Thursday, July 28, 2011

Ragtime Central

Every time I log onto Virginia (D.C. area) pianist "Perfessor" Bill Edwards' site ( I consciously think, "This is too good to be true." At first glance it's devoted to the preservation of Ragtime,  Popular Songs and Show-Tunes from the early Twentieth Century. Navigating through the various links, you'll soon discover that it's a veritable nexus of American cultural history. In the erudite commentary that accompanies all the original sheet music covers, the master pianist explains the historical context of each song and writes about its musical structure in easily understandable terms. More often than not, biographical details about the individual musicians and composers and the various bands with which they recorded and performed are provided. Over the past six years, Edwards' activities on the site have increasingly focused on writing and research. There are over 190 biographies of ragtime-era composers, publishers and performers from the obscure to renowned, such as George Gershwin, Charles Chaplin and Irving Berlin. It should take the average reader more than a week of full days to read through them all (starting at While hearing his spotless renditions of each song, you can feast your eyes on the cover art (these little postage stamp versions were the best I could download). The postage stamp covers (thumbnails actually) are actually quite useful.
  Hover the mouse over then and you find out more about each publication. Click on them and you get a separate window with a much larger sized cover and a MIDi with the information all in one. It was designed to allow for multi-tiered browsing, and focusing on one piece if need be through that method, making the most efficient use of space.
Please note that that the top of each of the pbmidi pages, the ones with the explanations and covers, the following text is shown:

Left Click on title to play MIDI or thumbnail to View full size cover
Right Click to Download either (in most browsers)

 With the exception of French fin de siecle posters, I don't know another era or site where there is so much drop-dead gorgeous hand lettering in one place. Even if you have little interest in ragtime as a musical form, reading his thoughts about its composition is like sitting at the feet of great tradesman/writers, such as the late Robert Pirsig ("Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance") or Anthony Bourdain ("Kitchen Confidential") who write with acute clarity borne of experience. Your horizon will be broadened by the encounter, even as it will be brightened by hearing Edwards tickle the 88s. By all means, buy his CDs and tell anyone who will listen about this Great American resource and living treasure.