Sunday, December 30, 2012

'Shuffle Along Overture' co-written by Eubie Blake (1887-1983) & Will Vodery, last performed in 1923, 'blazes back to life' on this CD

Eubie Blake
by Al Rose
Hardcover, 230 pages
Macmillan USA (1979)

New World Records
Paragon Ragtime Orchestra
Rick Benjamin, Director

Eubie Blake was a major American musician—a pianist, songwriter, and composer for the black musical stage. His long and eventful life has received extensive attention, including at least one full-length biography. Thus this entry will be limited to commentary on the Blake music presented on this recording. James Hubert Blake was a Baltimore-born and raised musician, and as such, his style was quite distinct from those of New York, Chicago, Saint Louis, or New Orleans. Blake’s first contribution to Black Manhattan was by mail: in 1914 he submitted his manuscript for “Fizz Water” (track 19) to a New York publisher. Its acceptance marked the first of Blake’s nearly seventy years’ worth of publications.

“Fizz Water” is a one-step, a type of syncopated dance music written in 2/4 time featuring a melody written in eighth notes with strong tied and over-the-bar accents. Pitted against this is a powerful alternating bass note-after beat “oompah” accompaniment, also in eighth notes. This combination, played together at a quick tempo results in a hard-charging, highly extroverted sound. The one-step was all the rage in American ballrooms from 1913 to about 1920, and “Fizz Water” is a top-notch example, both of the form and of Blake’s unique style. This is not a rag. But it is not jazz either. The one-step was its own, distinct instrumental genre, and deserves to be appreciated as such.

Blake moved to New York in 1916 and joined James Reese Europe’s new Tempo Club in Harlem. Gaining the older musician’s confidence, he replaced Ford Dabney as Europe’s partner in the society-orchestra business. At that time Europe’s top “strategic initiative” was to put black musicals back on Broadway. But this effort was interrupted by a larger “strategic initiative”—the First World War—and ended by his death not long afterwards.

The fulfillment of Jim Europe’s Broadway dream then fell to Blake and mutual friend Noble Sissle (1889–1975). Their 1921 show—Shuffle Along—was a spectacular success, and for many decades has been a glittering chapter in American theater mythology. 

[William Grant Still (1895-1978) played the oboe in the pit band of Shuffle Along for a significant period of its production.  Still is profiled at, which features a comprehensive Works List by Prof. Dominique-René de Lerma, Recordings, sheet music and books of William Grant Still are available at, which is operated by the composer's daughter Judith Anne Still]

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