About Ragtime: Ragtime Concert Band

  Between April and August 1983, still living in Águilas (Spain), Antonio Hernandez starting the arrangement of some rag-times by Scott Joplin (1867-1917) - Something Doing, The Favorite, Weeping Willow, A breeze from Alabama, The Nonpareil and The Entertainer- thinking on a band formed by flute-piccolo, clarinet, trumpet, trombone, tuba, piano and battery.
When he moved to Murcia to study at the Faculty of Education in Murcia University and to continue studying music and flute at the Conservatory of Murcia, he got in touch with the clarinetist Sergio Fernandez-Diaz Picazo and the guitarist Joaquin Martinez-Oña Lopez. Later the pianist Anselmo Espinosa Gil was enrolled, who was the son of the piano teacher of the mentioned conservatory, Anselmo Espinosa del Águila. The studies and the obligations of the military service, at that time obligatory in Spain, made difficult the definitive formation of the group. The search of a suitable place for rehearsal (with piano), also was another difficulty for that purpose. The Conservatory of Murcia, then located in the Romea Theater, hardly had free spaces with piano where they could practice.
In 1984 the music teacher and then director of the Music Department of the University of Murcia, Juan González Cutillas, took steps to acquire the permission to be able to hold the rehearsals in the Paraninfo of the University of Murcia, in the Campus La Merced, which was an endorsement and definitive impulse to the formation of the group.
Then got up to the group the bassist Miguel Angel Marcos Martinez, a Cuban-American who was in Murcia working as a English teacher in Apple language school; the percussionist  Sebastián Pérez Mondéjar, from Murcia, with experience in jazz ensembles and another sort of bands; and the pianist Javier Gómez Gómez, from Abarán. It was then when that the official launch concert of the Ragtime Concert Band was hold at the Paraninfo of the University of Murcia, on April 12, 1985. The program included the following works: First part, Cleopha (march), Palm Leaf Rag, The augustan club (vals), A breeze from Alabama (march), The Chrysanthemum and Heliotrope bouquet; Second part; Sunflower slow drag, Something doing, Elite syncopations, Please say you will (a song sung by Miguel Angel), Swepsy (cake walk), The Crush collision march and The Entertainer. Most of these ragtime were composed by Scott Joplin and/or in collaboration with Louis Chauvin, Arthur Marshall and Scott Hayden. That is to say that we played a program of all classical ragtime.

The same month, April 1985, the Ragtime Concert Band participated in the III Murcia International Festival of Jazz, then directed by Uli Deininger. At that time was a sensation that a group from Murcia participated in this festival. In September 1986 the group recruted the clarinetist José Mateo Alcaraz (at present a clarinet teacher at the Conservatory of Almeria) and the trombonist Francisco Javier Rico Becerra (at present an harmony teacher at the Conservatory of Murcia) -both of them from Lorca-; the tuba José Manuel Martínez Gómez (at present a tuba professor of the Conservatory of Murcia), from Archena; and the trumpetist Moisés Gil Bernabé (intil very recently conductor and teacher of the Sociedad Musical y Cultural de Algorfa), who was from this city in Alicante province.
It could be said that then the basic formation of the Ragtime Concert Band was born. Then, Antonio’s greatest goal was to obtain a personal sound in the ensemble and a balanced and homogenous timbre in every ragtime they performed.
The repertory was extended to others rags like Pine Apple Rag, The easy Winners, Sunflower Slow Drag, Ragtime Dance or Wall  Street Rag. In the last one we thought to syncronize a projection of the original text with different photos describing the economic recession in the United States in 1907 (nothing comparable with the great depression of 1929-1930 that will arrive after). Also they considered to set a show of silent films accompanied by ragtime music, that never would be made it.
In April of 1986 the Ministry of Culture and the Institute of Youth of Spain, announced the I National Showcase of Young Jazz Performers, taking place in Palma de Mallorca along 10 to 13 of September, 1987. Besides, this showcase summons prizes to the best soloist and the best arrangements, reason why Antonio asked for participation sending a demo of the group and an arrangement of Pineapple Rag.
The result of the selection did not become public until the summer of that year and in September Antonio had to complete his second period of military service in the Infantry Military Academy of Toledo, reason why he had to defer it to the following summer. The festival took place at the Roman Theater in the Spanish Town of Palma de Mallorca. On September 11 played the bands Beboporum Octect, Naima Quartet, Hiskadix and Baio Ensemble. On September 12, Take Five, Ragtime Concert Band, Pork Foot Hat and Madagascar did. On September 13, was the closing concert –Carla Bley and her group - and the award ceremony, receiving the prize - although it was no a contest but a showcase – then the unknown and young pianist Chano Domínguez and his group Hiscadix.
New blues and rags were added to the repertory and clothes of the musicians were unified: dressing blue trousers, shoulder strap and bow tie and on white shirt. At that time they gave practice up at the Paraninfo of the University. Now they have been truly welcomed at the  Women’s University Residence Azarbe in Murcia, one of the few cultural premises equipped with piano at that time.
In December 1986 the piano teacher of the Conservatory of Murcia, Julian García de Alcaraz Caicedo, from Lorca, replaced Javier Gómez.
On April 21, 1987 at 12:30 pm the Ragtime Concert Band inaugurated the VII International Jazz on the Street Festival of Murcia. The regional press emphasizes on the newspaper that this group is the one of the few - truly the only one at that time in Europe that performed an integral repertory of ragtime. The group is already  known and valued by the musical circle in Murcia and has numerous followers. The same day at night in the festival Jorge Pardo played with his group Ximo Tebar Quartet and the following day did it Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers.
That same year 1987 the Ministry of Culture and the Institute of Youth nominated the Ragtime Concert Band of Murcia as a represent of Spain in the Biennale di Musica y Teatro a Modena (Italy). The concert took place on July 22 at 9:30 pm at the beautiful and well-attended Cortile Santa Chiara, closely to the  Piazza Grande and the Palazzo Communale in the beautiful city of the Emilia-Rogmana.
A creative cycle in the group has been closed. The members of the group had got jobs and new work tasks and the long distances difficult the rehearsals. In September 1989 the clarinetist Andres Santos Cutillas, from Jumilla, replaced Jose Mateo.
New projects and rags such as Bugle Call Rag or Melancholy blues were introduced in concerts.
It was then when the band had an important presence in concert halls, practically in all the cities of the region of Murcia because of the regular appearance of the band at the Semana Grande de Cajamurcia, thanks to Bartolomé Muñoz García, from Aguilas like Antonio, at that time the manager of the cultural and musical planning of the local bank, Cajamurcia. This contributed with no doubt to the artistic maturity of the band. It was an increase in the Region of Murcia of concert halls equipped with piano, which facilitated and permitted directly to raise the concerts of the Ragtime Concert Band.
One of most frequent in hiring the band was the La Puerta Falsa (The False Door). Then they also were invited to give a concert at the Conservatory of Palencia.
An unforgettable experience, as so many others, that indeed made them become aware of their modest contribution to the rich and varied musical panorama of the provinces in our country. Still they receive every year with punctuality the inscription flier to participate in the Getxo Jazz Festival (Vizcaya). Also they can remember with nostalgia the unsuccessful attempts to be contracted by Sala Clamores in Madrid.
The frequency and the amount of concerts increase the number of rehearsals and the variety of repertory, which demands a greater discipline and commitment from the members of the band. Some concerts cannot be held by conflict of dates, others were celebrated occasionally without some of the members of the band, which eventurally affected significantly the arrangements and timbre of the band. To be held a concert, at least it was necessary the concurrence of the pianist and the drummer. That dependency was left me with no choice but provide the group with a second pianist and percussionist, than it allows to the band more flexibility and functionality in combination of musicians and repertory.
On this way the drummer Jose García Abellán, percussion teacher at the Conservatory of Murcia, and the pianist Maria Dolores Sanchez, music teacher at the Floridablanca High School in Murcia, became new members of the band.
At that time, in 1995, the band was opened to the collaboration of other musicians, who although occasionally, gave an interesting contribution to the timbric aspect for the next concerts of the band. Musicians like violinist Juan Antonio Medina Sanchez (son of Maria Dolores) in 1995-1996; violinist Juan Jesús Ros Gómez and the alto Francisco Pérez Sánchez, in the 1996-1997 (at the moment both string teachers at conservatories) or the amateur singer Maria Teresa Fernandez Herrera (school teacher) who with her warm voice performed several jazz standard like Stormy Weather, Basin Street Blues, And the Angels sing, Ain't misbehavin or Dinah. All that contributed to our concerts showed an interesting vision of the influence of ragtime to the jazz language.
It was very interesting too the participation of Maria Jesus Villa Bueno (Julian’s wife and at present a piano teacher at the Conservatory of Murcia too) in the performance of Antonio’s personal version of Rapshody in blue by Gershwin that he arranged especially for our band, premiered in Archena in 1996. The incorporation of string instruments, gave an interesting element to the timbre of the band, emphasizing the popular accent of certain Afro-American tunes included in some rags. This enlargement of the group allowed other musicians “dubbing” instruments. The percussionist Sebastián Mondéjar introduced interesting and gracious banjo solos in some rags.
On the other hand the study of the new scores and the important ragtime record collection that during all these years Antonio has been able to collect, allowed the historical recreation of some arrangements, as they did with  Black and White rag or Dill Pickles rag. Others were studied and try it on – I have to say thank you to the patient collaboration of Julian García de Alcaraz – as a preliminary listening before passing to the arrangement process, keeping the timbric seal of the band. On that way Harlem Rag and Saint Louis Rag by Tom Turpin and Ragtime Chimes by Eduard Alstyne were premiered.
At that time Antonio was already thinking about arranging modern composers rags extending more the repertory, getting the sketch of new ragt  arrangements by composers as Stravinsky, Hindemith, Satie or Bolling, still waiting to be premiered.
One of the most interesting and related experience of arranging rags and other Afro-American music into instrumental ensembles, was the project presented to the V Centennial Commission of the Discovery of America, which consisted in a concert based on works of the American composer, from New Orleans, Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829-1869), who had visited our country in 1851-52, where he was very successful, and where he took advantage for making piano transcription of several Spanish popular melodies, giving a special touch to his piano virtuosism. Antonio’s project consisted of making the arrangements for flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano of all “the Spanish” works and the Western Indians pieces to be played in a concert. The program was: First part, The Hen (Cuban dance), Le Mancenillier (Serenade), Creole Eyes (Cuban dance), Oh, my witch doctor, take care of me (Caprice), Memories of Puerto Rico and Danza. In the Second part, La jota aragonesa, Midnight in Seville, Manchega and Memories of Andalusia. The concert took place in the Cajamurcia Concert Hall on Tuesday, February 18, 1992 at 20:15 pm, being all the musicians some members of the Ragtime Concert Band and the cellist Luis Ferrán Lanz.
At the end of 1997, some of the members of the group began to have descendants and the family duties, which made it difficult keeping the dedication to this interesting and unforgettable musical experience. Other members of the group made the most of their experience to continue their own path in other jazz ensembles. The rest of us continued developing our teaching and/or musical work in different scenarios, with the nostalgia and the living memory of having participated in an original musical experience with no precedents in the musical panorama of that time.
  1. RagtimeChimes (1900) - Egbert Anson Van Alstyne 
2. Harlem Rag (1889) - by Tom Turpin 
3. Dill Pickles (1906) - Charles Leslie Johnson 
4. Ragtime Dance (1906) - Scott Joplin 
5. The Entertainer (1902) - Scott Joplin 
6. Elite Syncopations (1902) - Scott Joplin 
7. The Crush Collision March (1896) - Scott Joplin 
8. Maple Leaf Rag (1899) - Scott Joplin 
Finally, Antonio Hernandez wants to say thank you for the contribution and the effort -as much personal as musical- to all and every one of the musicians who became part of the Ragtime Concert Band for expressing and living successfully the happy and contagious spirit that the scores of those Afro-american pianists and composers always have emanated. Musicians, who overcoming prejudices and difficulties generated by the racism in those days, they went through, being able to write the funniest music ever written, maintaining alive the hearts -as performers as well as audiences- the optimism and the good feelings necessary to live in society (New York, September 17, 2011).

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