Saturday, March 25, 2017

Digging into early records and Spencer

Last Saturday, Charlie Judkins sent me a fantastic bunch of recordings that were from an LP of "North American" cylinders(this is in quotes because not all of them are from this company). This LP is essentially a compilation of interesting takes from 1892-1897 from a variety of early companies. The companies included are Columbia, Edison, U. S. of New Jersey, North American, and maybe even Bell and Tainter if we're that lucky. 

Many of the records that were in these two LP's would have borne this lovely logo on a slip or indigo rectangular box. The majority of the "good stuff" on the LP's were made by the U. S. Phonograph company, such as the Issler's orchestra records. The solos by piccolo and xylophone were made for North American as suggested by the LP. The amount of recordings that came along with this find can be considered a treasure trove, since there's so much to listen to all at once, and it's all good! Two of the LP's indicated North American cylinders, and another indicated Berliner discs, and those are all certainly as the title suggests. 

Since it's not completely full of interesting stuff, here's the link to the Berliner discs:
Where do I begin? 
Well, that recording of "The Charlatan March" by the Metropolitan orchestra is really great, especially since we know that orchestra was led by Banta. And yes, if you're wondering it is indeed the same group by the same name that recorded for Victor after 1900. 
"the Sidewalks of New York" by Gaskin is really nice as well, especially since I have friends who have been waiting for a good transfer of such a thing by Gaskin for a while. Well, here you go. 
We've all heard "The Streets of Cairo" by Quinn, and the transfer on this one is not the best oddly enough, there are better transfers of it out there. 

We know what the best record from this LP is. It's certainly Hunting's "Oh Uncle John". That's absolutely worth the wait to hear it. Since it's Hunting, it's more than likely that he's actually playing his own accompaniment. In fact, since the piano isn't very good, I would bet he's on piano. If you really want to hear this record, go to 24:31 for this specific transfer! It's fully worth it! 

The next record worth the buffering of the long video for is the fantastic transfer of "Thoughts of Home Polka" by Messrs. Stengler and McNiece. That is an exceptional Berliner in terms of sound! It sounds like an early Berliner(from 1893-96), but it's from 1899, in the period were Berliner records sounded notoriously awful. Take a listen!

The last interesting take on this LP is the strange "Imitation of Steam Calliope" by the Brilliant Quartette. wow! that really does sound like a calliope! It's really impressive how accurate that sounds. The things that these vocal quartets did in the 1890's never fails to impress. 

Alright, now for what this post is really meant to be on. 
So,to begin, here's the link to the first LP that was sent to me:

After having the chance to hear a bunch of very early Spencer records(not just announcing!), I have come to an interesting conclusion. Listen to that fantastic recording of "Laugh you Little Niggers" in the link above, skip to 9:48 for this record. It seems that in his earlier days of recording, Spencer was much more energetic, and in some ways, more accurate in imitating the early minstrel show performers. 
His imitation of that old black character seemed a little different from how it was in the late-1890's. From a wilder character to a calmer almost pimp-like figure. I know that seemed beyond a little kind to say, but really do a comparison of his 1895 U.S. phonograph record of "Laugh You Little Niggers"(again, excuse the racist title), to one of his classic late-1890's Columbia's with Hylands:
What a contrast! The 1899 cylinder is much looser(because of the piano accompaniment durr...), and the overall feeling of the music is completely different from the 1895 record. Another comparison can be heard on his 1894 Imperial Minstrels records, two of which you can hear on the other LP that goes along with the one in the link a little farther above in the post. 
Here's the link to the other one:
The Imperial Minstrels record is at 31:40.
This is one of those long spoken of records that Spencer spent so much time and money on as a sort of project. The song Spencer sings on this record is that great syncopated piece recorded by quartets in the late 1890's, "A High Old Time", with a small orchestra as accompaniment. Spencer's singing early on can be well summed up on this one recording, since it has all of the same aspects of the 1895 "Laugh You Little Niggers"(sorry again...) are present just the same. It seemed his earlier style of singing(much to the likeness of Arthur Collins)  was not only more energetic, but louder, and more inspired by the concept of "negro shouts" than his singing later in the 1890's. It's more antiquated, as well as more of what we'd expect from what we've heard about younger Spencer. Oddly enough, since I have perfect pitch, I can well notice that Spencer's tone overall early on was much better than it was later. Hmm... getting a little suspicious... There's not really a way to explain how this could have gradually happened, in fact I actually have no idea how that would have come about. The only thing to keep in mind here with this is that Spencer was an untrained singer, similar to Quinn, and it's possible that he just happened to have near perfect pitch, which is why his singing(at least early on) was near perfect as far as pitch goes. This is starting to open up some new theories about Spencer, some that couldn't have been formulated before hearing these earlier records. Here's a theory that's fitting into place just as I'm writing this:

Earlier on, Spencer was a little more high-strung(though it's clear according to how he died that he always was) than after the mid-1890's. With this, his nature for perfection began to gradually fade around 1897, as the end of the round era passed around that time, and the need for perfection and habits he had formulated with rounds were needed to be broken. It didn't help that Fred Hylands was constantly pulling at him in the studio beginning in 1897, and that further calmed his firey nature. Working with the young and temperamental Hylands forced Spencer to become more patient, while at the same time more daring. 

This seems to make more sense now, because there's clearly a distinct contrast between Spencer's earlier records and his later ones. This contrast had to be for some reason, and the theory above could be a possible explanation. Clearly Spencer read Hylands early on, and realized that working with him was one of the best things he would do, but also the most toxic. We know very well that Spencer working with Hylands was one of the best duos in the acoustic era, both in dynamics, but also in their strange business relationship(that still doesn't make much sense). As I've said before, this partnership(Hylands and Spencer) remains one of the most complicated of the early recording business, more so than Collins and Harlan, and Russell Hunting and Charles Carson. Though their partnership lasted only a few years, it was full of all sorts of strange things, and it's surprising how long it lasted with the types of personalities the two of them had. Spencer was restless and a perfectionist, Hylands was disorganized and spontaneous. Yet with all of this, we still get fantastic recordings like these: 

This is exactly why Spencer never ceases to lose my interest. 

Now for some more early records! In the two links above(the links to the LP's), you can hear "The Wren Polka", and "Bobolink Schottische" both by George Schweinfest. These records very well represent the genius of Edward Issler, since he's on piano on both of them. You can also hear Issler on not only dozens of his orchestra recordings scatted all over the LP's(which seems to be over 50% of what's on them anyway), but also on those two cornet solos by Dana of "Ben Bolt" and the "Tit-Willow Song", also you can hear him on "The Wood Nymph Galop" by Charles Lowe, which is announced by Spencer, indicating a U. S. record. 
The "Wren Polka" by Schweinfest is likely a North American record, because it is not announced by Spencer, and it has a different studio and piano sound than the obvious U. S. records. That recording in particular sounds like potentially the oldest recording on the LP's, other than that one U. S. Marine band record from 1891. If I were to date that Schweinfest solo, I would give it a date of 1892. With all that being said, who thinks this record below is a North American record?
Hmm. it sounds like an early record, much like the others exhibited here. It's certainly likely, even if it's played too fast on the machine. 
Since we're on identifying of record companies, found something out this week that changes much about a few records we know very well. 
Those so-called "Independent" cylinders on the Santa Barbara website are actually older than expected, because they're actually from the U. S. Phonograph Company, not Columbia. 
Here are the links to the two main recordings that were mislabeled:

Wow! U. S. records sound really nice! Of course, these two records may be quiet, but they catch many notes on the piano that we never often hear, especially when the pianist(Issler) plays the final chord. The lowest note is always present it seems. To understand how closely related the Charles Lowe records are, listen to the second transfer on the red LP, "Dancing in the Sunlight", and the second to last transfer on the blue LP, "Wood Nymph Galop". They all sound the same, with the exact same balancing between the piano and xylophone. So with that being said, that FANTASTIC banjo imitation behind Ossman on "The Darkey's Dream" is not by Hylands, by Issler(as far as we can guess), because as we know about Ossman, there's always the chance Banta was on piano. 
Though after having a handful of listens to the "Darkey's Dream" with this new information present, the pianist is almost certainly Issler, since much of the quick playing he's doing can be compared to other records of his, such as his c.1891 North American of "The Bell Buoy" with Myers. You can also compare his style of waltz playing on "The Bell Buoy" to how he plays it on "the Carnival of Venice" as well as the second recording on the Red LP, "The Tit-Willow Song" by Dana on U. S. from 1895. Well, this is what you get from the one company who was infamous for their ridiculous amount of rounds. Recall that Victor Emerson ran U. S. before he did Columbia. 

This is all starting to fit into place! We can finally understand Issler's playing to a fuller extent now with all of these recordings. Issler is making out to be a fantastic pianist(not that he wasn't already!). Again, the first studio pianist was the best, which doesn't normally happen in a new business; the first of something being the best for many decades. Issler was hard to beat, with his technically superior playing, and perfect rhythm. These factors make playing along his his records much easier and less confusing, though his improvisations are something to keep track of. With all of this, Issler is essentially studio pianist god. I don't mean to make this seem a little strange, but he certainly was one of a kind, and there never was a studio pianist like him that came later, in all the history of recording. 
Issler, the first and the best studio pianist. 
It's a shame he was so picky and hard to work with toward the end of his recording career(this is why he was dropped from all recording by 1901).
After listening to all of these early records, other than my respect for Issler growing, my love for Schweinfest has grown just the same. We still have yet to hear him play a piano solo(same for Issler), but he certainly was a musician to admire, being just as competent as Issler, and being able to change with the times just as well as Fred Hager. Consider this, after working with Issler in and out of the studio since at least 1886, Schweinfest had to begin working with Hylands in 1897 at Columbia, and slowly saw his musical companion fade, eventually seeing his end in the studio(working with him to the end mind you), and agreed with no issues to work with Hylands, and we know how dramatically different Hylands was from Issler. Schwinfest even wrote syncopated pieces, such as his 1900 piece "Coon Jine"(which we have yet to hear), composed as a cake-walk. 
There you go. Published by Roger Harding because Hylands wouldn't. 
Hope to find a copy of that exceedingly rare music. 

Anyway, I could go on and on about all of this, I got to the point already. 

Hope you enjoyed this! 

Friday, March 17, 2017

Pianist progressiveness and background analysis

We recognize all of these funny faces. 
These are the primary studio pianists of the brown wax era. from Ed Issler to Chris Booth, they ruled the piano accompaniment on all of those recordings from 1889 to 1905. It has been well-established over the years that Edward Issler was the first studio pianist, which he certainly was, and he just happened to set the best example for what a studio pianist should be. Issler's perfect nature as a studio pianist can make him out to be the most historically interesting of the early studio pianists. He linked the old ideology of Victorian music with the new syncopated music of the 1890's. Despite Issler's age, he was able to illustrate that he not only had a perfect sense of time, but also that he understood the melodic and rhythmic structure of syncopation, better than Fred Gaisberg ever played on records(and Gaisberg was almost twenty years younger than Issler!). Issler was more progressive for his age than some of his succeeding pianists who were nearly twenty years younger than he. Issler could have(if he worked toward it) played syncopation as smoothly as Banta did, and Banta was self-taught in this style, unlike Issler who had to sit down and really figure out how to play syncopation. 

Oddly enough, Charlie Judkins threw me a fantastic idea that I had never truly considered about these pianists. He stated that the most "modern" of these pianists overall(not including Issler as an anomaly for his age), would have to be Banta and Hager. No mention of Hylands at this. Banta had a style that was very 1896-97, and Hager was similar, though he sometimes played a little more like 1898 and 1899 published pieces. Where's Hylands in all of this? Well, if you really get right down to it, Hylands played an older style overall than the others, in some ways, seeming more archaic than Issler's, which is really strange. Really think about it, Hylands was considered up-to-date in 1896-1901 or so(that's the second half of the brown wax era!), but sounded like and older pianist after 1901, the way to really learn this is to listen to a bunch of records with Hylands playing from the early Columbia disc era(1901-1905). 
Here are a few gems:
"By the Sycamore Tree" with Bob Roberts, 1903

"The Ghost that Never Walked" with Bob Roberts, 1904

"My Castle on the Nile" with Arthur Collins, 1902

"Everybody Works but Father" with Lew Dockstader, 1905

"Uncle Quit Work Too" with Lew Dockstader, 1905

All of these are prime examples of why Hylands would have been considered an outdated pianist, even by as early as 1904. That seems strange, but his style was really that of a folk pianist in the late-1880's and early 1890's. The one tradition that Hylands kept longer than Issler, and it's more obvious that he did, was the banjo imitation style. This not only kept him from seeming modern and progressive, but also kept him from moving forward to the extent that some of the other pianists did. 
Think of it this way, even as late as 1909, Hylands was being noted in papers as "[rendering] a correct imitation of the banjo" as an opening to a show at the Majestic(the name of the theater he managed since 1905 I believe). This little blurb can seem as though Hylands was behind the times, despite his management at many major theaters(which should yield a fully up-to-date mindset musically). Any Rag-Time scholar would know that the idea of banjo imitations was a 19th-century notion, regardless of what the papers say. As early as 1909, Hylands was being considered archaic musically, though his demeanor would likely have indicated otherwise. Hylands would have been 37 in 1909, still rather young for a composer and pianist, though the roots and tendencies of his playing could be similar to that of Ben Harney's from around the same time(though Harney did progressive dancing acts at this time, so he was not completely out of style yet). To understand the extent to which Hylands played banjo imitations, this cylinder will illustrate this fact better than I can explain:
That fantastic 1898 cylinder of "The Darkey's Dream" by Ossman

Not until recently did I realize that this cylinder just above was a fantastic example of Hylands playing and improvised banjo imitation, still in the 19th-century! If you really focus on the piano(which is damn near louder than the banjo), you can pick out the quick banjo imitation characteristics Hylands plays, which is very much similar to all of those written banjo imitations scattered across 19th-century. So in summary, Hylands' playing was based on the ideals of mid-19th century folk music, played on the banjo and fiddle(both of which he probably played before he got to piano). This can be compared to Banta's, that wasn't clearly based on folk music, but was to a certain extent. The fact that Banta got started playing piano completely on his own, and likely had strange tendencies when playing(that instructors probably attempted to beat out of him), since that's what happens when you're self-taught to any degree, is what connects his style to Hylands. Just like Banta, Hylands probably picked up strange and unconventional musical and technical tendencies, and when being formally trained probably had the crap beat out of them because the instructor would not accept such weird anomalies in playing. Of course, the beatings would have done nothing for them, and they likely still played these strange things when their styles developed. We can see that Hylands kept much of these tendencies, since his playing overall was strange, and his first published pieces are odd in general, when compared to others from the same time. 

So with all of that about Hylands, his formal musical training probably went similar to what is stated above. Here's a summary: he was trained for a couple of years(not that many in this case) got all sorts of lectures and beatings for his incorrect tendencies, eventually getting to a point where he was exhausted of it, and simply quit. Probably looked something like this:
Consider his nature in dealing with commitments later, it wouldn't be too surprising if the same pattern was so with his musical training. Though in this time, he probably learned the basics of music theory and such, and after quitting the training, he took what he learned and ran with it. Certainly he was musically intelligent, in theory and in his ear(though his style indicates his ear and natural feel dominated his overall musicality). It's likely that his sister Etta received similar training, though, being a little girl(except for the fact that she was also stubborn), probably retained more of what the instructor taught and emphasized. Just as a side-note, it seems Etta was more complete as a person than Fred, though the both of them were as much of a pain to everyone else equally, recall that Etta couldn't settle her marital problems, therefore marrying several times. 

Banta was probably trained in a similar way, though he wouldn't have quit half-way through, since he seems the type who wouldn't disappoint his parents. Also, just a side-note on Banta's parents, his father was 45 years old when Frank was born, which if you know anything about that time period, that's very late in life for a son to be born. Frank was the middle child with his oldest sibling being born in 1868. It's just unusual for a parent to be over 40 when their child is born in this line of study, and in general when looking into the Victorian era. Frank's father likely allowed his son to enter in music, but certainly wouldn't want it to be his sole livelihood. 
I must have looked a little something like this:
(a cartoon I did illustrating Banta's musical upbringing)

 Eventually Frank's parents got him musical training, but it must have taken a few years before this happened. It's likely that Frank already had developed musical habits and characteristics by the time his formal training began, since as stated earlier appertaining to Hylands, Banta had characteristics that could really only have been developed from being self-taught even just a little.

 Now we know about those two pianists, since so much research has been done on them(well one of them anyway, the other has only been my digging and a few friends as well), but what about Issler and Hager? We know how strangely interesting Issler's playing was, since he is often considered the best overall musician of the early studio pianists. This is without a doubt true, his rhythm was unequalled, and his improvisation skills were especially well-established for a pianist trained in the 1860's-70's. Just to put this into perspective, let's say Issler began his musical training at age 7, well that would have been in 1863. That's two years before the end of the civil war, and he would have been old enough to have begun musical training, which would officially place him as beginning at the end of the first syncopated music era(1830's-about 1869). Who knows that he could have heard in that time from 1863-1876, since that was so early on, and such a mixed stew of music time wise. He also would have likely became a music teacher around the mid-1870's, which is(what some scholars say) likely where he was first exposed to black music, or clearly syncopated music. While a young struggling music teacher and musician, the need to understand syncopation likely came his way. He took this knowledge with him when he began his parlor orchestra around 1885, and it seemed that his piccolo and flute player also had a similar mindset when it came to playing syncopation. Their similar mindsets when it came to music in general is why they were so trusting enough of each other to record piano duets. Recall that Issler and Schweinfest were the first commercially recorded pianists in history(yes there were piano solos recorded before 1889, but they were not commercially recorded to be sold). We still have yet to know if any of these dozen or so recordings exist, and as always, there's a possibility(there's more of a possibility of these existing than those supposed Buddy Bolden cylinders). 

The most progressive of these pianists overall(chronologically) would be Hager:
Still the most handsome of the early recording stars. 
Hager was not only progressive and strange musically, but also in his mindset it seems. He appeared to have been open-minded, and not obviously prejudiced in racial terms. He had much of the liberal side that Russell Hunting had, minus the indecent humor and possible bisexuality. Hager was much more decent, and reserved it seems, though is playing is the strangest of all the early studio pianists. Hager was born in Pennsylvania, not an expected place when examining his style. His style combined the tendencies of Arthur Pryor's Missouri-Indiana style, and that of the showy style of Mike Bernard and Banta. Hager played with lots of octaves, which was characteristic of a Texas Rag style, lots of fifths, similar to the Missouri-Kansas Rag style, and jolty syncopation, which was similar to Mike Bernard and Banta from New York. Something about Hager's playing made him the most creative and technically brilliant of these pianists, and it doesn't help that his background can back this up. He was a youth violin virtuoso, given all sorts of awards like Ossman was for banjo, and these awards eventually got him into music school. He studied at the school that Dvorak helped to found in New York in 1892-ish. 

Now consider this, Dvorak was Czech, and had never come to America before 1892. When he wrote his New World Symphony in that year, he pieced together the music of the Americas, and what he wrote for the American south was a syncopated banjo imitation. He had no preconceptions of North American music, and did he write for it, syncopated folk music! This was Dvorak's mindset, he knew little about American music, and with the little exposure he got in a relatively short period of time, he took in that syncopation was popular, IN 1893. His foundations were African and Native American music. With that, it is likely that young virtuoso Hager at 19-20 was taught under these principles. 

THAT, is my explanation of Hager's musical mindset. 

Though that only explains the foundation of Hager's music and style, everything else sort of grew on him in the years that came along, from 1895-1902, since his style did vary sometimes, even from year to year somewhat. His playing in 1898 sounds rather different from how it did in 1903, though we know it's the same pianist from the basic foundations of the playin being the same. 
Such as these three recordings with Hager on piano(all Zon-O-Phones of course):

from 1900(also for St. Patrick's day!)

from 1901


and 1903.

There are certainly similarities and differences from year to year, but it's certainly the same strange pianist. 
Now compare Hager's playing to two records with Banta:
From 1900 on Berliner.

and 1901 on Edison.
They are very different, but have the same sort of progressive and ragged nature that didn't seem archaic like Hylands' playing did. Hylands' playing was much more folksy(though that Berliner has some real rough sounding playing in there!), and sloppy, as Charlie Judkins calls it, which is very true. Banta is loose at some points, but clung to a slight stiffness always. Hager was stiff for the most part(much like Banta), and it didn't help that he was almost constantly playing octaves, even when improvising. With all of this, we have a place to start when thinking over all of these fascinating pianists. Knowing all of this is very important to knowing record companies, dating records, and kinds of sorting that goes into these early records. 

Hope you enjoyed this! 

By the way! If you want to see more of my cartoons, check out my Deviant art page. Here's a link: enjoy the esoteric humor! 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

A Cabinet card mystery

After doing some generic cabinet card searching on Ebay and Etsy this evening, I cam across a fascinating card from somewhere that quickly caught my attention, because it looked a little suspicious upon first glance. Before I get into my crazy rant about it like any potentially extraordinary find, here's the card:
Oh my god! Who's that?
Now who does that look like? Maybe this somewhat mysterious pianist at Columbia:
I know it's farther-fetched than thinking that the above man at the piano is Hylands, but if you really examine the other pictures we know to be Hylands,  you can see why this seemingly random cabinet card hooked me immediately. 
Compare the card with that picture identified as Hylands from 1898:
Oh my god this is so weird. 
The aspect that really got me started was the location and the glasses, since both of those things seemed to match up perfectly. One of the best things to compare it you're not sure about identification of someone, examine the ear shape. 
Ear shape is unique from person to person, no one's ears are exactly the same. Luckily, that's the one extremely helpful thing I've taken away from my biology class, and it's proven well in identifying people! 
You can see the ear is the same in the pictures compared to the card, though the best example is actually that very late image of Hylands from 1913:
Yep! Look at that ear, it's got the same curvature, and same protrusion, and that's the other ear in this one! 
Just so you can see it better, here's a darker version of the card.
Damn, I REALLY hope that's Hylands. 
If so, he was strange looking for sure. 

Also, he's got Max Hoffmann's hairstyle, which is kind of ironic. 

**Drop your thoughts and opinions about this new card in the comments! Your opinion is greatly appreciated in figuring this thing out, since it's the strangest thing I've found in any dig for cabinet cards. 

Hope you enjoyed this! Sorry about the last posts being rather short, got a long one in the works as of now. 

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Some mystery of Hylands music

What's this? 
Well, it's a new piece of sheet music recently acquired from the ebay. Now I've made it a rule to snatch every piece of Hylands Spencer and Yeager music that I see, since most of it is extremely rare, sometimes the copy in sight being one of two or three in existence. Most of the time, this is so with their music, since some of it slipped through Hylands' hands to get copyrighted. 

There's the problem.

Most people who have tried to compile all of Hylands' music have missed most of the music he wrote, simply because most of the music was never copyrighted. This is when things get frustrating. I have at least three pieces of music that either are or advertise pieces by Hylands that were never copyrighted, so that means we can't trace them, not matter how far we look and deep dig, they seen non-existent. This was an issue that began with his days publishing with Len Spencer, and it was with this firm that we see special pieces like the one above that cannot seem to be traced. Now to begin the analysis of the new piece. 

All-right, lets begin with that composer.
Who's that?
Well, I dug around through copyright records, and sheet music source after sheet music source, and couldn't trace such a name anywhere. Well, that means it's a pseudonym, but whose? Well, lets consider what's provided within the music. The inscription atop the first page of music reads:

"To my mother"

 Who was too young to have lost their mother?... ... ... 
Oh! Right, Hylands. Durr. 
Hylands? Well, that makes sense. Especially after looking through the music, there are those little embellishments that were written in such pieces as "You Don't Stop the World From Going Round", "The Darkey Volunteer" and even his much later "Lightning Rag" from 1912-ish. Okay, so the composer is probably Hylands, also because he didn't publish too many really strange composers who were completely unknown, but it's still a little strange. This opens up many more possibilities and theories some of us have had regarding Hylands music, and why it's so hard to track. Here are the reasons that his music is so hard to find and track:

  • Generally, his music wasn't popular enough to be well spread all over the country
  • Most of his music was never copyrighted, so that means that there's probably a whole lot more music out there by him we don't know about
  • He self-publihsed pretty much everything, so that means that there just weren't that many copies made to begin with
  • He probably hoarded copies, and lost them when he moved
  • He sold much of his music to his friends and to phonograph exhibitors(early on), which wasn't that many people
  • He used probably more than three pseudonyms in the late-1900's and early 1910's, because of the scramble he had with the White Rats Union(one of these pseudonyms has been confirmed as "Fred Whitney")

That pretty much sums it up. These are the reasons why music like the subject of this post, and one that I have by him called "Joe! O Joe!" from 1911, which seems to have never been copyrighted, and he's not under a different name. It would be interesting if someone came across a folio of music from many of the three major shows he wrote the music for from 1902-1906, or maybe some obscure Milwaukee or Illinois published music by him from before 1896. Finding older music by Hylands would be essential to our understanding of his style and origins, no matter what the context of the music happens to be(waltz, march, two-step, ballad, coon song, etc.). Clearly by 1896, his music was already interesting, and strange melodically, in accord to the earliest piece we know of his(so far), his arrangement of "Honey Come and See Me", which was originally composed by Charles Horwitz(the composer of that gorgeous song "Lucky Jim"). 

Since we've confirmed "Fred Whitney" as one of Hylands' pseudonyms, and that we've likely found another piece by him(with a different name!), I'd like to connect something. Whitney was his mother's maiden name---something I've already explained  on this blog, which is why that other pseudonym from over ten years later is still Hylands'. Let's refer back to the inscription on the top of the first page in the music, "to my mother", referring to his mother Mary Whitney(assuming that "Dick Thomas" is a Hylands pseudonym), who died in 1893, at a point of time when a few of the family died off, including Etta's husband of only six months or so, who died of smallpox, which might have been what took Mary. Her death must have been something Fred never got over, and it got him horribly emotional at any mention of his mother. That's at least what we can piece together with what we've got so far. Also, Fred seems like the mama's boy type anyway, just from occasional vibes when reading about him and doing some digging. 

**Hope to see some little sections for the Our Tattler contest! Again, PLEASE make some time to write some of these!**

Hope you enjoyed this! 

Sunday, March 5, 2017

More on the Our Tattler Contest

Yes indeed folks, this contest so far has become in need of some more submissions, though the ones I have received so far have been fantastic! 
Please! This contest still goes on, and for it to really turn into something great, i need some of the viewers of this blog to submit sections in the style of the Our Tattler column from The Phonoscope

To get you started, here are a few of the submissions I've gotten so far:

Congratulations Mr. Edison!  According to our estimation, you are well on your way to holding the record for starting the highest number of "patent piracy" cases against competition.

We recently heard a story about a boy whose father took him to a phonograph parlor.  The child, thinking that the phonograph was some sort of telephone, had a very one sided conversation with Mr. Michael Casey.  The boy's mother still does not know where her son heard such things as he has been asking about.

The Columbia studio resembled a pet store last week as Mr. Len Spencer was auditioning cats, dogs, and birds for use in a descriptive scene.  One of the birds got loose and "assisted" Mr. AtLee, who happened to be recording in the next room.

Contrary to popular belief, Lambert records cannot actually hold the wait of an elephant, as demonstrated by a recent experiment.

At a Columbia exhibition last week, a dramatic live performance by J. W. Myers of a sentimental song was greeted by George Johnson's laughing through a graphophone from the other side of the room.

After listening to a few Berliner disks, we thought that the Berliner recording machine must be as hand cranked as a gramophone.  To the workers of Berliner - if a record starts at a certain speed, should it not stay at that speed throughout its entirety?

After singing at a party, Mr. George Gaskin was approached by a lady who said that he sounded familiar, but didn't look familiar, and she never forgot a face.  She couldn't imagine how this was possible.

We recently received a letter from a record dealer in which was asked the question: "Does the inventor of duplicate records deserve credit or blame?"

The Columbia studio had an electrical issue last week that required outside attention.  Imagine the surprise of the Edison repairman when he arrived at the Columbia building!

Alcohol is allowed in certain studios - an obvious fact if you've heard a recent take of "In the Baggage Coach Ahead."

(Thanks for these Ryan!)
I have also created a few of these, with funny cartoons to accompany them. These ones above are perfect examples of what is to be expected from this contest, since they all seem like sections we would read when browsing through the Our Tattler and the General News sections of The Phonoscope. Here are the ones that I have done so far:

One of our correspondents recently heard the following conversation at the Columbia parlor:
-What makes you such a heavyweight sir?
--Sittin' in a broken chair fer ten dollars a week.
-Why's it broken?
--Cause I werk here.

Here's the cartoon that goes along with the one above: 

We've found Mr. Len Spencer's watch thief! Last month, Mr. Spencer went all around searching for his stolen watch, and found it at the bottom of the crate where the electric fans are kept, coming to find afterward that Georgie Emerson mistook it for his brother's studio timepiece. Len later had to repair the watch, since it appeared to have been stepped on while missing. 

The Columbia company's pianist, Mr. Hylands, was awfully sick last week from eating some rotten duck, and vows he'll never return to the restaurant that prepared the rotten quacker. He stated to the side that the drinks the place prepared made up for the ailment, despite little recollection of it. 

Edward Issler returned to the Columbia rooms last month, to repair the old piano he played in the good old days of five hundred rounds. One he approached the piano, opened his case of tools, his surprise was clear, with a loud crack of his wrenches on the bolts, and a whoop in shock,
-What have you done to this thing?
--Played it, that's all. 

Russell Hunting visited Mr. Roger Harding's Parlor last week, and when he found little Harding at the counter, a ragged old dark man approached them before conversation could ensue:
-You er Willie Fathand ern't yo?
--I was. Now I'm Russell Hunting. 

One of Berliner's new young employes dropped a crate full of masters recently and all the talent are being told they have to record all of the takes again, most of them are more than one. 

The new Zon-O-phone company has taken in Frederick Hager as their new music director, he has proved to be an established attraction at exhibitions and record demonstrations, particularly to the youthful girls. 

One of our popular correspondents was out for drink last month, and while sitting at the counter, ignorantly getting lost in thought, heard the racket of a familiar gang enter the saloon. He looked to his side and spotted Columbia's clan of Messrs. Spencer, Harding, Porter, Gaskin and Hylands. Imagine their surprise when they spotted the familiar face of the correspondent. At the studio door next day, Mr. Spencer could not recall who it was they saw at the saloon, neither could Messrs. Hylands and Gaskin. 

George Watson's wife, Marguerite entered the studio last month, causing all sorts of racket between takes, and attempting to sing along with her hubby during the session, further making George distracted while he yodeled. --She was an awful nuisance, so much so I couldn't fer the life a' me recognize her face. Thought she was horse in a dress, since my 'spects have been broke fer a few weeks. Thought I was hallucinating fer sure. Hope he don't bring her along again, though she's a pleasant singer.--Stated Mr. Hylands after the day. 

Mr. At Lee continues to be a strange curiosity at the phonograph parlors, a woman and her babe approached Mr. At Lee and stated(the woman) that she recalled him from back in the late-80's at a Messrs. Bell and Tainter exhibition, Mr. At Lee could not well focus on what the woman was saying because he was shooing away the babe's ever-curious hand from his whiskers. 

Anyway, hope all of these examples are enough to get some of your started! Once again, PLEASE send in some of these mock sections, they are so much fun to read and to write as well, a wider variety of sections would really be appreciated. This still has great potential! 

Hope you enjoyed this! Make some time to submit some sections for the contest by commenting on any of the two posts on this matter! 

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Studios in the Public eye

Ofttimes, it would strike us collectors to wonder what the general public perceived of the strange place that was the Phonograph studio. In the timer period, it actually isn't too hard to find sections from magazines and newspapers about this strange new industry. Much like how electricity was such a nationwide fascination in the 1880's and 1890', the recording business could be categorized in such a way as other new inventions and novelties were. These magazine and newspaper articles often tried to not impose any bias to record companies in their articles, as that would often spark some uneasiness between the competing companies. Unlike The Phonogram and Phonoscope, the unbiased nature of these sections was essential, an this is why we get infernal images like this one: 
Ones like this that haven't any labels or anything to go along with it, the damn articles leave us hanging to fight over who the pianist and singers are(to most it would be the singers, the pianist means nothing to most collectors...). The dodging of bias is all-right when considering magazines like The Phonoscope, but it's frustrating because we end up with unlabeled images. Now that section that the infamous image above came from was obviously talking about Columbia more than anything else, since it used Columbia images for the article. Keep in mind that the image on the cover page of the article is this one: 
Now we know that image can't be of the Edison studio. That pianist is obviously Fred Hylands. It doesn't help that both of the images have the same interesting wallpaper behind all the musicians and such. In fact, it's likely that these pictures were taken in EXACTLY THE SAME room, which is very odd, but if you really study the images, you can see it. 

Now what did the general public think of the studio? Let's stick with Columbia here, since most of the papers who wrote about studios were indirectly writing about Columbia rather than Edison(come on, everyone knew about Edison already...). Well, to start, the papers used to say it was much like a cross between "the rear of a theater and a machine shop", which does sum it up rather well, but that's only the appearance. They missed much of the odd social atmosphere that came along with this new community. The public generally saw these studio workers as eccentrics(which wasn't inaccurate), this is the record talent I'm referring to here. The studio laborers, such as engineers like Charles Carson and Georgie Emerson, were the more respectable of the bunch, since they worked with machinery and were often products of telegraph and telephone jobs in the 1880's. The record talent were, as we know, a weird bunch of freak musicians and performers, that were often questioned about what they thought of the business, and why they worked there in the first place. Of course, the lovely and infamous exhibition is where the freaks of the studio and the public were able to converse. 
There are countless articles and stories published in the pages of The Phonoscope about interactions between all sorts of people and the exhibitors. This seemed to be a popular subject in The Phonoscope, for the entirety of its existence. Without a doubt, these little stories about exhibitions are among the most interesting examples of writing in the magazine, most of them being in the Our Tattler column. Some of them(many of them actually) are somewhat racist, portraying Black and Asian people in stereotypical ways for the era, but are still funny by the humor that is being projected, despite the racism. The reactions of those described are really what the correspondents and writers for The Phonoscope were intending to sketch. One thing that would have been really funny to do is if they asked each of the recording stars(including engineers and pianists) what their first experience with the phonograph was like. That would prompt some interesting and exceedingly diverse points of view, certainly would make for some good reading! There are little hints of what these stars did in their earliest days in the business, but not exactly stories of how they started. From knowing Dan Quinn's first experience with the phonograph, this ought to spark curiosity of other stories. 

Of course, the only time that regular people got the chance to see Columbia in action was at exhibitions, and this gave a unique viewpoint to the public. It made Columbia seem more like a theater than a recording studio, especially since they had a specific bill for the evenings, with certain performers featured. It didn't help that the pianist(Hylands) was dressed in semi-formal clothes for many of these(he would certainly have needed one of those three electric fans in the dead of Summer...) as though he were going to Pastor's again to play in the pit. 

Of course, how could you have missed this brightly gleaming studio at 1155 Broadway, with supposedly 800 electric lights contributing to the spectacle. Certainly that bright place was hard to miss, and this was stated in the July, 1897 issue(really meant to be dated at January or so) of The Phonoscope where the still relatively new headquarters was described in detail as something that "attracts the notice and excites the admiration of every stroller on Broadway", which isn't too inaccurate, as it's likely that big celebrities dropped in on the exhibition parlor, like Diamond Jim Brady and Lillian Russell(that would have certainly caused a stir!). 

Oddly enough, describing what people would have thought of all this reminds me of the hilarious descriptive selection the Columbia Orchestra did called "On the Midway", because it kind of sums up 1890's Columbia in a nutshell, even for someone who wasn't a regular Columbia customer or enthusiast could have understood their atmosphere when listening to this record alone: 
The fact that they spend almost a minute on the "hoochie coochie" dance part is really funny, because the Issler original from 1894 didn't even do that. The vibe of the 1898 recording is certainly looser, and much more playful. By 1898, people got a very different view of Columbia than if they had gone to an exhibition of the U.S. Phonograph Company(remember that they essentially fell and became Columbia in 1897) in 1895, or even as late as 1896. Just because I'm listening to it as I'm writing this section, here's the original 1894 Issler's orchestra recording of "On the Midway": 
Also, I didn't notice this until listening to is now, but there's some audible humming of the tune at the dance part at the end, and it sounds like it's probably Issler! Wow, something about that image is very strange. What's funny is that if Issler and his orchestra ever performed this sketch and all dressed up for it, Issler would have genuinely looked Arab. 
Yep, he could have fooled the audience as an Arab just as well as Spencer did as a dandy black man. 
Imagining the rest of the orchestra dressed up for this is just as funny. Just go back and look at that picture from the record catalogs showing images of all the Issler members around 1894. 
Include Len Spencer in this as well, since he did all the sound effects! 
Anyway, with all of this, it's safe to assume that the general public was fascinated with the early recording studio, as well as those who worked there, from the earliest days. Though in the earliest days(1888-1895), the public wasn't really able to fully immerse themselves in the world that was recording, since in that time only large scale demonstrations were done, rather than just exhibitions at the studios themselves. Of course, Edison never did such a thing(invite regular people in the studio to observe the recording process), even when doing this was fully in style. The fact that Columbia did this in their studio is another reason why they really were the company of the people, and were more inviting than Edison. Despite an incompetent recording manager(Vic Emerson), Columbia was the place where musicians were better treated, and had more freedom, thanks to Emerson being musically ignorant and tone-deaf, we get all sorts of strange takes with mistakes all over the place, of which we continue to find 120 years later. We must keep in mind that we are much more aware of the inner workings of the business than the general public was in the era itself, so we are not nearly as nearsighted they the listeners when the records were new. When you get right down to it, we know more about what we're hearing than most did who heard the records when they were new. 

Now to move to something a little different. Last evening, while listening to some records with Charlie Judkins, we listened to a bunch of Zon-O-Phone's with Hager on piano, since those are always fit when talking about early recorded Rag-Time. But other than that, we also came across a FANTASTIC 1905 Columbia with Lew Dokstader singing! 
(Geo.Primrose is seated and Dockstader is standing, image dated 1898)
Most of us have stumbled across sheet music with Dockstader on the cover, since he was on countless coon song covers, and have read often of his famous minstrel troupe. Many famous early rag pianists held the place of Dockstader's pianist, such as Mike Bernard and Les Copeland, but often us studio pianist scholars would wonder if any of the studio pianists held this place, well, we're in luck! 
This 1905 Columbia(also issued on Standard as I've heard) by Dockstader of "Everybody Works but Father" is a prime example of not just Dockstader, bu also of Hylands when he accompanied stage stars(solely stage stars, not minor ones like Quinn or Ossman, ones who were so famous not to be regulars in the studio). Dockstader was one of these huge celebrities in performing at this time, and luckily, he left a few recordings along the way like May Irwin and Clarice Vance. Before I get into detail, here's the 1905 Columbia: 
You can easily tell that Dockstader was really loud, hence the reason he's standing rather far away from the horn. 
This is one of those records where Hylands must have gotten all warm and fuzzy to accompany such a celebrity on a recording. He had likely already worked with Dockstader, so it must have been like when Hylands and Harlan were reunited in the studio in 1901, though of course meeting Dockstader again was a little less than the more casual atmosphere of seeing Harlan once more.

 The recording above is certainly one of the best examples of true minstrel show performance, since Dockstader had been in minstrel shows since the 1870's(according to The Monarchs of Minstrelsy), and he had spend many a  year perfecting the style of the classic minstrel performers in the years prior to the civil war. Despite the modern material, Dockstader sets the old-fashioned mood with his vocal style, and of course Hylands tops it off with his already archaic and folksy playing style. Though the record is pairing the old guard with the "young'un" so to speak, the duo ends up surprisingly well composed, despite Dockstader being nearly 20 years older than Hylands. Just goes to show that even Hylands wasn't the most progressive of the early studio pianists, and could replicate the Appalachian folk style of the mid to late 19th century better than even Edward Issler, who was just as forward thinking musically as Fred Hager and Banta were, despite the significant age gap. 

Hope you enjoyed this!