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MMD > Archives > January 2008 > 2008.01.27 > 05Prev  Next

Recommended Ragtime Piano Rolls (Part 2)
By Larry Norman

Dear Jim and MMD Friends,  Perhaps Jody and Robbie might let me say
a few more words on the subject of player piano rolls, that I should
have said, but was short on time in the other part.

Jim, you had mentioned finding ragtime rolls on eBay.  eBay sometimes
can be great in finding rolls, but you have to look closely at who the
seller is, what their feedback rating is, carefully read the ad as to
what they are selling, the description they give about the item, and
how knowledgeable they are on the item or items being sold.  If they
don't give a good description or the pictures are not clear, I would
contact the seller and ask a lot of questions.

You would be surprised at how many times you see a roll label on
a box for a roll that you want, and when the package arrives you find
some other roll in the box that you did not want.  It is better to ask
before the auction closes, then trying to get your money back after
you receive it.

Feedback is very important as it gives an idea on the persons
reputation and an idea on how long they have been buying or selling.
Some sellers of rolls have no idea at all what they are selling as they
probably picked the rolls up at a flea market, auction, or yard sale
and probably they don't have any idea as to the condition of the rolls.
So in that case you need to be careful as the rolls could be junk.

As you shop on eBay, you will find that there are a lot of sellers, who
also may be MMD readers, who know what their rolls are and will give
you a good description and what the condition of the rolls are.  They
are a pleasure to deal with as you know the roll will be as described.

Besides eBay, a great place to look for ragtime rolls is right here on
the MMDigest.  Go to the links section of the MMD web site and you will
find that Karl Ellison has done a fantastic job of organizing, together
in one place, just about all the people, sources, and manufacturers of
great rolls.

In addition to dealers in both new and old ragtime rolls in the USA,
there are quite a few nice links to other people around the world who
also have great offerings of both the old time recuts of rags and also
some fine new offerings of new ragtime piano music.  For instance you
might want some of John Farrell's great rolls, and there is George
Bogatko and a few other new people recording new ragtime hits.

I say the world, as there are great links to people around the world
who also put out new rolls, such as Julian Dyer in the United Kingdom.
Also another great source of used rolls is Jill Miller in Australia.
So, don't just be limited to finding great rolls just in the USA.
Today the world is a very small place and it is nice to have friends
around the world.

The MMDigest has a great archive base which, if you take the time,
can research anything in the mechanical music field.  Go to R and
search Ragtime.  Go to S and search Scott Joplin, or go to J and search
Joplin, or M for Maple leaf rag, etc.  You don't have to look under
just one letter to find hours of enjoyment.  When you get done, you
will know more about ragtime and the composers and pianists than you
ever thought possible.  You will also get well acquainted with some of
the contributors to the MMD.  We are all very nice people, who are
willing to help out, when asked.

From the email request that you sent, you seem to appear new to this
hobby, since you were asking about two names are pianists on the rolls.
Yes, some rolls were done with two pianists and some cases, like the
piano trio on Ampico rolls, there were three pianists.  In some cases,
you will find rolls with "assisted by" and sometimes the roll editor
added a few extra notes as needed.  Like most all of the Ampico artists,
Vincent Lopez rolls have the word "assisted" on the label.  He was a
great pianist to accompany his orchestra and basically the rolls he
recorded were more orchestral accompaniment, than a fully played roll,
and to make them sound good, a roll editor in Ampico added the
necessary notes to make the rolls sound great.

To answer a question you did not ask: Way back in the old days, they
did have recording pianos and yes, there were real live pianists who
recorded a great many of the rolls.  Today the roll companies may
hire a good pianist who can operate a marking piano to make the rolls.
At the marking piano, they have a roll of paper for a master, which is
punched with the notes selected.  This is a very slow process and may
take a day or so to do punch one master roll, as the paper is moved
slowly, one degree at a time as the notes are punched on the paper.
(Note: this is a very short general description and not meant to fully
describe the whole process.  For full information, look in books on

With today's computers I am sure if they are not already doing so,
I am willing to bet a roll can be made by arranging it at a computer.
We also have Doug Henderson, who spends many hours and months punching
out new rolls on a hand-operated Leabarjan punch to create a master and
when he is satisfied that it is good, then new rolls are made from this

How do I know that there were real pianists who recorded these rolls?
Way back in 1980, I joined a fine organization called AMICA (Automatic
Musical Instrument Collectors Association) and they had a convention
in Pasadena, California, and at the convention they had quite a few of
the still living pianists who recorded rolls way back when.  I had the
wonderful privilege of listening to them play at the convention, and
to talk with them and I will never forget how it brought to life these
wonderful rolls that I have in my collection.

Pauline Alpert (Aeolian, Duo-Art) was there and played two sessions,
the second one for over 45 minutes.  Just fantastic.  The reason for
the second session was that they did not have a video company there
to record her playing.  The sad part is, I have asked to get a copy
for years and I think that somewhere all these performances on U-matic
videocassette are gone as no one in AMICA can tell me that they still
exist.  I was there and know for a fact that video tapes were made of
all the performances of each player piano artist who was there, as well
as an interview tape of each pianist.  AMICA does have the interview
tapes, it appears.  How sad that the performances are not available;
I don't know if anyone else has a copy or not.

Robert Armbsruster (Aeolian, Duo-Art, both as recording artist and
editor) was there and I really enjoyed his sense of humor, over the
years of being acquainted with him.  I understand when someone from
AMICA came to his door to ask him to be an honorary and said, "We have
been looking for you for years,"  Robert replied, "Well I have been
living right here in my home for years, where have you been?"  He said
that he hated some of the musical selections that Aeolian Corporation
wanted him to record.

Johnny Honnert, also known as Jack Honnert, John Honnert, James
Madison, and probably a few more pseudonyms (Capitol, Supertone,
Columbia).  What a dynamic person.  At the conventions, he played
a few notes of a musical piece and then tell some jokes.  Sort of
like the great Danish pianist, Victor Borge.  He would play and party
for hours on end at all the conventions he attended.

The last one was in San Francisco, Calif., in 1988.  When saying
goodbye at the convention, I could look in his sad eyes and tell that
it was going to be his last convention.  I did have the fortunate
privilege of a few years later of visiting him in the nursing home
in Miami, Florida, and I took him out to his favorite restaurant and it
was a wonderful day to talk to him one last time.  At the 1980 Pasadena
convention I think Al Werhlin said during one of Johnny's performances
that "The only way we know you can play is by listening to your rolls,"
as the only song he played fully at a convention was Percy Grainger's
"Country Gardens."

Ursula Dietrich Hollingshead (QRS, Ampico) was in her 90s at this
convention and when you went to meet her, if you were a male, she
always said, "My what a handsome man you are," it made you feel
special, even though it was her whom you felt was truly special.

Ruth Bingaman Smith (Welte) had a fantastic memory and when you talked
with her, knew everything she played at each convention and everyone
who was there.  I only hope if I live as long, that I will still have
some of the memory she had.

Hi Babit (QRS, Aeolian)   At the AMICA convention in Niagara Falls,
Canada, in 1998, Hi Babit was an honorary member who came to the
convention.  It happened that year for the pumper contest, I had
selected one of the tunes that he had recorded for QRS, which was
"Granada," QRS roll 9018.  Just before I played it in the pumper
contest, I invited him to come and listen.

When I finished the roll I said to the audience that I had the person
who recorded the roll in the audience and invited him on the stage with
me and asked him who he thought was the best pumper person in the
contest and Hi said, "Larry was the best he had heard."  Of course then
someone in the audience replied that Hi Babit had only heard me play.
Well, I did not win the pumper contest that year either!  But it was
lots of fun and I certainly enjoyed meeting Hi at other AMICA

These are just a few of the pianists that recorded rolls, that I have
had the privilege to meet over the years, and it is a pleasure to meet
them, talk with them, and even listen to them play.

Anyway, see how many player piano recording artists you can find in
the MMDigest and do some research and have some great fun.  You also
might consider joining some of the great organizations out there
related to mechanical music.  If you join some of the ragtime groups,
you may even have the chance to meet Robbie Rhodes!  Hope you enjoy the
MMDigest and all of the other organizations.

Larry Norman, from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.  It is getting
warmer!  Maybe spring is on the way?

(Message sent Sun 27 Jan 2008, 21:08:28 GMT, from time zone GMT-0500.)

Key Words in Subject:  2, Part, Piano, Ragtime, Recommended, Rolls

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