The fourth volume in Timeless Historical's From Ragtime to Jazz series dips back earlier than any of the previous entries, tracing a chronological time line from 1922 all the way back to 1896. Any thorough and unflinchingly honest retrospective that delves into this realm is going to be peppered -- as this one is -- with titles and themes that seem racist today but were extremely common during a time when both the U.S. and English entertainment industries were being founded upon a seething mass of ethnic stereotypes. This collection is loaded with examples from both sides of the Atlantic bearing titles that are indelibly etched upon our collective cultural subconscious, like it or not. Recorded in London in early 1912, Joseph Batten's piano solo "The Nigger's Hop" is a logical exponent of British society, as the offensive word in question was invented by the English and circulated throughout the world via their empire on which the sun never set. "The Land of Cotton" (a plaintive ode played and sung by the Hedges Brothers & Jacobson) and "Cotton Blossoms" performed by Kendle's First Regiment Band are examples of a tendency for early 20th century songwriters to romanticize life among slaves and sharecroppers in the old-time Southern United States.
Instrumentally speaking, nothing fit this kind of thematic better than the banjo, and to some extent banjo players ride shotgun through this collection. Maurice Levi's "An Ethiopian Mardi Gras" was recorded in New York on January 8, 1900, by banjoist Vess L. Ossman, and "All Coons Look Alike to Me" and "Bye, Bye Ma Honey" were waxed in London in 1902 by banjoist Edgar Cantrell and mandolinist Richard Williams, who were often billed as "the Ragtime Duo." "Darkys Patrol" is credited to banjoist Steve Clemens and a medley of "Coon Songs" to banjoist Olly Oakley, also known as James Sharpe. In December 1913, banjo master Fred Van Eps made a fine recording of "The Junk Man Rag Medley," based on a theme by Harlem stride piano legend Luckey Roberts. There is also an invigorating pass at Abe Holzmann's "Smokey Mokes" by banjoist Charlie Rogers, and a spirited rendition of Sadie Koninsky's "Eli Greens Cakewalk" played by the banjo duo of Joseph Cullen and William P. Collins.
In and amongst this veritable swarm of percolating banjos are woven thrilling examples of what constituted popular entertainment during the first two decades of the 20th century. "Peaceful Henry," a slow drag by E. Harry Kelly, was presented by the Columbia Orchestra in 1903; about three years later the ragtime two-step "Razzazza Mazzazza" emerged as one of the Arthur Pryor Band's most popular achievements. "Oh, That Ragged Rag" is heard in a punchy "oompah" arrangement used by the London Orchestra, and U.S. vaudeville star Bert Williams sings "Play That Barbershop Chord." "Bregeiro" (a Rio Brazilian maxixe) was recorded in 1914 by Joan Sawyer's Persian Garden Orchestra, and "I Can Dance with Everybody Except My Wife" by Ciro's Club Coon Orchestra in 1916. Both ensembles operated in London under the direction of Jamaican pianist Dan Kildare, an associate of James Reese Europe.
The closing tracks of this intriguing collection invoke the post-WWI ragtime-to-jazz progression with a cluster of exciting and hitherto difficult to find recordings. "Cute Little Wigglin' Dance" was done up by the Frisco Jazz Band in New York City in August 1917. Henry W. Ragas' "Bluin' the Blues," familiar to early jazz lovers as one of the very best instrumentals ever introduced by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, is presented here by Al Bernard & the Kansas Jazz Boys in a rare vocal version from 1919 using lyrics by Sidney Mitchell. Recorded a few months later in London, "What Do You Mean by Loving Somebody Else When Your Love Belongs to Me?" is a parlor instrumental by the Versatile Four. Most of their recorded works, like those of Dan Kildare, were reissued by Document in the 1990s. "Dreaming Blues" dates from 1920 and is a terrific example of early jazz played by a group under the direction of saxophonist Joseph Samuels. Also from 1920, "When My Baby Smiles at Me" is credited to Art Hickman's New York London Five, and employs the conspicuous laughing trombone effects soon to be made notorious by people like Paul Whiteman and Ted Lewis.
The year 1921 is represented by pianist Frank Banta's Gennett recording of Ted Snyder's "Wild Cherry Rag" and "What Could Be Sweeter Dear" as delivered by James A. Murray's eight-piece Colored Syncopated Harmony Kings. This amazing collection closes with a snappy reading of "Tiger Rag" recorded for the Black Swan label in Long Island City during the summer of 1922 by Ethel Waters' Jazz Masters. Waters, like Mamie Smith, was smart enough to put out a number of records bearing her name but featuring only her accompanying musicians. The instrumentalists in this case were cornetist Joe Smith (who fronted the group as Joe Smith's Jazz Masters and is usually remembered as one of Bessie Smith's greatest collaborators), trombonist George Brashear, clarinetist Clarence Robinson, drummer Raymond Green, and an aspiring pianist and future bandleader by the name of Fletcher Henderson.