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The Piano Of Terry Waldo – Sounds Of Ragtime & Vaudeville

Ragtime is one of the most under-appreciated and misunderstood forms of American music. Considering it was popular for a relatively short time over 100 years ago, maybe that’s understandable. Maybe it makes sense, then, that Terry Waldo - probably the foremost expert on this esoteric music alive today - is one of the most under-appreciated Columbus musicians. But he’s not just a musician. He literally wrote the book on ragtime. And in 1974, he released a live solo performance as Sounds Of Ragtime & Vaudeville.


Sounds Of Ragtime & Vaudeville

Fat Cat's Jazz – FCJ 151

1974
Cover of Sounds Of Ragtime & Vaudeville

Terry was born Ralph Emerson Waldo III in 1944 in Ironton, Ohio. He lived in Columbus from 1950 until 1983. We share an alma mater - Waldo graduated from Upper Arlington in 1963. As a kid, his neighbor in UA, John Baker, had a collection of jazz films and recordings that helped spark Waldo’s interest in the music.


“(Baker) lived across the street and held film parties in his backyard for all the kids in the neighborhood. I’d be over at his house whenever I had free time,” Waldo told JazzWax in 2021. “He was a huge jazz record collector, and he had a top-notch collection of jazz films and jazz and ragtime piano rolls. I have no idea why he was such a fanatic. He told me he had started collecting in 1929… I never could find someone to teach me ragtime and stride, so I mostly taught myself by listening to Baker’s records.” Baker’s film collection is now housed at the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City.

If you’re like me, you mainly know of ragtime through the soundtrack of the great Newman-Redford film The Sting. But isn’t the soundtrack of The Sting a significant part of what makes that film so unique and classic? If you need convincing of Terry Waldo’s talent, understand that legendary ragtime pianist and composer Eubie Blake was a teacher, mentor, and friend. Wynton Marsalis is an admirer and wrote the introduction to the 2009 edition of Terry’s book, This Is Ragtime.


So, what is ragtime? It's challenging to define it, in particular to someone not musically inclined. “I think Ragtime is a part of Jazz, the beginning of Jazz,” Marsalis notes in his This Is Ragtime introduction. “But Ragtime is its own style.” Because there are so few people performing it anymore, most people don’t associate improvisation with ragtime, but improv is at its core. “Ragtime is syncopation and improvisation and accents,” Eubie Blake points out in his foreword for Waldo's book.

Back cover of Sounds Of Ragtime & Vaudeville

I think Waldo himself best explains ragtime in director Tony Palmer’s 1976 documentary All You Need Is Love: The Story of Popular Music. “The left hand maintains a regular two-four, sometimes called a boom-chick pattern,” Waldo explains. “And over the top of that is a syncopation that’s putting the accent where it ordinarily doesn’t fall… and that’s the essence of ragtime.”


Sounds Of Ragtime & Vaudeville is a good starting place in exploring Waldo’s music because it captures the essence of the musician - just the man, his piano and his voice. Kicking off appropriately with Eubie Blake’s first composition, “Charleston Rag,” the album brings you to the Windjammer Lounge that winter night in Marriott’s first hotel. The performance has an off-the-cuff immediacy which highlights the importance of the live setting to this music. Terry weaves his easygoing stories throughout while talk-singing the vocals and revealing the lyric’s wit through his relaxed delivery.

"The first time I ever heard Terry play the 'Twelfth Street Rag' I died laughing,” Eubie Blake notes in his This Is Ragtime foreword. “In all my years in show business I’ve found out that that’s one of the hardest things to do - make people laugh. Terry’s ability to do this, combined with his musicianship, actually reminds me of Fats Waller!”


Side one ends with one of Scott Joplin’s most popular rags, “Maple Leaf Rag,” the performance of which leaves you ready for more. Side two opens with the lone Waldo composition, an instrumental he calls “Watergate - A Real Slow Drag.” There are so few musicians writing this style of music, that the importance of Waldo’s role in keeping ragtime alive is impossible to overstate. Things take a bit of a left turn with a hilarious version of Shel Silverstein’s “I Got Stoned & I Missed It” (pre-dating Dr. Hook’s version) which gets the biggest laughs of the night before continuing with more traditional rags like the set-closing “The Entertainer.”

This lounge gig was put on by the Potomac River Jazz Club, a DC-based outfit that continues today. “Accountant by day, jazz enthusiast by night” Johnson “Fat Cat” McRee handled the recording and released the album on his Fat Cat’s Jazz label in October 1974. The album preserves an evening with Terry Waldo, who was still living in Columbus and regularly performing with his Gutbucket Syncopators at the time, and in doing so, helps to preserve the important piece of American musical history that is ragtime.


Tracklist

A2 Nobody

A3 Silver Swan Rag

A4 Evolution Mama

A5 Troublesome Ivories

A6 Lonesome Alimony Blues

B1 Watergate - A Real Slow Rag

B3 I Got Stoned & I Missed It

B4 Snookums Rag

B5 Tiger Rag


Companies, etc.
  • Pressed By – Sonic Recording Products, Inc. – K-6685

  • Pressed By – Sonic Recording Products, Inc. – K-6686

  • Recorded At – The Potomac River Jazz Club

  • Recorded At – Fat Cat Jazz Studio, Manassas

  • Mastered At – Soundwave

Credits

The Bear-A-Tones, Terry at piano - 1963 Norwester
The Bear-A-Tones, Terry at piano - 1963 Norwester


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