The picture on the cover of the vintage Radio Stars magazine in one of the Wex Rex Collectibles bins at last weekend’s Pier Antiques Show caught the discerning eye of ragtime/early jazz specialist Terry Waldo.
The June, 1935 cover girl was none other than Annette Hanshaw, the jazz-influenced pop songstress of the late 1920s and early ’30s, known then as “The Personality Girl.”
“I recorded several songs that Annette was identified with, in Waldo’s Gutbucket Syncopators, Terry Waldo & the Gotham City Band and Waldo’s Ragtime Orchestra,” says Waldo, who plays solo as well as with a band. “My partner Susan LaMarche sang, and we did a lot of tunes from the ’20s: The Boswell Sisters, Ethel Waters–that kind of stuff. Annette used to close her records with the phrase, ‘That’s all!,’ and Susan did that at the end of the last cut of our album Vamp Til Ready–‘I Got It, But It Don’t Do Me No Good.’ Someone played it on the radio and Annette heard it and called in and got a hold of us, and was really pleased.”
His newly-purchased magazine in hand, Waldo related that he has another recording project in the works, for Tompkins Square Records.
“It’s just instrumental stuff,” says Waldo, who was ragtime legend Eubie Blake’s protégé.
“They do a lot of recordings of older musicians, and figure I’m the connection with the old masters–the ragtime guy.”
Indeed, the Columbus, Ohio native used to travel back and forth from there to New York to study with Blake back in the 1970s and ’80s, staying with Blake for a month at a time.
“We made records and toured, and I transcribed a folio of his music,” continues Waldo. “He called me his ‘ofay son’: He meant that I was white, since ofay is Pig Latin for ‘faux.’ Or he’d call me ‘Jones’–which also meant black, and was a popular slave surname. His parents were slaves and he had a lot of stories about slaves.”
For Tompkins Square, Waldo will record a solo piano instrumental disc featuring some well-known titles, probably including “Maple Leaf Rag,” and “The Charleston Rag,” “which was Eubie’s great ragtime piece–and always considered too difficult to play,” he says. “So he never published it, and I transcribed it and several other Eubie compositions.”
Waldo will also record Blake’s ragtime version of John Philip Sousa’s “The Stars And Stripes Forever.”
“He said that One Leg Willie Joseph used to play it, that he was the greatest player of all of them but never recorded anything,” says Waldo. “Eubie showed me all kinds of pieces by guys who never recorded. And he knew Sousa, and marched with Sousa. He was at the center of everything–honkytonks and whorehouses and vaudeville and places where blacks and whites mixed–because he was so popular. He knew James Reese Europe, whose Society Orchestra accompanied [famed dancers] Vernon and Irene Castle and was the first black group to play Carnegie Hall.”
Blake, notes Waldo, also wrote the music for the first African-American Broadway musical, Shuffle Along, in 1921, and appeared in the first sound short films, made by Lee DeForest in 1923.
“He helped start the Harlem Renaissance and the Jazz Age,” he adds. “He knew all these people right from the beginning: Cat-Eye Henry, Big Head Wilbur–all these piano players who were deformed. He showed me how to play the first rag he knew, ‘The Bull Dyke’s Dream,’ which went back probably before the Civil War. That’s on the new album.”
Blake, incidentally, wrote the foreward for Waldo’s classic 1976 This Is Ragtime tome, which was reissued in 2009 by Jazz at Lincoln Center Library Editions. The new edition is fully updated, with lavish illustriatons and a new introduction by Wynton Marsalis.
Meanwhile, Waldo is working on a This Is Ragtime PBS documentary, and teaching a four-week course on Jelly Roll Morton at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Swing University, starting March 26. He also continues to play regularly, heading a band twice monthly at the Fat Cat pool hall in Greenwich Village, and solo at the Rum House in the midtown Hotel Edison and the Manhattan Inn in Greenpoint, Brooklyn (every Thursday).
Waldo also plays at parties and theatrical shows all over the country, and has a performance forthcoming at the National Gallery of the Arts in Washington, D.C.
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