the piano accompaniment is at a perfect tempo. Another good example of this is also another newly slowed down transfer, this time of a more popular comic song by Denny, here's Denny's 1899 Columbia of "How'd You like to be the Iceman?". It's just as weird and wild as any of Denny's records, though it's more characteristic of his Columbia's, as those tended to be more eccentric(durr...of course they were),with the piano accompaniment being no excuse for adding to this. This take is all good until we get to the very end, where it gets weird really quick. Denny does his usual, and Hylands plays some strange solo that would be impossible to transcribe. It's still just as great as any Denny comic song, especially since it's a Columbia. 


Now, here's something by Vess Ossman:
(Ossman in 1892-ish)
Didn't think I would ever use this picture again did you? Nope, of course I'll use it again! 
Here's the newly slowed down transfer of his "A Bunch of Rags" with Hylands:
This one turned out really nice. What's especially great about this transfer is that the bass notes in the piano come through unusually well. They transferred so well in fact that you don't really have to be playing close attention to gather what inversions of the chords in the left hand Hylands plays behind Vess. Whoever did the pantographing job for this cylinder really was skilled and having a good day with this copy! It's just as good as AtLee's 1898 take of "The Anvil Chorus", and that's really saying something. 

I really want to think that George Emerson or Charles Carson(more likely Carson in this case)did those really good pantographing jobs, but we'll never know. If that's so, it would add another level of fascination to those better Columbia copies. 

With this new transfer, we can hear a lot of Hylands' habits when playing left hand parts, which is rare, since that's always a good indicator of style origin. There are a lot of chords inverted lower in the bass on this recording, which are characteristic of midwestern and southern Rag pianists, not too surprising, but it's great to actually HEAR it! Also, take note of that strange and interesting left hand thing he plays at 2:27-ish, that's an unusual little thing, but it's a really nice addition to Vess's playing. Another record where we can hear Hylands play those low inverted chords(in fact some of the same ones as the Ossman record above!) is on this odd 1898-ish take of "The Laughing Song" by Johnson. Well, only at the end is this clear, because the rest of the record doesn't particularly catch the piano accompaniment too well. In fact, I would say that the Johnson take just above is the weirdest of all the "Laughing Song" takes he did out there. The piano solos at the end is just the strangest thing, it's had nothing at all to do with the melody of the song, and it's just a weird Rag tag at the end that isn't really the melody to another song(unless it is and I'm missing it, because that possible). It's a good tag for a cake-walk though! Even if it's not very syncopated. 




Anyway, sorry about being rather infrequent with the blog posts, it's been hard to write about a single subject and find the time to do so, school has been getting real busy...


Hope you enjoyed this!