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"On the Pike" with the Rags of James Scott

Featuring Frog Legs Rag (1906) and Other Piano Rags by James Scott

 

By Ted Tjaden

(originally published June 2006 and updated periodically)

 


Recommended reading:

Scott DeVeaux & William Kenney, eds, The Music of James Scott (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992).

 

James Scott is rightfully regarded as one of the "Big Three" in classic ragtime piano, along with Scott Joplin and Joseph Lamb. His piano rags, the majority of which were published with Joseph Stark, have stood the test of time in their musicality, harmonies and playability. He is known for his expansive use of the keyboard and a "call and response" style melody (where he repeats one or two bars of the melody one octave higher). Set out below on this page is more information on James Scott, including links to all of his published ragtime compositions (for free).

1)  Life of James Scott
2)  Sheet Music of James Scott
3)  Commercial Recordings of James Scott Compositions
4)  Bibliography

 

1)  Life of James Scott (February 12, 1885 August 30, 1938)     [top]

James Scott's life has been well-documented in the various bibliographic sources below, starting initially with Blesh and Janis in They All Played Ragtime, then DeVeaux and Kenney in The Music of James Scott, through to Jasen and Jones in That American Rag. As such, set out below is only a brief overview of the significant events in his life (with most of the citations attributed to VanGilder, although much of this information is repeated throughout many of the sources below):

  • James Sylvester Scott was born February 12, 1885, in Neosho, Missouri, to parents who were former slaves. He had an older sister (Lena) and was an older brother to each of Douglas, Howard, Bessie and Oliver, all of whom were also born in Neosho.
  • VanGilder (1985:137-38) describes Neosho in the 1880's as a "rustic village" in the process of emerging from frontier status with tree-lined, unpaved streets (the city is located in the southwestern corner of Missouri). The town also had several hotel bars and saloons where one of the black entertainers John Coleman performed and later gave piano lessons to young "Jimmy" Scott. VanGilder (1985:138) describes this training as "thirty formal lessons in classical piano technique with application to the developing idiom to be known as ragtime." Apparently, Scott had perfect pitch where he could "hear full chords and repeat them at will" (VanGilder 1985:138).
  • James Scott also learned music from his mother who played all types of folk and African-American music without the benefit of formal training. The family initially did not have their own piano, so the young Scott practiced on neighbours' pianos: Blesh and Janis (1966:113).
  • The Scott family moved to Ottawa, Kansas, circa 1899, to join relatives for a brief period of time, where Scott had access to a reed pump organ that he used to write his first composition. When the family moved to Carthage, Missouri, circa 1901, they brought the organ with them. Later, Scott's father bought a used upright piano for the family.
  • As a youth, Scott was known to attend at the Lakeside Amusement Park in Webb City, where he would "sit in" between dance sets at the pavilion and be cheered by older performers (VanGilder 1985:139).
  • To earn income, Scott worked for a while as a shoeshine boy for a Carthage barber; he also played for tips at several Carthage saloons (VanGilder 1985:139):

    Scott was described as sitting at the keyboard with his left leg wrapped around a leg of the stool or bench and bouncing up and down with the beat as he played, his short, square-tipped fingers literally flying over the keys as he attempted to squeeze the greatest number of tones into the space of each beat. When thus occupied, he was lost to the world and the sordid atmosphere around him ....

  • In 1902, Charles Dumars of the Dumars Music Company hired Scott as a general helper, but when Dumars heard Scott playing piano in the back room, Scott was re-assigned to being a song plugger, which, according to VanGilder (1985:140), resulted in increased sales and people flocking to the store to hear Scott play. Scott also performed at the Delphus Theater and Lakeside Park in addition to performing in a trio (VanGilder 1985:140).
  • Dumars published Scott's first three rags: A Summer Breeze: March and Two-Step (March 14, 1903) (below), The Fascinator: March and Two Step (September 23, 1903) (below), and On the Pike (April 13, 1904) (below).

 

Photograph of James Scott, circa
                                  1904

Photograph of James Scott, circa 1904.

This is one of the few photographs of James Scott as a young man used in a number of sources in the bibliography below, with the source of the photo originally attributed to one being in the possession of Rudi Blesh.

 

  • In 1906, James Scott met Scott Joplin in St Louis, a meeting that has caused some scholars to reasonably speculate that Joplin played a mentoring role in influencing the young James Scott due to the fact that James Scott's compositions grew slightly more complex after 1906: VanGilder (1985:140). Scott Joplin's primary publisher, John Stark, also became a publisher of James Scott's compositions, publishing the successful Frog Legs Rag (below) in 1906.
  • VanGilder (1985:140) describes the young James Scott as "small in stature and emotionally introverted" but a celebrity nonetheless who maintained his small town roots.
  • As mentioned by VanGilder (1985:141), 1909 was a banner year for James Scott (age 24) with the publication of 7 compositions, including Grace and Beauty (below) and Great Scott Rag (below).
  • Apparently, James Scott submitted his compositions to John Stark untitled: Blesh and Janis (1966:117).
  • In the mid 1910's, James Scott continued to successfully publish a number of interesting rags with John Stark. He also started teaching. By around 1920, James Scott, and his wife Nora Johnson, moved to Kansas City, Kansas, where he set up a private teaching studio and installed a new grand piano, described as his most cherished possession in his life: VanGilder (1985:142). He became to be known as the "Little Professor."
  • As mentioned by Blesh and Janis (1966:119), James Scott lived in Kansas City from 1914 to 1938, as did white ragtime composer Charles L Johnson, but the two men apparently never met.
  • James Scott was a cousin to Ada Brown, a famous vaudeville performer from Kansas City, Kansas.
  • In the early 1920's, James Scott worked as a pianist in a Kansas City movie house and later joined a seven-piece orchestra that provided music for movies and touring vaudeville companies: VanGilder (1985:143).
  • Unfortunately, the 1930's appeared to bring tough times for James Scott. Talking moving pictures and the passing of the ragtime era left fewer opportunities for Scott, save for playing in an orchestra for various dances. The passing of his wife was also hard on him (they had no children). VanGilder (1985:143) documents that Scott changed residences 4 times in the last eight years of his life.
  • James Scott died on August 30, 1938, in Kansas City, Kansas, at the age of 52. VanGilder (1985:143) documents that the graves of James Scott and his wife went unmarked and abandoned for more than 40 years until a local group raised funds and dedicated a headstone marking the graves in 1981.
  • Jasen and Tichenor (1989:112) sum up the impact of the music of James Scott in these terms:

    Whereas Joplin synthesized nineteenth-century European classicism with Mississippi Valle Afro-American folk roots, Scott synthesized the folk tradition with his professional career in popular and jazz music. This resulted in a developmental feeling in his rags, a spirit more characteristic of twentieth-century music to come, and one step further away from the oldest concept of ragtime, that of a patchwork of various different musical ideas. He was undoubtedly the best keyboard man of the Classic ragtimers, and loved to punctuate his lyrical melodies with short, abrupt phrases. Toward the end of his published writing career, his rags became more thickly textured with much varied bass work. Scott, much more than Joplin, was concerned with exploring the form pianistically more than emotionally.

 

2)  Sheet Music of James Scott Compositions      [top]

Set out below in chronological order is a complete list of known compositions by James Scott. All compositions and sheet music covers are in the public domain.

A Summer Breeze Sheet Music Cover
James Scott, A Summer Breeze (Carthage, MO: Dumars Music, 1903).

[view sheet music]

The Fascinator: March and Two Step
                                Sheet Music Cover
James Scott, The Fascinator: March and Two Step (Carthage, MO: Dumars Music, 1903).

[view sheet music]

Source:  Cover from Library of Congress, Music Division  [top]

On The Pike: March and Two-Step
James Scott, On The Pike (Carthage, MO: Dumars, 1904).

[view sheet music]

Frog Legs Rag Sheet Music Cover
James Scott, Frog Legs Rag (New York: John Stark & Son, 1906).

[view sheet music]

Source: Indiana University Sheet Music Collections  [top]

Kansas City Rag Sheet Music Cover
James Scott, Kansas City Rag (New York: Stark Music Co, 1907).

[view sheet music]

Source: Indiana University Sheet Music Collections   [top]

She's My Girl From Anaconda Sheet
                                Music Cover
James Scott, She's My Girl From Anaconda (words by Charles R Dumar) (Carthage, MO: The Dumars Gammon Music Co, 1909).

[view sheet music]

Grace and Beauty Rag Sheet Music
                                Cover
James Scott, Grace And Beauty (St Louis, MO: Stark Music Co, 1909).

[view sheet music]

Source: Indiana University Sheet Music Collections   [top]

Great Scott Rag Sheet Music Cover
James Scott, Great Scott Rag (Columbia, MO: Allen Music, 1909).

[view sheet music]

Source:  Cover from Library of Congress, Music Division  [top]

Valse Venice Sheet Music Cover
James Scott, Valse Venice (St Louis, MO: Stark Music Co, 1909).

[view sheet music]

Ragtime Betty Sheet Music Cover
James Scott, The Ragtime "Betty" (New York: Stark Music Co, 1909).

[view sheet music]

Source: University of Colorado Digital Sheet Music Collection   [top]

Sunburst Rag Sheet Music Cover
James Scott, Sunburst Rag (New York: Stark Music Co, 1909).

[view sheet music]

Sweetheart
                                Time Sheet Music Cover
James Scott, Sweetheart Time (words by Charles Dumar) (Carthage, MO: The Dumars Gammon Music Co, 1909).

[view sheet music]

Hilarity Rag Sheet Music Cover
James Scott, Hilarity Rag (St Louis, MO: Stark Music Company, 1910).

[view sheet music]

Source:  Cover from Library of Congress, Music Division  [top]

Ophelia Rag Sheet Music Cover

James Scott, Ophelia Rag (St Louis, MO: Stark Music Company, 1910).

[view sheet music]

Source:  Cover from Library of Congress, Music Division  [top]

Hearts Longing
                                Waltes Sheet Music

James Scott, Hearts Longing: Waltzes (St Louis, MO: Stark Music Company, 1910).

[view sheet music]

Princess Rag Sheet Music Cover

James Scott, The Princess Rag (St Louis, MO: Stark Music Company, 1911).

[view sheet music]

Quality Rag Sheet Music Cover

James Scott, Quality Rag (St Louis, MO: Stark Music Company, 1911).

[view sheet music]

Source: University of Colorado Digital Sheet Music Collection   [top]

Ragtime Oriole Sheet Music Cover

James Scott, Ragtime Oriole (St Louis, MO: Stark Music Company, 1911).

[view sheet music]

Source:  Cover from Library of Congress, Music Division  [top]

The Suffragette Waltz Sheet Music
                                Cover

James Scott, The Suffragette Waltz (St Louis, MO: Stark Music Company, 1914).

[view sheet music]

Climax Rag Sheet Music Cover

James Scott, Climax Rag (St Louis, MO: Stark Music Company, 1914).

[view sheet music]

Source: Indiana University Sheet Music Collections   [top]

Take Me Out To Lakeside Sheet Music
                                Cover

James Scott, Take Me Out To Lakeside (Carthage, MO: Ball Music Co, 1914).

[view sheet music]

Evergreen Sheet Music Cover

James Scott, Evergreen Rag (St Louis, MO: Stark Music Company, 1915).

[view sheet music]

Honey Moon Rag Sheet Music Cover

James Scott, Honey Moon Rag (St Louis, MO: Stark Music Company, 1916).

[view sheet music]

Prosperity Rag Sheet Music Cover

James Scott, Prosperity Rag (St Louis, MO: Stark Music Company, 1916).

[view sheet music]

Efficiency Rag Sheet Music Cover

James Scott, Efficiency Rag (St Louis, MO: Stark Music Company, 1917).

[view sheet music]

Source:  Cover from Library of Congress, Music Division  [top]

Paramount Rag Sheet Music Cover

James Scott, Paramount Rag (New York: Seminary Music, 1917).

[view sheet music]

Source:  Cover from Library of Congress, Music Division  [top]

Dixie Dimples Sheet Music Cover

James Scott, Dixie Dimples (Kansas City, MO: Will L Livernash Co, 1918).

[view sheet music]

Rag Sentimental Sheet Music Cover

James Scott, Rag Sentimental (St Louis, MO: Stark Music Company, 1918).

[view sheet music]

Springtime of Love Waltz Sheet
                                Music Cover

James Scott, Springtime Of Love (Kansas City, MO: Will L. Livernash Music Co, 1918).

[view sheet music]

Source: University of Missouri Digital Library  [top]

New Era Rag Sheet Music Cover

James Scott, New Era Rag (St Louis, MO: Stark Music Company, 1919).

[view sheet music]

Source:  Cover from Library of Congress, Music Division  [top]

Peace And Plenty Rag Sheet Music
                                Cover

James Scott, Peace And Plenty Rag (St Louis, MO: Stark Music Company, 1919).

[view sheet music]

Source:  Cover from Library of Congress, Music Division  [top]

Troubadour Rag Sheet Music Cover

James Scott, Troubadour Rag (St Louis, MO: Stark Music Company, 1919).

[view sheet music]

Source:  Cover from Library of Congress, Music Division  [top]

The Shimmie Shake Sheet Music
                                Cover

James Scott, The Shimmie Shake (St Louis, MO: Stark Music Co, 1920).

[view sheet music]

Source:  Cover from Library of Congress, Music Division  [top]

Modesty Rag (Sheet Music Cover)

James Scott, Modesty Rag (St Louis, MO: Stark Music Company, 1920).

[view sheet music]

Pegasus Sheet Music Cover

James Scott, Pegasus (St Louis, MO: Stark Music Company, 1920).

[view sheet music]

Source:  Cover from Library of Congress, Music Division  [top]

Don't Jazz Me Rag (I'm Music) Sheet
                                Music Cover

James Scott, Don't Jazz Me Rag (I'm Music) (St Louis, MO: Stark Music Company, 1921).

[view sheet music]

Source:  Cover from Library of Congress, Music Division  [top]

Victory Rag Sheet Music Cover

James Scott, Victory Rag (St Louis, MO: Stark Music Company, 1921).

[view sheet music]

Broadway Rag Sheet Music Cover

James Scott, Broadway Rag (St Louis, MO: Stark Music Company, 1922).

[view sheet music]

Source:  Cover from Library of Congress, Music Division  [top]

 

In addition, Jasen and Tichenor (1978:121) provide some detail about Calliope Rag, reportedly discovered by Robert Darch from one of the sisters of James Scott who told Darch that her brother played it on the steam calliope at Lakeside Park. This piece may be copyrighted, but is found in the third and later editions of They All Played Ragtime (Blesh and Janis). In addition, a copy of the piece is available from Bill Edwards, who made enhancements on his copyrighted version of the song and who provides more detailed information on Darch's "discovery."

 

3) Commercial Recordings of James Scott Compositions    [top]

Set out below are several commercially available CD recordings that contain the music of James Scott, with Nielsen's CD being the most complete (it also has excellent liner notes):

  • Scott Kirby, Grace and Beauty: Ragtime Classics (Virdania) [5 of 16 songs are by James Scott] [Amazon.com entry]
  • Guido Nielsen, James Scott: The Complete Works (1903-1922) (Basta Records, 2001) [Amazon.com entry]
  • James Scott, Classic Ragtime from Rare Piano Rolls (Biograph, 1997) [Amazon.com entry]

In addition, there are a number of MIDI recordings of James Scott compositions available on the Internet, as follows:

 

4)  Bibliography     [top]

Set out below are some of the more commonly cited resources on James Scott. The DeVeaux and Kenney book from the Smithsonian Institution Press is a wonderful and elegant book but is, unfortunately, out of print and difficult to obtain (check your local University library).

  • Affeldt, P. "James Scott: Crown Prince of Ragtime" (Oct 1960) 1 Jazz Report 7-9.
  • Berlin, Edward. Ragtime: A Musical and Cultural History. Berkeley, CA: University of Los Angeles Press, 1980.
  • Blesh, Rudi & Harriet Grossman Janis. They All Played Ragtime. 4th ed. New York: Oak Publications, 1996.
  • DeVeaux, Scott & William Kenney, eds. The Music of James Scott. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1992.
  • "James Scott Memorial Dedication Ceremony" (July 1981) 15 Rag Times 6.
  • Jasen, Dave & Trebor Tichenor. Rags and Ragtime: A Musical History.(New York: Dover, 1989).
  • Jasen, David & Gene Jones. That American Rag: The Story of Ragtime from Coast to Coast. New York: Schirmer Books, 2000.
  • Kenney, William. "James Scott and the Culture of Classic Ragtime" (1991) 9:2 American Music 149-182.
  • Morgan, Ray. "James Scott Marker Completed" (1980) 14 Rag Times 1. Reprinted from the Kansas City (Missouri) Times (2 October 1980).
  • Schafer, William. "Grace and Beauty: The Case of James Scott" (1975) 2 Mississippi Rag 7-8.
  • VanGilder, Marvin. "James Scott" in JE Hasse, ed. Ragtime: Its History, Composers, and Music. New York: Schirmer Books, 1985.
  • Wright, Bob & Trebor Tichenor. "James Scott and CL Johnson: An Unlikely Musical Kinship" (1966) 5 Ragtime Review 7-8. Reprinted in (1972) 6 Rag Times 4.

 

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This site created by Ted Tjaden. Page last updated: October 2016.