The River Raisin Ragtime Revue is a Michigan-based orchestra that hosts exciting community events to educate audiences about pre-jazz popular American repertoire. Some of their thematic projects have become albums that we can enjoy in the rest of the country. In the past, we have looked at both Nobody is anyone, which chronicles the music and life of Bert Williams, and Music Composed by Reginald R. Robinson, featuring his new ragtime compositions from the past twenty years performed by the orchestra.
Their new release is an ambitious attempt to demonstrate the changing role of the trombone in community orchestras from the Civil War to the dawn of jazz. While obviously an album that will appeal the most to trombonists, the 4Rs have created a balanced and exciting program that any fan of early American music will appreciate. Their thirteen-member orchestra includes violins, viola, cello, banjo, flute / piccolo, cornet / trumpet, tuba, clarinet, piano, percussion and of course, trombone.
Blaze of Glory: the trombone in early American popular music was created by River Raisin conductor William Pemberton and trombonist Robert Lindahl. Together, they choose 19 orchestrations, almost none of them previously recorded, from a selection of over 5,000 they had. The tracks include cakewalks, marches, polkas, novelty numbers, rags and other tunes chosen to demonstrate the development of the instrument. The increasing use of the trombone as a solo instrument during the ragtime era and the increasing use of the glissando is a hallmark, but so is the way the instrument was used within an orchestra to set the scene. value or contrast the sound of other instruments, especially the cello and string instruments of the day.
Compositions by Arthur Pryor and Henry Fillmore are included, but so are more obscure names like NC Davis. The only widely recognizable title, at least for non-trombonists, is “Ory’s Creole Trombone”. Others may recognize âThose Draftin ‘Bluesâ by Maceo Pinkard, played much later by Turk Murphy as âStoryville Bluesâ.
The accompanying liner notes Flame of Glory are a gem of the art form. Across 24 pages, they creatively weave the story of the trombone, bolding the titles of each track on the album so you can quickly find how it fits into the narrative. Most years, the Grammy for Top Album Ratings is a holding time for us at TST. Several albums that we like have generally been nominated. Someone should slip into an appointment for this one.
The tracks run roughly in chronological order. One would predict that an album structure going from the steps of the 1880s through the rags to early jazz would keep the good stuff for the end. The album overcomes this risk. Each song has its own interest and enthusiasm. The people who flocked to the parks in the 1890s to hear Pryor’s Orchestra were there to be entertained and this album, from start to finish, is entertaining.
The album offers emotional balance and a feeling of progress. The group has perfected the staging of live events for crowds with varying levels of knowledge and interest in early American music, and they bring it with them into the studio. There are no restrictions on authenticity and scholarship with the joy of the listener in mind.
My own favorite tracks were both on the tearful side, “Just a Wearyin ‘for You”, by Carrie Jacobs Bond, the first great songwriter, and “Carbondale Rag”. The last, to my surprise, was an original composition commissioned for this recording from William Hayes. It’s beautiful, with a simple grace that would make it a memorable theme for a movie or TV show.
Blaze of Glory: the trombone in early American popular music
River Raisin Ragtime review