Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Cincinnati RagTime: A History

Ragtime (ca 1897-1920) an American musical genre, is a dance form written in 2/4 or 4/4 time, syncopated, with rhythmic accents on the weak beats. Largely popular for its lively and syncopated style, Ragtime gained momentum in St. Louis and New York, but Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky were also major hubs for this musical genre due to the migration of African Americans from southern states caused by the onset of WW I, Northern Kentucky’s close proximity to Cincinnati and its river city status.

Riverboats that tramped the Ohio River, The Island Queen steamboat in particular, were a popular venue for Ragtime music A notable Ragtime artists was Artie Matthews (A.K.A. Mr. 814). Popular tunes include, Zincinnati: German rag (Nancy Bierbaum) and Lassus Trombone (Henry J. Filmore).

Ragtime music in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky relied heavily on touring bands and musicians from the riverboat craze, but the onslaught of the railroad diminished its business and so went the popularity of Ragtime.

Jazz and Blues then became popular and national stars like pianist Thomas “Fats” Waller New York born, “Your Feets Too Big” took up residence in Greater Cincinnati from 1932 to 1934 to perform on the WLW radio show bolstering his career to build its Jazz history. Jelly Roll Morton made also made many stops in Cincinnati with the Fate Marable Orchestra. Though national stars made the headlines, there were many local artists who flipped the bill.

Three of the most notable names in Cincinnati Jazz pianist Charles Alexander, tenor saxophonist Edgar “Spider” Courance, and Bill Coleman (Born 1904 in Paris, KY) who moved to Cincinnati in 1911 and played jazz trumpet with other local stars like Clarence Paige, Edgar Hayes and Zack Whyte. Nelson Burton (Covington, KY 1922) played in many jazz bands in the area. Roosevelt Sykes and Walter Davis recorded at Seton Hotel in 1930 and Baby Bonnie may have recorded here in 1924. Other names include: Stovepipe “Six Street Blues”, pianist Pigmeat Jarrett, Patfoot Charlie Collins, and Walter Coleman (“Mama Let Me Lay It on You”)


Burton, Nelson. My Life In Jazz. Cincinnati: Clifton Hills Press, 2000. pg 13-64

Tracy, Steven . Going to Cincinnati. Urbana: University if Illinois Press, 1993. pg 1-7

Kenny, William. Jazz on the River. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005. pg 1-11