Hailed for his prodigious technique and praised by the Washington Post for an “unusually fresh and arresting approach to the piano,” pianist Michael Adcock has cultivated a versatile career as soloist, chamber musician and pre-concert lecturer. His new solo CD, “Ragtime in Washington,” is released on the Centaur label in July 2018, and includes both classic and contemporary ragtime works. Mr. Adcock’s solo CD, “Keyboard Transcriptions,” was released by Centaur in May 2017, and includes Prokofiev’s transcription of his Romeo and Juliet ballet, as well as Gershwin's Wild Seven Virtuoso Etudes

Posted: May-29-2018
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CD Review —
Finding inner chill: Michael Adcock’s "Ragtime in Washington"

Posted: Sep-24-2018
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"Adcock does not merely set his gaze on the distant past, but actually posits ragtime as a living, breathing art form..."

— Winnipeg Free Press
Posted: Aug-24-2018
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According to writer David A. Jasen, in his comprehensive “Rags and Ragtime: A Musical History”, the art form known as Ragtime has a complicated and perplexing, even paradoxical, history: In an era of rigid racial divisions, Ragtime was a racially ambiguous commodity whose earliest composers had no common racial identity nor the desire to promote their music under an ethnic banner. Although Scott Joplin is the medium’s most well-known composer, dozens of Ragtime players and composers were active during the golden age of Ragtime, 1905-1917.

Before it became a sheet-music staple of Tin Pan Alley music publishers, Ragtime was mostly a performance medium, originating in the local saloons and other “houses of questionable repute” often occupied by itinerant musical performers. Ragtime was also influenced by the social constructs of society dance hall music, such as Two-steps, Marches and Cakewalks. In addition to being characterized by frequent syncopation, many pieces of the period were “ragged” in rhythm – meaning that the even note values were often dotted or swung; indeed, it was a trend of the time for performers to swing the rhythm of well-known
classical works as a novelty.

Soon, the merging of improvised Vaudeville saloon-playing and high-society dance hall music resulted in the classic form of Ragtime. Composers began writing down their compositions and had them published for general use. The music became more exalted and more serious as an art form, rather than being mere entertainment. Still, most performers of the time rarely played Rags as written; the tradition of embellishing Rags meant that one could identify a specific performer just by hearing him a block away.

Early, turn-of-the-century Ragtime pieces (pre-1905) were considered Folk Rags, a mix of folk elements and playing styles present in the music of the Mississippi Valley. Enter Scott Joplin, a potent and forceful musical innovator, who fused African-American rhythms and American folk song (of both black and white culture) with music principles derived from European cultural traditions. People weren’t just Cakewalking in America; Cakewalking was also all the rage in Paris, London, Vienna and Edinburgh. It was Joplin who helped to crystalize Ragtime into a distinct musical form, merging folk polyrhythms with more formal elements of key, harmony and structure. The pieces Joplin encountered in the saloons and pool halls of St. Louis had their basis in Sousa Marches, with added syncopated elements of “Jig” piano. These
Marches, exemplifying a set structural form of four to five sections in two or more different keys, slowly began to take the form ABACAD in Ragtime compositions, with requisite repeats and a frequently reprised opening section. While most Rags are in 2/4 or 4/4 time, they may also appear in 3/4 Waltz or 6/8 March time – as, for example, Bethena (A Concert Waltz) by Scott Joplin.

Scott Joplin moved freely between the underbelly culture of the American South and the more “respectable” world of higher-brow musical culture; this enabled him to create Rags which coupled classical pretensions with his desire for, as he wrote, “a weird and intoxicating effect on the listener”. Indeed, when one listens to Joplin Rags, there is this nether world aura of nostalgia, evoking memories of the old South, Spanish moss and large plantation oaks. Joplin wrote dozens of Rags in his lifetime, including the popular The Entertainer and Maple Leaf Rag. Some of his better and more original pieces, as well as ones for which he expressed a personal preference, include The Easy Winners, Palm Leaf Rag and Solace.

Following on his major Ragtime hit, the Maple Leaf Rag (1899), Joplin’s thoroughly composed and written-out works led to the term “classic Rag”. Joplin began to make money as a Ragtime composer and Ragtime composition became big business, as the publishers of Tin Pan Alley made it their mission to publicize, market and distribute new works in the genre. Ragtime peaked around 1913, as new performers and composers entered the market and began to experiment with the form and content of the Rag. Novelty Rags began to appear, followed by Stride Ragtime, made popular by the New York style pianists Lucky Roberts and Eubie Blake, who influenced later artists like Fats Waller, Count Basie, Jelly Roll Morton and Art Tatum. Red Pepper Rag by Henry Lodge, is an example of a New York style Novelty Rag, as is Rialto Ripples, co-written in 1917 by George Gershwin and Will Donaldson. Grandpa’s Spells by Jelly Roll Morton and Old Tom- Cat on the Keys by Bob Zurke, are examples of mid-20th Century Swing Rags.

Ragtime enjoyed a significant revival between 1941 and 1978, as serious classical composers began to experiment with the art form, publishing their own Rags.

The University of Michigan-associated composers William Albright and William Bolcom, were and are prolific writers of contemporary 20th Century Ragtime – works influenced by Ragtime style and/or technique. William Albright mixes Swing Rag style with a Harlem Chicken Scratch in his Sleepwalker’s Shuffle (from Dream Rags, 1967 1970), dedicated to Eubie Blake. The
extended and episodic Scott Joplin’s Victory (from Grand Sonata in Rag, 1974) utilizes a Cakewalk. William Bolcom’s prodigious forays into Ragtime composition span the years 1967-2010, and contain numerous kinds of Rags, including Classic Rags, Novelty Rags, Strides, Shuffles, Chicken Scratches, as well as Latin, Tango and Creole-inspired Ragtime compositions. The living composer John Musto’s contributions to contemporary Ragtime include Recollections and In Stride, from his 2003 work Five Concert Rags. Finally, the clever and novel That Old Second-Viennese-School Rag by Thomas Benjamin exists as a fun Rag-spoof on the music of Arnold Schönberg.

Posted: Jul-6-2018
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Posted: May-29-2018