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Four Rags for Two Jo(h)ns for clarinet and piano

April 19, 2009 – Jon Manasse, clarinet; John Novacek, piano

John Novacek writes:

American music may well force upon us the futility of certain distinctions: “popular” and “serious”, “folk” and “culivated”. Case in point, ragtime, that complex hybrid of black dance tunes filtered through the procedures of the polka, march, and white minstrel song. Classic ragtime flourished from 1895 to 1915 when a number of talented pianists gathered at Tom Turpin’s Rosebud Cafe in St. Louis. The greatest was Scott Joplin (1868-1917), whose infectiously syncopated marches conceal a solid compositional technique. Inspired by the Joplin revival of the 1970s (itself spurred by the soundtrack to the film The Sting), I found playing and composing rags habit-forming, and the habit persists. My own rags show various influences: classic ragtime, the classical showpiece, and stride (the highly embellished, virtuosic offshoot of ragtime practised by Harlem pianists James P. Johnson and Fats Waller).

The Four Rags for Two Jo(h)ns were written at the insistence of clarinetist Jon Manasse and pianist Jon Nakamatsu. I’m mightily grateful to them for the pressure they exerted, for they play the set with virtuosity, panache, and an uncanny feel for the idiom, and I am delighted that they’ll be recording the rags for Harmonia Mundi later this year. This afternoon, I’ll do my best in filling Mr. Nakamatsu’s spot on the piano bench.

By Michael Parloff

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