Happy 109th George

26 Sep 2007


One of my heroes turns 109 today. Of course, he's long dead; so, turning 109 is probably no biggie for him. George Gershwin died at 38 years old -- same age I am now. Like all the pianistic greats before him, it's a little staggering to consider all he accomplished by that age. (He was no Mozart, of course -- who died even younger, at 35, leaving behind considerably more -- but still damn impressive by almost any other standard.)

In my down time, I like to screw around at the piano. I'm no Gershwin, of course. But I do find it enjoyable to pen novelty ragtime pieces from time to time. I've written 13 such numbers over the past few years, a few of which are kind of catchy. Here's my latest (a MIDI file, approx 4 minutes long). Aside from the syncopation, it's not exactly what you'd call Gershwinesque, but I suppose it does have its Tin Pan Alley influences in the B strain (especially if you're familiar with a tune called Kitten on the Keys by Zez Confrey).

"Classic" ragtime, for those curious, generally follows the form: Intro (optional), A strain, A strain repeat, B strain, B strain repeat, A strain once again, C strain (often called the Trio), C strain again, D strain (sometimes called the finale), D strain again. (Sometimes that format varies a little.)

Occasionally, all those repeats can sound a little, well, repetitive. Many pianists who perform within this genre use the repeats as an opportunity to improvise. Others just "play it straight." Personally, I'm not the best improviser in the world, so I tend to just play things as written. Or, if I write them myself, I might write out the repeat and compose the "improvisations" (which are usually subtle in my case).

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