That Demon Rag! American Popular Music from the Ragtime Era
Paragon Ragtime Orchestra, Dorian Discovery #DIS80107 (one CD)
For nearly a decade now, the twelvemember Paragon Ragtime Orchestra has been touring the country in the ghostly footsteps of the thousands of “theater orchestras” that once played in every hotel, vaudeville hall, and fair-sized restaurant. Few of them can have played with more bite and sparkle than the Paragon. Ragtime has been called the folk music of the American city (although, unlike the jazz that supplanted it, it was always a written music), and indeed, there is a sense of urban hurry to these numbers; the bright clamor of, say, “That Hindu Rag,” is full of that confident turnof-the-century energy that is usually characterized as “—optimistic.” One can sense our modern cities rising to the canny swagger of these tunes, just as one hears our own era taking shape in the years that pass between Arthur Pryor’s ebullient “Cakewalk Contest” of 1899 and Jerome Kern’s ravishing 1914 “They Didn’t Believe Me.” And it’s a pleasant surprise to discover the ubiquitous “Melancholy Baby” scrubbed clean of sixty years of nightclub smoke, making her debut in a winsome 1912 two-step.