Last April  MSR Classics released a CD of my concert music based on ragtime. Prestidigitations – Contemporary Concert Rags by J L Zaimont.  For years  I’ve been writing  rags -  some on my own prompting, some on commission – because of an itch to do with this American dance idiom something similar to what Chopin did with mazurkas and polonaises.  Most are big framed  five-part rondos   but each is in a different tempo stretching  the forms along with  the  concept of  syncope.  

For years  I’ve been writing  rags -  some on my own prompting, some on commission – because of an itch to do with this American dance idiom something similar to what Chopin did with mazurkas and polonaises.  Most are big framed  five-part rondos   but each is in a different tempo stretching  the forms along with  the  concept of  syncope. The time seemed right  to gather them as a group.   On two other  discs  (‘03, ’05)  a single rag was added in , and reviewers appeared  fascinated by  the idea  (several  using the word  ‘irresistible’ – or as one UK critic put it , “irritatingly catchy”).    Some are for piano alone while  others are for  various forces, broadened out  to society orchestra  in two arrangements  by David Reffkin.  (David directs San Francisco’s  American Ragtime Ensemble, featured on the disc.)  We recorded in San Francisco  last October.   (I play on a few cuts, and had a hilarious  telephone rehearsal in advance with flutist Elizabeth Owens – she being in SF and me in Maricopa, Arizona  – neither  one of us having access to any sort of advanced technology!) 

Without intending to, the disc is functioning as quasi litmus test,  pinpointing  a “divide “ in ways of hearing.  Early write-ups in ragtime and classical journals  illustrate the distinction in outlooks:  While all the writers agree that this is (quality) contemporary music,   for the classical folks the music is easy to take in, but  for the ragtimers noticeably more knotty.    

The classical writers (again) spend words on  the ‘novel’  concept, whereas the ragtimers  advise repeated hearings so a  traditional  listener  gets  comfortable with unusual forms.   

Is  Prestidigitations  the work of my alter ego?    I’m not   a fusionist,  but  ragtime reaches me …  who doesn’t like a  good tune, music that  feels neat to play,   and every once in awhile writing in major?

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