Join 3,415 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


"We put out other ragtime records, too, and they sell terribly."
March 12, 2010 10:26 AM   Subscribe

Reginald Robinson won a MacArthur Fellowship grant in 2004 for his original ragtime compositions, but has found it difficult to reach the public. "Even with the MacArthur 'genius' title … I'm invisible."

Reginald Robinson on iTunes.

Another video of Robinson playing.
posted by Rory Marinich (65 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
did two self-releases use up $500,000? Can you not use it for living expenses?

The idea of him getting rid of his piano makes me sad.
posted by pinky at 10:30 AM on March 12, 2010


You can use the money however you like, But I don't know that there's that big of a market for ragtime.
posted by delmoi at 10:42 AM on March 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


The "brilliant artist, not recognized in his time, dies penniless" is a long standing archetype for a reason. Talent does not equal money.
posted by doctor_negative at 10:51 AM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I can relate. My smithy just hasn't been the same since that Ford fellow started peddling his auto-velocipedes.
posted by Brodiggitty at 10:55 AM on March 12, 2010 [6 favorites]


Hence why I posted this, in part. Thanks to the Internet even an ADD-addled young lad like me can help bring recognition to wonderful musicians who ought to be recognized.

I'm listening to his Sounds In Silhouette album right now and very much enjoying it. Ten dollars for an hour's worth of music is always a fair trade, and in this case it's going to somebody who makes daring, unique music.

I can relate. My smithy just hasn't been the same since that Ford fellow started peddling his auto-velocipedes.

Yeah. That's also why I don't listen to Beethoven or colonial American dance tunes. Because the instant something new comes along I just fucking lose the ability to enjoy anything else.
posted by Rory Marinich at 10:59 AM on March 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


He's great, but maybe it's just...ragtime. What I mean is that when I hear that, I go, oh, Scott Joplin/soundtrack to the Sting. Next. It's marginalized music.
posted by fixedgear at 11:01 AM on March 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


My smithy just hasn't been the same since that Ford fellow started peddling his auto-velocipedes.

And now that we have the new electronic music, I can't understand how anyone ever got by with music made by people using instruments! Thank you, Casio!
posted by gurple at 11:01 AM on March 12, 2010


He's great, but maybe it's just...ragtime. What I mean is that when I hear that, I go, oh, Scott Joplin/soundtrack to the Sting. Next. It's marginalized music.

Which is the problem. It's such a distinctive, unique sound that it's easy to impulsively shoo this guy into a category of "old stuffy musicians". But he does some brilliant stuff in his compositions.

As I wrote this, his song Swampy Lee came on. Buy it, or at least listen to the 30-second preview. This is something beyond what Joplin did with the form.
posted by Rory Marinich at 11:05 AM on March 12, 2010


Thanks for posting this. Anywhere we can check out a sample online? If not, that's ok, this seems like a good cause so I will probably chunk down $10 to check it out.
posted by I am the Walrus at 11:10 AM on March 12, 2010


Listening to ragtime makes me feel like I'm in a silent movie. Sometimes nice, sometimes eerie.
posted by electroboy at 11:10 AM on March 12, 2010


i have nothing to say but FUCK WYNTON MARSALIS.

this has to be his fault.
posted by Hammond Rye at 11:11 AM on March 12, 2010


I wish someone would give me half a million dollars so I could bitch about my art, too...
posted by Aquaman at 11:11 AM on March 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


This guy is terrific, and he doesn't sound anything like either Scott Joplin or The Sting. That's like listening to Fats Waller and saying "Oh, more stride piano." If I weren't so broke, I'd buy an album or two. Thanks very much for the post, and I hope he gets the attention he deserves.
posted by languagehat at 11:14 AM on March 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


As a ragpicker and (albeit a poor) ragtime composer myself, I've gotta agree that it's a tough world out there for proprietors of early jazz music. A professional concentration in ragtime music almost requires a side-career as a prerequisite.

And then there's Ethan Uslan.
- Chopin's Knocked Urn (.ram from prairie home companion)
posted by The White Hat at 11:15 AM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Because the instant something new comes along I just fucking lose the ability to enjoy anything else.

Look, I'm not knocking the guy. I love folk and the work of musicians such as The Pogues and Great Big Sea who have managed to revive songs that were essentially sea shanties. Lots of musicians have found commercial success with dated styles of music. The aptly names pianist Michael Kaeshammer (pronounced keys-hammer) has found moderate commercial success with his original boogie-woogie and jazz pieces. Perhaps Robinson could call him up and pick his brain, because he is doing something right.

The guy had half a million dollars. He should suck it up. I'm sure he could make a decent living playing jazz festivals if he wanted to. Wide commercial success? You're dreaming. Cult following? Entirely possible.
posted by Brodiggitty at 11:17 AM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


actually, here's a link to the gentleman's website:

you can listen to samples

his first 3 records are available on emusic.com too
posted by Hammond Rye at 11:19 AM on March 12, 2010


> did two self-releases use up $500,000? Can you not use it for living expenses?

Session musicians and studio time are expensive, as are the lawyers, graphic designers, CD duplicators, and packagers. Music distribution requires you put all your money up first, send your pressings to the distributors and retailers, and then wait months or years before they kick back to you a check from the sales it made. His second self-release is a 3 CD set, and that must've cost a mint to make. I'm sure he also used some money for living expenses too.

Ordinarily somebody in his position would be tenure-track in a music school at a good university somewhere, so that he has a day job and the connections from it to get a stream (or at least a trickle) of arts grants to fund projects like this. But as a high school drop out from the projects, he's not in that position and lacks those connections.

It's pretty heartbreaking. The guy's a prodigy without a patron.
posted by ardgedee at 11:23 AM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Nothing in that article makes a lick of sense. Where did the $500,000 go, really?
posted by The World Famous at 11:27 AM on March 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


He spent 100K a year for five years doing what?
posted by fixedgear at 11:28 AM on March 12, 2010


Turns out he's on Lala, too.

As I said before, I recommend Swampy Lee. Just finished my first listen-through and that's one (but certainly not the only one) that grabbed me.
posted by Rory Marinich at 11:34 AM on March 12, 2010


Next. It's marginalized music.

If it's not popular, it's not good.

Reminds me of this high school girl I overhead in line getting food at Epcot center a few days ago, who kept asking her friend more and more urgently as the line brought them closer to the front counter to order: "Which is more popular? The chicken sandwich or the barbecue pork sandwich? Which is more popular!?!?" She finally ended up asking the cashier which was more popular before she settled on her choice (the more popular option, naturally).
posted by saulgoodman at 11:35 AM on March 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure where the snotty judgment about how he's used (or not used) his money is coming from. The article indicates that he's not in desperate straits, that he's sold his house and moved into an apartment, that he (apparently) isn't worried about debt anymore. The article says that he needs to figure out what to do next with his life, not that he's living on the street.
posted by blucevalo at 11:35 AM on March 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


According to the article, he purchased a home (pre-bubble?), paid off his debts, produced albums, buried his father, married his wife, and came out of it with a little to spare:

In some ways, then, he's returning to the way he lived before the MacArthur, but without the financial desperation and buoyed by a national reputation — albeit in rather narrow circles.
posted by kid ichorous at 11:41 AM on March 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's such a distinctive, unique sound that it's easy to impulsively shoo this guy into a category of "old stuffy musicians". But he does some brilliant stuff in his compositions.

Is it shoehorning? The issue at hand here is how people interact with music. Very broadly speaking, there is one group that takes great interest in the actual low-level structures of the music they listen to. Those are the people that, like languagehat above, won't be confusing Art Tatum for Fats Waller any time soon. There is another group that listens to music for the cultural meanings it contains. For them, the formal parameters of the musical content aren't important as long as they communicate those meanings appropriately.

My contention is that the latter type is the dominant type, and for them, ragtime is ragtime is ragtime. The difference for that type of listener between two different performers/composers is akin to the same word being set in a different font.

The point is that I don't think either side is listening to music wrongly. When this situation comes up, the people in the first group tend to chastise the second group for having shallow musical interests (I'm not accusing anyone here, as that hasn't happened in this thread), but they're just different. The unfortunate result is that someone like Reginald Robinson is unlikely to get too far in this world. It's sad, but it's no one's fault in particular.

(That said, I'm definitely buying one of his CDs. The dude clearly lives in the form. He's killa-dilla.)
posted by invitapriore at 11:42 AM on March 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


Rather than snark, which was my first impulse, I decided to RTFA by Howard Reich. Things are not all as bleak as the FPP snippet would lead one to believe, and it doesn't sound like he's asking for anyone's pity.

Reich's article points out that "his finances are organized" now that the MacArthur money is done, he's got the prestigious award on his resume along with a stellar set of performances. He should be able to travel widely as the leading practitioner of ragtime, a niche music within a niche music. It may even be more of a "russian doll" than that, given that ragtime (as he plays it) is a subset of solo piano jazz, subset of piano jazz, subset of jazz.

So, if I were to meet Reginald Robinson, I would ask him the question that Reich begs but doesn't ask or answer: Are you surprised to be invisible? If the answer is that he thought the MacArthur would confer more than it already has, I would say he is terribly naive. But he is not saying that--we don't know if he feels empty after all of this.

Look, I knew Bob Koester of Delmark. I consider him a giant of jazz and he runs a record store & record label that are known widely within blues and jazz aficionados, but not by the general jazz/blues listening/buying public--even if they have half a dozen Delmark recordings in their homes. He put out the first three Robinson records. And Robinson was hoping to find a label that could do more for him than Delmark? Koester will never (pretty sure) get a MacArthur, but neither did I hear regrets out of him.

My wife will never (pretty sure) get a MacArthur, yet she, like Robinson, fights to save a dying genre--hers is the gelatin silverprint, and the sub-genre of Holga camera (not exclusively, but Robinson can play other than ragtime, too). She has no illusions of gaining notoriety, fame, or riches. As she told me years ago when we were discussing long range plans--I don't do this (being a visual artist/print artist) because I think it would be a cool way to make a career--I do it because I would die if I could not express myself this way.

I also know, slightly, a 1999 MacArthur fellow who is also a Chicago jazz musician. He used the money for a variety of projects, but firstly, to make sure that his working band could all play together as a unit and not worry about day jobs--a professional bane in jazz (or any other art form as far as I know).

So, my best to Reginald Robinson! May you find what you are searching and may you continue to hear your muse.
posted by beelzbubba at 11:55 AM on March 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


I'm glad this got posted. Mr. Padraigin's birthday is coming up and man, do I love to win at birthday present giving.

Which vendor would be most likely to ensure Robinson receives the biggest cut?
posted by padraigin at 11:55 AM on March 12, 2010


The other thing is that the article's about his music, not about his money (which is also supposedly what the grant's about). But maybe that's the point. Ragtime is "marginalized" music that hasn't made anyone who matters any money in 40 years. Therefore, since it's not about money or connected to money, it's useless, disposable, and irrelevant.
posted by blucevalo at 11:57 AM on March 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


You know, I vaguely recall some early 20th century music becoming popular a few years ago. Of course, I can only remember 1 2 3 4 off the top of my head.

It ain't the public's refusal to accept old styles of music that's holding you back, dude.
posted by FuManchu at 12:02 PM on March 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


"Ten dollars for an hour's worth of music is always a fair trade..." What?
posted by sneebler at 12:12 PM on March 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


"Ten dollars for an hour's worth of music is always a fair trade..." What?

How is that at all difficult to comprehend?
posted by Rory Marinich at 12:15 PM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


You know... he could have picked a more popular kind of music than ragtime if he wanted to be heard more. Is there anyone still alive that even listens to ragtime? I even use it as a standard joke musical genre, like "DEATH TO FALSE RAGTIME", etc.
posted by DecemberBoy at 12:20 PM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


On a slightly-related topic, I wish there were an online music store that sold their music in a lossless format.
posted by invitapriore at 12:23 PM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


And anyway, why the hell did they give such a big grant to a guy that plays friggin' ragtime of all things? It's quirky pop music from the early 20th century that only exists as a historical curiosity, not High Art simply because it's old. Could they have found someone practicing a form of art that LESS people care about?
posted by DecemberBoy at 12:24 PM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Could they have found someone practicing a form of art that LESS people care about?

Does this mean I shouldn't expect a genius grant for my 3rd wave ska album?
posted by electroboy at 12:25 PM on March 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


"Ten dollars for an hour's worth of music is always a fair trade..." What?

How is that at all difficult to comprehend?


Yes, in fact! There is more free music out there that is of high quality than one could ever deign to enjoy. Furthermore, there is a ton of music out there priced at $10/hr. that just really isn't worth the Hamilton.

The assertion was completely unsupported.
posted by explosion at 12:34 PM on March 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Nice post. Thank you.

Only on MetaFilter. The most intelligent place on the web.

Don't like it? Graze and go on. I come across a lot of stuff here that I find completely lacking in interest, but I'm not compelled to rip it.

I'm a native Chicagoan. Living in a log cabin in Idaho for the past 25 years. Met Bob Koester several times. "Discovered" ragtime in the 70's. A most interesting genre. Reminds me of Bach. Just me.

Only on MeFi would I run across this. Thanks. Take what you need and leave the rest...
posted by private_idaho at 12:39 PM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


You know... he could have picked a more popular kind of music than ragtime if he wanted to be heard more.

Yeah, I'm sure that his primary goal is being heard more, and devil take what he's heard doing. It's simply impossible that he's devoted all this time and effort to ragtime because he cares about it and would like it to be more in the public eye.
posted by kenko at 12:40 PM on March 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


He got a grant for $500,000 to work on his music, and he did. $500K is nothing to start such an undertaking - it wouldn't even buy the coke spoons for a Guns'n'Roses album (to quote Gibby Haynes on a different subject).

Isn't that what he was supposed to do with the money?

If you'd heard he'd taken the money and lived quietly for 20 years on the proceeds, wouldn't you feel a little disappointed.

I'll bet he's successfully converted this money into a real musical career - we've all heard of him, now, and I'll bet he'll be able to play concerts all over the world.

As for ragtime, this is potentially very deep genre - I always felt it came and went too fast in history and didn't stick around long enough to be developed. Look at how many jazz bands there are and how few ragtime bands!

Hmm, I just listened to the YouTube cuts and he isn't very progressive (and sorta sloppy, and he plays too fast - no one seems to remember that the very fastest tempo marking Scott Joplin ever wrote was "Not Fast" and in many scores wrote "Ragtime should never be played fast"). Had I heard this on the radio, I'd have assumed it was some Joplin outtake.

I'm still behind him. Ragtime is an interesting genre, it deserves a champion to keep it alive. So he isn't yet a great, he can grow into the role. Good on them, good on him, and I wish him all the best.

Marketing: my first thought was "triple album"? But now I think the triple album is a good idea. People are about quantity these days - we have hungry itunes we're desperate to fill. And once you've made a serious commitment to an artist like three whole CDs, you're almost required to listen to them a lot. I expect it to be a serious Christmas 2010 gift from kids to their parents or grandparents...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:44 PM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Just because lots and lots of music is free doesn't mean no music is worth any money. For an hour of uniquely composed music that shows off just marvelous chops, ten dollars is certainly a fair price. Unless you're so broke you literally can't afford a ten-dollar purchase, you're sounding like a whining fuckass.

I'm also saddened, though not completely surprised, by commenters deriding this guy's choice to play ragtime; am I right in supposing none of you listened to the guy's music before hating on him? He's doing new, exciting things in the form. That's his passion. He's decided it's worth pursuing despite a lot of other obstacles.

It's absolutely deserving of the MacArthur grant. That's how I came upon him, actually: I was searching through their archives of composers after learning that Meredith Monk had won one. A modern composer choosing to work in the ragtime genre is terrific in and of itself; the fact that he's making brilliant music — and this music is certainly brilliant — is what justifies the award.
posted by Rory Marinich at 12:45 PM on March 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I'm sure that his primary goal is being heard more, and devil take what he's heard doing. It's simply impossible that he's devoted all this time and effort to ragtime because he cares about it and would like it to be more in the public eye.

That's great for him, but he shouldn't be surprised that he's the only one that cares. Ragtime was pop music to begin with. It's very old. It was only popular for a very brief period. It's mostly associated with only one artist (Scott Joplin). The only reason we know what it is is because we were taught about it in school. His passion for ragtime kind of strikes me as the hipsters who decide a band sucks when more than 7 people have heard of them, i.e. he intentionally wanted to do something obscure, but I can't be sure of that so I won't say he got what he wanted.
posted by DecemberBoy at 12:50 PM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Are you really suggesting he's doing this specifically so he can be a snob? And he'd pick, you know, ragtime as his snob music?

That's great for him, but he shouldn't be surprised that he's the only one that cares.

Who's saying he's surprised? In the article he sounds like he pretty much expected the reaction he's getting, and he's trying to figure out how to succeed despite the public apathy.
posted by Rory Marinich at 12:52 PM on March 12, 2010


> he shouldn't be surprised that he's the only one that cares.

He's not "the only one that cares"; lots of us care. Parading the fact that you don't care is one thing, but assuming your own indifference represents all of humanity is something else again.

Why are you so invested in this thread, anyway, since you give so little of a shit?
posted by languagehat at 12:54 PM on March 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


I mean, for Christ's sake, how does anyone born within the last 100 years even become a FAN of ragtime? It's not like there's a ragtime underground ("it's supposed to be about the RAGS, MAN!") that's kept it going all these years. Where would he even hear it outside of documentaries and music history classes? It'd be like if I decided I was going to bring back the lituus and how dare you question my passion for lituus music. I don't really give a shit about the lituus, it's just the most obscure thing I could think of.
posted by DecemberBoy at 12:56 PM on March 12, 2010


Possibly, DecemberBoy, the fact that you're looking for some edgy underground and he isn't suggests that he, unlike you, likes the music for the sound and the emotion and not because he's a douche.
posted by Rory Marinich at 1:00 PM on March 12, 2010


Sorry, I'm not doing a pile on. I actually don't care that much about this. Sorry for having an opinion.
posted by DecemberBoy at 1:01 PM on March 12, 2010


This thread would probably be going a lot better if he hadn't won the $500,000.
posted by echo target at 1:01 PM on March 12, 2010 [6 favorites]


he, unlike you, likes the music for the sound and the emotion

Which is great, but no one should be surprised when he's greeted with a collective yawn.
posted by fixedgear at 1:03 PM on March 12, 2010


Well, Rory, after reading your FPP, I went out and bought two of Robinson's albums, including his self-produced one, in MP3 for $8.99 a pop at Amazon.com. I consider it money well spent to hear a modern day incarnation of classic ragtime played by a young African American composer of merit.

$10/hr. for good music is a bargain. Considering what one pays for a crummy lunch these days, I'm happy to support a unique American musician who is moving the boundaries of quintessential American music for what I'd pay for lunch for me and the wife.

The best classic piano ragtime is as captivating in its own way as Bach or Chopin, and that is obviously what drove Robinson to learn to play it and to compose his own faithful version of it--against all odds. To belittle the music of Joplin and Lamb and Chauvin as "pop" is both inaccurate and insulting to the memory of gifted and original American composers. They not only sparked a world craze for ragtime, but also paved the way for jazz and its bastard "pop" offspring.

The fact that Irving Berlin and Tin Pan Alley may have cashed in big time on ragtime, and obscured the brilliance of the original piano professors should not be held against Reginald Robinson. His quest to be the 21st century Joplin may be quixotic, but I'll be cheering him on.
posted by rdone at 1:03 PM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I mean, for Christ's sake, how does anyone born within the last 100 years even become a FAN of ragtime?
In 1986, when Robinson was in seventh grade, composer/trumpeter Orbert Davis visited his school with his group called From Bach To Bebop through Urban Gateways (an organization sponsored by the city of Chicago) . They performed a variety of musical works including Scott Joplin's The Entertainer. This piece intrigued him because, although he had heard it played many times over by ice-cream trucks, he had never considered it as a serious musical work. Robinson wanted to learn the piano, but his families finances only allowed for a small keyboard, which he began teaching himself how to play.
That's from the first link in the FPP.

Reading! Try it today!
posted by kenko at 1:20 PM on March 12, 2010 [5 favorites]


Just bought it! Thanks for the post!

As far as how someone born in the last 100 years becomes a fan: I cannot be the only person in their 30's who had an ancient piano teacher. She was very hung up on two things: German Hymns and Ragtime.

We also used to play ragtime scrolls on the piano, my brothers and I taking turns to pump the piano to get it to play so we wouldn't have to. Mom caught on and wouldn't let us practice ragtime tunes that we owned the scrolls for.
posted by Tchad at 1:21 PM on March 12, 2010


If people can make a living out of performing early music and other esoterica, there is no reason why ragtime should necessarily be a tougher sell, though practically it seems to be.

I've met the guy and he's certainly no fool, but he got where he is the hard way. He's not a college educated guy who had connections in the business to help him get started. Expecting him to be both great a self taught musician and talented businessman is a little unrealistic. The grant is not small, but neither is it like winning the lotto: it's designed to give the recipient a few years of relief from worrying about making the rent and it has done just that for him and he seems to be doing OK. Whether he can continue to make a living off small concerts, school visits and the other stuff he has been doing lately, who knows.

I once spoke to Ken Vandermark about his MacArthur grant; he didn't find it life changing either, though he appreciated the extra freedom it gave him for a few years. Another vastly talented person, but also with the benefit of a good education and the advantage of a genre of music that has a dedicated (if small) following.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 1:24 PM on March 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Possibly, DecemberBoy, the fact that you're looking for some edgy underground and he isn't

Given that DecemberBoy seems to be obsessed with things' being popular and widely liked, I doubt he's looking for the edgy or the underground.

Which is great, but no one should be surprised when he's greeted with a collective yawn.

Except he hasn't been greeted by a collective yawn. Several people in this thread seem to like his music a good deal! If there's a problem it's that he hasn't been greeted at all, because he's, uh, too underground.

And yet no one seems to be expressing much surprise at that.

Why is it that when someone talented, yet in an obscure way, is mentioned, so many people are so quick to say that it's no surprise that the person hasn't got a lot of attention? (That, or they blame the person for not having sold out.) If I say it's too bad that so-and-so isn't more widely known, and you say you aren't surprised, that's a non sequitur. It has nothing to do with the topic.
posted by kenko at 1:25 PM on March 12, 2010


Of course, my own perception of the MacArthur grant was fiddled with after I saw Synecdoche, NY. Now in my mind winning the grant means you can afford an enormous warehouse and live happily for fifty years.
posted by Rory Marinich at 1:31 PM on March 12, 2010


There's a lot of new ragtime compositions here (along with about every other rag ever written) for comparison. I'd say that Reginald Robinson's rags are really outstanding contemporary ragtime compositions -- it's not as easy as it looks, apparently. He's got the right chunk and heft to his melodies, witty sectional variation, and a slight taste for the perverse (very Joplinesque). Still the first prize for the greatest post-Joplin rag goes to William Bolcomb's "Graceful Ghost" -- it still gives me chills.
posted by Faze at 1:44 PM on March 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Aw, Rory, this is terrific stuff. I've loved ragtime for as long as I can remember and it just doesn't get old for me. I keep ragtime on my iPod. I don't love everything I've heard, but I love that he's pushing the genre and having so much fun with it. I agree that he's kind of fast and sloppy (and I tend to like my ragtime slower, cf Joshua Rifkin) but he still makes me smile.

Is the song in the first YouTube clip (Lady of Honor) available for download anywhere? I didn't see it on his albums in iTunes.
posted by swerve at 1:48 PM on March 12, 2010


Isn't the idea behind the MacArthur grants to give money to people to continue to do what they've already been doing on the assumption that they might not be able to do so otherwise? So it looks like the grant has done exactly what it was intended to do. It's unfortunate that he hasn't been able to make his work commercially viable, but imagine what would have happened to him had he not gotten that grant.
posted by tommasz at 1:54 PM on March 12, 2010


Why would a progressive ragtime be possible?

Well, consider Astor Piazolla - he made tango a progressive genre without straying from its roots.

Tango and ragtime sound different but have a lot of similarities. They're strongly rhythmic musics that also share a love of "fancy" clever rhythm ideas. They both have strongly formal, technical elements - tricky musical constructions that you simply have to master in order to get to the most basic level. And they share the same sorts of harmonic content, those harmonic minors and very major majors.

If Mr. Robinson were really clever, his next album would be a recording of completely atonal rags. It wouldn't be very good, people probably wouldn't like it (if he were smart, it'd tell people in advance so his crowd would avoid it and come back for the next album, and the progressive people'd zero in on it)... but in figuring out how to actually do it, he'd be able to figure out what the proper way to evolve the tonality of ragtime and his next album, or some later album, would be a breakthrough.

Ragtime's great rock, but also its millstone, is the towering genius of Joplin. If Mr. Robinson isn't able to kill his Buddha, history will not remember him.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 3:46 PM on March 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


If Mr. Robinson were really clever, his next album would be a recording of completely atonal rags.

Lupus, I agree with you wholeheartedly about the Piazzola comparison. Old genres can be brilliantly revivified. That's an excellent example. On that other matter: William Bolcom and George Rochberg and others have written atonal rags. They're really annoying.
posted by Faze at 4:04 PM on March 12, 2010


If Mr. Robinson isn't able to kill his Buddha, history will not remember him.

So? Andrew Jackson's on the twenty dollar bill. Fuck history, you can't trust it.

I consider myself "progressive" as a musician, in that I am not in any way conservative, but nonetheless this sort of sentiment sounds to me like something that could come out of some vulturous talent agent's mouth as he licks his chops: "you could be a sensation, kid."

If he's got more to say with the genre's materials as they stand -- and it seems like he does, given his output and the fact that, like you say, ragtime was a fleeting phenomenon -- why should he care about advancing the genre? Maybe it doesn't suit him. The tireless search for a breakthrough has resulted in a lot of awful, pretentious art. It's not for everyone.
posted by invitapriore at 5:16 PM on March 12, 2010


I listened to the YouTube video for a few minutes and it gave me a headache.
posted by smackfu at 7:44 PM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


ardgedee: It's pretty heartbreaking. The guy's a prodigy without a patron.

kid ichorous: According to the article, he purchased a home (pre-bubble?), paid off his debts, produced albums, buried his father, married his wife, and came out of it with a little to spare:

In some ways, then, he's returning to the way he lived before the MacArthur, but without the financial desperation and buoyed by a national reputation — albeit in rather narrow circles.


ardgedee, you've got a different definition of "heartbreaking" than the one most of us use.

Also, a different definition of "without".
posted by IAmBroom at 9:00 PM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Which is great, but no one should be surprised when he's greeted with a collective yawn.

Ah yes -- the proverbial collective yawn. The only judgment that matters!
posted by blucevalo at 10:44 PM on March 12, 2010


It is rather arbitrary how musical tastes and genres come back into fashion after a long period of languishing in unfashionable memory.

Who knows why ragtime has never had its real burst of po-mo reinvention like, say, bluegrass did.
posted by clvrmnky at 6:53 AM on March 13, 2010


I emailed Reginald; he wrote back saying it would be best to purchase his music directly from his web site, if you're interested in making sure he gets a cut.
posted by Rory Marinich at 12:57 PM on March 13, 2010



Why would a progressive ragtime be possible?
Which question lupus_yonderboy goes on to give a credible answer. Here's another credible answer: The first paying commission awarded to Henry Threadgill was for a series of compositions commemorating the 100th birthday of Joplin (iirc).

That commission, which led to Threadgill reinterpretations of Joplin rags for an instrument he called the Hubcaphone (you can guess what it was made of) and small trio (Threadgill doubled on alto sax & Hubcaphone, Fred Hopkins on bass and the inimitable Steve McCall on drums). That group became better known as Air.

Threadgill has never (to these ears) forsaken those roots. Anthony Braxton, too, has worked seriously with the form. Studying the roots of jazz was something that the main figures in the AACM stressed.

I am someone rooted in the music of an era I love--which is the free jazz (American and European definitions of that term)--so I probably won't be rushing out to buy this one, but not b/c I see what Robinson is doing is a waste of time.

DecemberBoy can't be faulted for having an opinion. It is just a shame that it is such a shallow and ill-informed one.
posted by beelzbubba at 6:42 PM on March 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


« Older Better Living Through Circuitry [trailer] is a 19...  |  The winners of the Independent... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments