Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Johnny Maddox and His Crazy Otto Rags

Johnny Maddox photo uploaded
Veteran ragtime pianist Johnny Maddox may have had a million selling instrumental with the Crazy Otto Rag over a half century ago, but he has remained true to the music, still performing classic ragtime as well as the ragtime inspired show and parlor numbers of the period and blues of the first few decades of the twentieth century. He also has compiled one of the great collections of sheet music, early recordings and the like of this music. Having recorded numerous CDs, he still keeps his music in catalog on his Crazy Otto label which have their charms. Three distinctly different releases give an indication of the breadth of his catalog and the music that is of a long bygone time.

Songs That Made the Flappers Cry collects a dozen selections with Maddox’s very stately parlor-style piano accompanied by an unidentified violin player on a selection of songs the most familiar of which is My Blue Heaven. A number of these performances are medleys such as the opening They Needed a Songbird in Heaven (So God Took Caruso Away) b/w There’s a New Star in Heaven Tonight, Rudolph Valentino, along with I’ve Grown so Lonesome Thinking of You b/w Some Sweet Day. The cd booklet contains sheet music covers and Maddox’s concise histories of the included compositions.

Salute to the Jazz Age is a hotter album with the clarinet of Vern Baumer added to a number of tracks, with Maddox featured on the others. The tempos are a bit hotter here with Sugar from the pen of Maceo Pinkard (also composer of Sweet Georgia Brown) followed by Maddox’s solid solo rendition of Virginia Blues, one of the early Tin Pan Alley ‘blues’ numbers followed by the Baumer’s clarinet embellishing some wonderful piano on W.C. Handy’s St. Louis Blues and then on Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans, one of the two compositions that come from after the jazz age. Other songs include Maddox’s wonderful solos on Percy Bradford’s Crazy Blues (one of the first blues songs to be recorded), and Royal Garden Blues, the latter taken at a breakneck tempo (perhaps a tad too fast), and the duo on When The Red Red Robin Comes Bob-Bob-Bobbin’ Along, as well as Honeysuckle Rose. Maddox’s own Friday Night Stomp is another exhilarating display of Maddox’s piano. This may be the best of the three to introduce listeners to Maddox’s musical world with the variety of settings and tempos.

The last disc under consideration, Sunflower Slow Drag (a reissue of two vinyl lps) is comprised of 24 blue, rags and cakewalks by Maddox including more than a few familiar songs such as the exquisite title track composed by Scott Joplin and Scott Hayden and some may remember from the movie, The Sting, followed by a couple of W.C. Handy classics, Yellow Dog Rag and Memphis Blues. Songs like I Get the Blues When It Rains and Dallas Blues were more Tin Pan Alley songs and popular with bands like Guy Lombardo and Ted Lewis, while Will Nash, a pianist with Mr. Handy's band composed The Snaky Blues which was among the first songs the Handy Band recorded. Everybody’s Two-Step is a lively rag number that appeared in the show A Lucky Hoodoo. Another number with a handy connection is J Paul Wyer’s Long Lost Blues, with a familiar melody (My Bucket’s Got a Hole in It). Tom Turpin was another celebrated ragtime composer (and the first African-American to have his rags published) and Maddox treats us to a delightful version of Turpin’s St. Louis Rag that celebrated the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. Maddox also treats us to his arrangement of the traditional Frankie and Johnny. 80 minutes of engaging music along with the thoughtful and very informative booklet making for another delightful release that certainly is invaluable for those lovers of early twentieth century music, and enjoyable on its own terms.

This review appeared in the March-April 2007 Jazz & Blues Report (issue 291) and I believe the publication provided me review copies. Here is a video of him performing Frankie and Johnny.

No comments: