Harry Thomas: A Classical Spasm

Ragtime pianists liked to adapt classical favorites to the ragtime idiom. Usually the titles they gave these adaptations suggested gleeful desecration. Here Harry Thomas gives us popular piano pieces by Scharwenka and Paderewski in ragtime rhythm. This Victor record was made in 1916 and released in 1917, and the restoration has brought a very natural sound out of the piano (you can compare the unrestored version at the Library of Congress).

Arthur Pryor’s Band: Japanese National Air (“Fou So Ka”)

From the golden age of military bands, this 1913 recording of one of the most successful groups has come through the restoration with remarkably full sound. Arthur Pryor was John Philip Sousa’s star trombonist. When he left Sousa, he formed his own band, and then settled in for a productive career at Victor. Not only did he know his way around the brasses, but he also knew how to get the best sound through that acoustical horn and into the grooves.

Six Brown Brothers: Egyptland

When you hear the name “Six Brown Brothers,” you probably think of some blackface vaudeville comedy act. It turns out that you are sixteen and two-thirds per cent right. The group was a saxophone sextet consisting of five brothers—William, Tom, Alec, Percy, Fred, and Vern Brown. Tom performed in black makeup, but the rest performed in white makeup. How this fits into race politics is more than we can sort out here. You’ll have to wrestle with it on your own.

We hear nothing of the brothers as a comedy act here. The music, though, is interesting and entertaining. You don’t often hear a saxophone sextet, but it turns out to be quite capable of holding our interest through three minutes of a typical late-teens oriental tune. In fact there is more variety of sound than in many a standard nine-piece dance band of the era.

According to the Library of Congress, the place of Percy Brown in this recording is taken by baritonist Harry Fink. There are, therefore, only five Brown brothers and one impostor in this group. If you feel cheated, you may have your money back.