Clarence M. Jones Player Piano Rolls Part 1 – Ragtime and Other Instrumental Music

Posted in - Biography & Clarence M. Jones & Historical & Piano Roll on May 11th 2017 0 Comments Clarence M. Jones - In Search of a Husband

Clearly, the development of Chicago style jazz and blues piano had its roots in ragtime, and with the itinerant, now forgotten early gospel pianists who incorporated syncopation into their playing.  With his immensely successful “Memphis Blues” of 1912, W.C. Handy formalized blues music as a distinct piano style. While still purely ragtime, Handy was the first composer to truly popularize the 12-bar format in piano music, and his musical influence was widespread.

Many composers, mostly from the deep South, followed in the wake of success of Handy’s blues tunes.  Several of these composers were published by Handy, such as William King Phillips (“Florida Blues,”) and Will Livernash (“Snakey Blues”) amongst others.  Some were more entrepreneurial and published their own material. Charles H. Booker comes to mind, for his early “West Texas Blues.”  Euday Bowman published his own exceptional rags and blues in Texas, as did ragtime great Clarence Woods. There were literally dozens of such composer-published “rag-blues,” most of which are extremely obscure today.

After Handy, the next milestone in the history of the Chicago Southside Piano style came from George W. Thomas of New Orleans.  His “New Orleans Hop Scop Blues” of 1916 was revolutionary as the first published tune in the “boogie-woogie” style. It is well known that earlier players used what was called the “walking bass” (Eubie Blake attested to this), but Thomas was the first composer to notate and publish it as such.  Armand Piron and Clarence Williams formed a musical publishing partnership which rivaled and eventually surpassed Thomas’ publishing company.  But at that time, Piron & Williams largely published popular songs and rags; not that many blues.  And of course in the middle of this all was the single greatest ragtime/jazz/blues pianist-composer talent of them all, Jelly Roll Morton.  All these stated individuals came “up the river to Chicago” as they say, around 1920, along with the likes of Louis Armstrong and King Oliver.

The reason for this musical overview of the 1912-20 period, which was certainly one of the most creative in our Country’s history, is simply my way of introducing a pianist who had been around long enough to span the gap between the musical idioms of pure ragtime, ragtime/blues ,“true blues” and later even the White predominated “novelty ragtime.”   And that amazing composer/pianist was Clarence M. Jones.

As a piano roll collector, it’s hard for me to remember a time when I was not familiar with Clarence M. Jones. But I never knew a single thing about him personally. Even my best friend Mike Montgomery had only sketchy notes about Jones’ life, and the only likeness he could produce was a sheet music cover that featured Jones along with a singing group (early ‘40s).  For this reason, the wonderful article by Mr. Alex van der Tuuk, published on this webpage, was an inspiration and I recommend it highly as a factual representation of Jones’ career.

Clarence Jones The Sultan of Syncopation

To add to Mr. van der Tuuk’s comments, I would say that to the best of my knowledge, Clarence Jones’ first published compositions were three instrumental rags.  These were issued in 1910 and 1911 by John Arnold and The Groene Company, both music publishers located in Cincinnati, Ohio.  The titles were “Lightning Rag,” “The Candy – Rag Two-Step,” and “Oh You Sally Rag.”  Judging from the rarity of the sheet music, these might not have sold very well, even though Cincinnati was one of the country’s most prolific ragtime centers. However, each of the tunes was popular enough to reach the coin-operated mechanical music audiences, via nickelodeon rolls of various formats.

Of the three early Clarence Jones rags, “Oh You Sally Rag” is by far the best, in my opinion. In fact, I would go so far as to call this a “Classic Rag” such as composed in the manner of Scott Joplin, James Scott and Joseph F. Lamb.  Interestingly, it was published both as an instrumental rag and as a song version.

When I had the good fortune of hearing this tune the first time, it was completely unknown to me.  The source was from an extremely rare (most likely unique) Peerless Style O Orchestrion roll (No. 20017) which was generously loaned to me by Mr. Bob Gilson for optical scanning.  As is typical for most of the few surviving orchestrion rolls of this type, the original title information was missing.  The huge roll contained 15 tunes, with a large portion of these being rags that even to this day I have been unable to identify.  But from the few I did recognize, it was clear that the roll dated from ca. 1911-12.

The roll contained some spectacular ragtime pieces, with equally wonderful arrangements.  But tune #13 was so special.  It reminded me of James Scott, and in fact after repeated listening I felt convinced this might be an unknown tune by that great composer.  I called my late friend Trebor Tichenor, who was without doubt the leading authority on ragtime, and played it for him over the phone a few times.  Trebor agreed that James Scott could indeed have been the composer. The tune was “that good.” Of course, a discovery of that magnitude would generate quite a bit of excitement in the ragtime community.

However, a few years later I discovered a Wurlitzer APP roll containing the Jones composition “Oh You Sally Rag” (as on the original label), and found that the tune Trebor and I both thought was likely by James Scott was actually composed by Clarence Jones!  Later I further confirmed this as Trebor owned a copy of the original sheet music.  If any ragtime-lover listens to the tune, the similarity to not only James Scott, but to Scott Joplin will quickly become apparent.  In fact, the trio section of “Oh You Sally Rag” is one of the most “Joplin-esque” themes that I have ever heard.  It is reminiscent of Joplin’s melodic gift, to the extent that it might have been actually been composed by Scott Joplin. Trebor and I both thought as much of it, but of course the truth may never be known.

Just a few years later, ca. 1914 or so, Clarence Jones had moved to Chicago and found work arranging for McKinley Music (Frank Root Co.).  This music company published simplified piano arrangements, very sparsely scored, to attract the attention of the music-buying public who could not span octaves as needed for much of ragtime playing.  It is there that Jones made his first real commercial success, for Root published Jones’ tunes, such as popular one-steps including “Thanks For The Lobster” and “In Search Of A Husband,” which were enormously successful in sheet music sales.  The instrumental “one-step craze” started out with the British import “Tres Moutarde (Too Much Mustard)” by Cecil Macklin several years earlier.  These one-step tunes came in the form of both syncopated and non-syncopated instrumentals as well as literally hundreds of popular songs. The public could simply not get enough of the style at that point in time.

Rare Example of Jones stencil signature as Clarence M. on RollaArtis

About 1916, Jones started recording piano rolls for the Wurlitzer Co. in Chicago. Although primarily a manufacturer of coin-operated instruments with factories in Cincinnati, Wurlitzer had at the time entered the business of “hand-played” 88-note piano rolls, marketing these under their Rolla Artis label.  It was a short-lived business lasting only until ca. 1919, but they obviously had equipment for live recording (i.e. a “marking piano”) as existing Rolla Artis rolls clearly demonstrate.
Jones’ playing for Wurlitzer shows him to have been an accomplished ragtime pianist, who frequently improvised upon tunes and added an extra measure of syncopation.

The Jelly Roll Blues

One of the most historically important compositions that Jones recorded for Wurlitzer was Jelly Roll Morton’s “The Original Jelly Roll Blues” from 1915, which the Will Rossiter Co. had published in Chicago.  The importance of this recording lies not only in Jones’ interpretation of the tune.  This is the only known example of a “live” recorded Jelly Roll Morton composition (in any piano format) prior to Morton’s famous 1923 Gennett recording session.  And it is the only hand-played piano roll version other than the one Morton himself recorded for Vocalstyle (issued November, 1924).  Jones’ playing is reasonably faithful to the published score, although there are eccentricities that lead one to wonder how Jones learned the piece in the first place.

Although scant information exists about the actual Wurlitzer artists who recorded on Rolla Artis, from the original roll catalogs (which included artist photos, but not of Jones) it is likely that Jones might have been their only Black artist on the staff.  However, Jelly Roll Morton himself recalled having made rolls for “QRS, Wurlitzer and American” in an article which I believe was published in “Record Research” or a similar publication in the mid 1930’s.  We know Morton made 2 QRS rolls, and at least two for Capitol (which used “American” as one of their brands labels, which Morton might have remembered seeing on sale at music stores).  Oddly, Morton mentioned nothing of Vocalstyle, where the bulk of his roll recording was actually done. Theories to explain this will be given in the section on Morton.  However, Morton’s mention of recording for Wurlitzer (which if he actually made, would represent his earliest recordings) has remained a subject of mystery and credible doubt for many years.

According to vintage Rolla Artis catalogs, four rolls were issued as being played by one “F. Morton.”  Of these four, three are duets with a completely unknown artist named “H. Connor.”  Only one Rolla Artis “F. Morton” roll is known to exist; No. 50140 “One-Step Medley No. 2,” a duet played by F. Morton and H. Connor.  This roll is a rollicking four-hand arrangement, but sounds absolutely nothing like Jelly Roll Morton.  The only solo Rolla Artis recording inscribed as played by F. Morton existed at one time, but was destroyed by a house fire in 1961.  However, Mike Montgomery possessed a tape recording of this roll, which was No. 50138 “While The Band Played An American Rag,” composed by Irving Berlin and played by F. Morton.  He played me the tape years ago, and we both agreed it was played in a very commonplace fox-trot style that was not even remotely similar to Morton’s playing in any way whatsoever.

So why then did Morton remember Wurlitzer, and having had made piano rolls for them?  As a possibility, he might have been familiar with Clarence Jones, and was either aware that Jones had recorded “Jelly Roll Blues” for Wurlitzer, or he had encouraged him to do so to help popularize his tune.  And, as a great stretch, if Morton truly did record for Wurlitzer, could Morton have actually been the artist on the Rolla Artis roll that was credited to Clarence Jones?

No one alive today knows how Morton actually played prior to his Gennett session of 1923.  If Jelly Roll Morton was to be taken at his word on the Lomax Library of Congress recordings, then he always played in the style we hear from his recordings of the 20s and 30s, even back near the turn of the century. That may have been possible, but it’s also possible that Morton’s style evolved greatly over those years.  Morton was a most exceptional talent, but unfortunately neglected and hence somewhat embittered during the last years of his life.  Many of his contemporaries were quick to discredit him and his accomplishments; either out of jealousy or just personal dislike. All these things bear upon what an artist of this caliber may or may not choose to say in an interview. As such, Morton’s early playing style has always been the subject of a great deal of debate, and this will likely always be the case.

Clarence Jones recorded several instrumental rags on Rolla Artis, including the extremely popular “Beets and Turnips” (which, although “jazzed up” almost beyond recognition, forms the melodic basis for the first theme of “Five O’Clock Stomp” as recorded by Jimmy Blythe with the Dixie Four.  One of the Lloyd Smith manuscripts at the Library of Congress, entitled “44th St. Rag” (or a similar street title) is also very similar to “Beets and Turnips.”)  Even extremely obscure rags such as George L. Cobb’s “Rabbit’s Foot” were recorded by Jones.  Some, as in this case, represent the only recordings ever made of these rags.

But perhaps the best example of Jones’ ragtime playing is of his own “In Search of A Husband.”  Comparing this performance to the extremely simplified published sheet music version is a revelation, for it shows how Jones intended the tune to be played. It was not a simple dance one-step at all, but a full-fledged piano rag.

Existing piano roll versions of many of Jones’ published compositions are included in the ragtime section.  These include waltzes and songs, some of which were Jones’ greatest commercial successes (such as the instrumental waltz “One Wonderful Night.”)

One last comment should be made regarding Jones’ recorded playing of one-step songs of the era.  It is well known that fellow Chicago pianist Charley Straight moonlighted at Wurlitzer and made dozens of recordings under the pseudonyms of “Billy King” or “Billie King.”  At the time of the recordings for Wurlitzer, Straight was alternately employed under contracts with the Imperial Roll Co. and the QRS Co., both of Chicago.  Straight’s playing style is easy to recognize; basically hot and “relentlessly raggy.”  This trait is heard in many of the one-step rolls credited to Clarence Jones as well, which is why I bring attention to this point.  It would be difficult if not impossible, in many cases, to differentiate Jones’ playing from Straight’s, on specifically the one-step song rolls.  The blues and rags are a completely different matter.  I believe it is possible that little attention was given to the artist labelling in many cases, especially with the popular material.  That is something to keep in mind when listening to one-steps accredited to Jones or King (i.e. Straight).

Clarence M. Jones’s Piano Rolls Part 1 – Ragtime and Instrumental.

12th Street Rag (Bowman) - pb Clarence Jones - IMP 91138.midDownload 
Beets And Turnips - Fox Trot (Cliff Hess & Fred Ahlert) - pb Clarence Jones - RollaArtis 50083.midDownload 
Broadway Blues, The (J.B. Walsh) - pb Clarence Jones - RollaArtis 50132.midDownload 
Candy, The - Ragtime Two-Step (Clarence Jones) - Peerless Style O 20017-15.midDownload 
Chinese Blues (Moore & Gardner) - pb Clarence Jones - RollaArtis 50109.midDownload 
Hee Haw (Wendling-Ager) - pb Clarence Jones - RollaArtis 50133.midDownload 
Honey Bunch (Dan Caslar) - pb Clarence Jones - RollaArtis 50191.midDownload 
In Bagdad - Oriental Intermezzo (J.E. Anderlik) - pb Clarence Jones & J.E. Anderlik - RollaArtis 50184.midDownload 
In Search Of A Husband - One-Step (Jones) - pbc Clarence Jones - RollaArtis 50117.midDownload 
Jelly Roll Blues, The (Ferd Morton) - pb Clarence Jones - RollaArtis 50192.midDownload 
Lightning Rag (Clarence Jones) - WURL 33-1.midDownload 
Mid The Pyramids (Jones-Alexander) - pb Mae Brown and Paul Pratt (as Paul Parnell) - US 39485.midDownload 
Mid The Pyramids (Jones-Alexander) - pb Walter Davison and Joe Murray - VCL 11487.midDownload 
Mid The Pyramids (Jones-Alexander) - pbc Clarence Jones and Bob Alden - IMP 9840.midDownload 
Modulations - Steppin' On The Keys (Clarence Jones) - pb John Farrell - HPC 119.midDownload 
Musical Sparks - Novelty Fox Trot (Clarence M. Jones, 1923 Rossiter) - RR unissued.midDownload 
Oh You Sally Rag (Clarence Jones) - Peerless TypeO 20017-13.midDownload 
Oh You Sally Rag (Clarence Jones) - WURL 164-3.midDownload 
One Wonderful Night - Hesitation Waltz (Clarence Jones) - APC 19036.midDownload 
One Wonderful Night - Hesitation Waltz (Clarence Jones) - Auto A-176-9.midDownload 
One Wonderful Night - Hesitation Waltz (Clarence Jones) - KI 6703.midDownload 
Oriental Tango (Clarence Jones) - WURL 20173-6.midDownload 
Oriental Tango (Clarence Jones) - pb C.A. Grimm and Maud Adams - RollaArtis 50091.midDownload 
Pauline Waltz (Clarence Jones) - US A-1210-12.midDownload 
Pussyfoot - Fox Trot (James White) - pb Clarence Jones and J.E. Anderlik - RollaArtis 50311.midDownload 
Rabbit's Foot - Fox Trot (George L. Cobb) - pb Clarence Jones - RollaArtis 50156.midDownload 
Ragging The Scale - Fox Trot (Edward B. Claypoole) - pb Clarence Jones - RollaArtis 50155.midDownload 
Spring Bird - Intermezzo (Abe Olman) - pb Clarence Jones & J.E. Anderlik - RollaArtis 50122.midDownload 
Sweet Cookie Mine (Clarence Jones) - WURL 20251-9.midDownload 
Sweet Cookie Mine (Clarence Jones) - pb Victor Arden - AMP 53143.midDownload 
Thanks For The Lobster - One-Step (Clarence Jones) - pb Felix Arndt - DuoArt 5556.midDownload 
Thanks For The Lobster - One-Step, Turkey Trot, Tango (Clarence Jones) - QRS 31462.midDownload 
Thanks For The Lobster - One-Step, Turkey Trot, Tango (Clarence Jones) - WURL 20136-8.midDownload 
Thanks For The Lobster - One-Step, Two-Step, Tango (Clarence Jones) - arr. by Ellis Linder (per FLH) 20913.midDownload 
That Baseball Rag - Popular Song (Clarence Jones) - US 65932.midDownload 
That Baseball Rag - Song (Clarence Jones) - CONN 2519.midDownload 
Tripping Along (Oblinger) - pb Clarence Jones & J.E. Anderlik - RollaArtis 50274.midDownload 
Trot Along (Clarence Jones) - WURL 20663-10.midDownload 
Trot Along (Clarence Jones) - pb Gus Drobegg - SUP 5298.midDownload 
Victorious America March (Clarence Jones) - KI 7403.midDownload 
Victorious America March (Clarence Jones) - Musicnote 1099.midDownload 
Wild Grapes Rag (Clarence Jones) - RR unissued.midDownload 
Yellow Dog Rag, The (Handy) - pb Clarence Jones - IMP 9881.midDownload 

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