Theater and Dance Music of James Reese Europe, Will Marion Cook, and Member of the Legendary Clef Club
The Paragon Ragtime Orchestra
Rick Benjamin, director
The Clef Club of New York City, Inc. was a fraternal and professional organization for the advancement of African-American musicians and entertainers; all of the composers on this recording were members or closely affiliated with the Club. The "Clef Club" was founded toward the end of 1909 in New York by James Reese Europe and his associates. Their mission to highlight the value, dignity, and professionalism of African-American performers was a great success and did much to change racial attitudes at all levels of white society. It quickly became a "who's who" of early twentieth-century black music and show business. With its reputation for reliability, gentility, and quality performances, the Clef Club soon gained the favor of the loftiest of New York's white society; it became the very height of fashion to announce that one had secured a genuine "Clef Club Orchestra" for an upcoming social event.
The composers featured on this revelatory recording represent the cream of Black Bohemia's musical life--the movers and shakers who paved the way for the music of the better remembered "Harlem Renaissance" of the 1920s. And while their names are obscure today, all once enjoyed national reputations in white America as well, feeding its burgeoning interest in black music, theater, and dance. Taken altogether, the talent, persistence, cooperation, and courage of these pioneers is an amazing American story that deserves to be better known. The recording features nineteen works by ten composers and is accompanied by a 40-page booklet. In addition to those by Europe and Cook, highlights include works by Will Vodery, an acknowledged influence on Ellington, and the first instrumental rag ever published, Sambo: A Characteristic Two Step March (1896), by Will Tyers.
The Castle Perfect Trot (1914) (James Reese Europe & Ford T. Dabney); Carolina Fox Trot (1914) (Will H. Vodery); Overture to "In Dahomey" (1902/1903) (Will Marion Cook); Deep River: Old Negro Melody (1916) (traditional, arr. Harry T. Burleigh); Sambo: A Characteristic Two Step March (1896) (William H. Tyers); When The Band Plays Ragtime (song, 1902) (Bob Cole & the Johnson brothers); Castle House Rag (1914) (James Reese Europe); Smyrna: A Turkish Serenade (1910/1914) (William H. Tyers); Ballin' the Jack (Smith) & What It Takes To Make Me Love You - You've Got It (Europe)(medley fox trot, 1914) (Chris Smith & James Reese Europe); Meno D'Amour (intermezzo, 1906) (William H. Tyers); Hey There! Hi There! (one step, 1915) (James Reese Europe); The Tar Heel Blues Rag (1915) (J. Tim Brymn); Congratulations ("the Castles' Lame Duck Waltz," 1914) (James Reese Europe); Strut Miss Lizzie (fox trot, 1921) (J. Turner Layton/arr. Will H. Vodery); Panama: A Characteristic Novelty (1910/1911) (William H. Tyers); The Clef Club March (1910) (James Reese Europe); Under the Bamboo Tree (song, 1902) (Bob Cole & the Johnson brothers); Cocoanut Grove Jazz (1917) (J. Tim Brymn); Swing Along! (1902/1912) (Will Marion Cook)
Reviews"There's plenty of variety here to give a representative sampling of some of the era's finest pop music, and it's all played with polish, authenticity, and all-out enthusiasm by the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra under Rick Benjamin's inspired direction. The recording provides natural perspectives, warm presence, and dynamic punch. Those who think ragtime begins and ends with Scott Joplin are in for a pleasant surprise, while aficionados no doubt will treasure this uniquely enjoyable disc." - Classics Today