Max Morath

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Max Morath
Born (1926-10-01) October 1, 1926 (age 88)
Colorado Springs, Colorado, United States
Genres Ragtime
Occupation(s) Pianist, composer, actor, author
Instruments Piano
Years active 1940s–present
Labels Vanguard, various

Max Morath (born October 1, 1926) is an American ragtime pianist, composer, actor and author. He is best known for his piano playing, and is referred to as "Mr. Ragtime". He has been a devoted and prolific performer, writing several plays and productions, as well as being variously a recording artist, actor and radio and television presenter.[1] Rudi Blesh billed Morath as a "one-man ragtime army".[2]

Life and career[edit]

Max Morath was born in Colorado Springs, Colorado, United States.[1] He studied piano and harmony as a child and was exposed to the rudiments of ragtime piano by his mother, a schooled pianist who had also spent several years playing for silent films.[2] He received a Bachelor's degree in English from Colorado College in 1948, before embarking on a varied career that included jobs in radio and television, jazz, and theatre. His appearances as pianist and musical director with melodrama companies in Cripple Creek and Durango, Colorado, triggered his interest in early American popular music and theatre, including a study of its social and economic history, largely inspired by George and Ira Gershwin, Irving Berlin and his ragtime heroes Eubie Blake and Scott Joplin.[1] The success of those theatrical endeavors led to Morath's first professional recordings.

During 1959-1961 Morath wrote, performed, and co-produced twenty-six half-hour television programs for PBS, then NET (National Educational Television). The programs were produced by Channel Six, Denver, and were fed nationally to the infant public broadcasting network. The Ragtime Era series showcased the development of the music of that period. It was followed by the Turn of the Century series, which dealt with popular music's interaction with the nation's social history. The productions are now considered genre classics and were in syndication throughout the 1960s.[1][2] In addition to his landmark television series, Morath made many later contributions to NPR and PBS.[1] He also appeared on a number of commercial television programs including The Bell Telephone Hour, Today and Tonight. From 1965 to 1972, he was a regular guest of Arthur Godfrey on CBS Radio, and he appeared often with Godfrey in television guest appearances.[2]

Moving from Colorado to New York around 1963, Morath was by then performing nationally in college concerts and nightclubs, including New York's Blue Angel and the Village Vanguard with his Original Rag Quartet.[2] His one-man show Max Morath at the Turn of the Century, was a critical success Off-Broadway at the Jan Hus Playhouse in 1969, followed by a four-year national tour.[1][2] Other similar productions followed: The Ragtime Years, Living a Ragtime Life, The Ragtime Man, Ragtime Revisited, plus Ragtime and Again. These productions also toured nationally following Off-Broadway openings.[1] Morath continued touring until 2007.

Returning to academia, Morath earned a Master's degree from Columbia University in 1996 in American Studies. His thesis was based on the life and work of songwriter Carrie Jacobs-Bond (1862-1946), composer of "I Love You Truly" and other popular songs. Morath's extensive research on her and her times later led to his writing a biographical novel about Jacobs-Bond told in her voice (iUniverse, 2008).[1] He also wrote The NPR Curious Listener's Guide To Popular Standards. Among his other published works are the essay "Ragtime Then and Now" in The Oxford Companion to Jazz (Oxford 2000), and various music folios over the years for The Richmond Organization, Edw. B. Marks Music, G. Schirmer Inc., Mel Bay Publications, and Cherry Lane. Morath co-created with his wife Diane Fay Skomars, a coffee-table photograph book of his experiences on the road, titled Max Morath: The Road To Ragtime, and also wrote a musical play based on the writings of humorist Finley Peter Dunne titled Trust Everybody... But Cut The Cards. He also published an academic article on Dunne. Another of Morath's theatrical efforts was One For The Road, a serio-comic exploration of America's socio-cultural dealings with drugs and alcohol. His 2005 album of that name is not the show's score, but does include a single number from it.

After recording a handful of albums in the then-popular honky-tonk style, he found his artistic footing in a number of albums, primarily for Vanguard, but also for Epic, Solo Art and RCA. These included solo piano and vocal albums, performances with his Original Rag Quartet (which at one time included Felix Pappalardi and James Tyler) and orchestral works under such conductor-arrangers as Manny Albam, Ray Wright, and Fred Karlin.[2] He has also recorded vocal albums with the team of William Bolcom and Joan Morris. Morath's 1969 album, At The Turn of the Century, encapsulated the essence of his television series and live shows, and helped usher in the 1970s ragtime revival. Significant albums followed, including Jonah Man, Ragtime Women, and The Great American Piano Bench, each of which pushed beyond the then-current focus on Scott Joplin. His 1992 album Ragtime Man, included his own ragtime composition "Cripple Creek Suite", capturing the mood of the region's gold rush days. Morath has also composed and recorded many of his own rags over the years. He currently resides in Duluth, Minnesota, with his wife Diane Fay Skomars, who retired recently as an administrator at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). Diane is also a professional photographer and published author ("Have I Taught You Everything I know"- Mill City Press 2014.)

Max Morath's work in television and theatre during the 1960s helped lay the groundwork for the 1970s ragtime revival, and had an influence on how it was constituted.[1] Commenting on the significance of ragtime, Morath stated, "Scorned by the establishment as ephemeral at best, trashy at worst, ragtime was the fountainhead of every rhythmic and stylistic upheaval that has followed in a century of ever-evolving American popular music."[3]

Partial bibliography[edit]

The Oxford Companion to Jazz Essay Ragtime Then and Now Oxford University Press [year=2000] isbn 0-19-512510-x

Partial discography[edit]


Year Title Record label
1955 Max Morath At The Gold Bar Room Gold Camp
1956 Max Morath At The Gold Bar Room, Volume II Gold Camp
1957 Max Morath At The Mighty Gold Bar Piano Gold Camp
1959 Honky Tonk In Hi-Fi Gold Camp
1960 Music For Moochers, Gold Diggers, and Cattle Rustlers Barbary Coast
1963 Presenting That Celebrated Maestro Epic
1964 Oh, Play That Thing: The Ragtime Era Epic
1969 Max Morath At The Turn of The Century RCA-Victor
1972 Max Morath Plays the Best of Scott Joplin & Other Rag Classics Vanguard
1973 The World of Scott Joplin Vanguard
1974 Irving Berlin: The Ragtime Years Vanguard
1975 Max Morath Plays Ragtime Vanguard
1975 Good Friends Are for Keeps (with other performers) Bell System/United Artists
1976 The World of Scott Joplin, Volume 2 Vanguard
1976 Jonah Man: A Tribute To Bert Williams (1996 CD release added four tracks from Morath's 1981 album) Vanguard
1977 Living The Ragtime Life (not to be confused with similarly titled later release) Vanguard
1977 The Ragtime Women Vanguard
1978 These Charming People (with Bolcom & Morris) RCA-Red Seal
1978 Don't Give the Name A Bad Place (with other performers) New World Records
1979 Max Morath In Jazz Country Vanguard
1979 The Great American Piano Bench Vanguard
1981 Max Morath & His Ragtime Stompers Vanguard
1983 More Rodgers and Hart (with Bolcom & Morris) RCA
1987 Living A Ragtime Life (1990 SoloArt CD version contained additional tracks and is re-sequenced) Normacks
1991 The Ragtime Century PianoMania Music Publishing
1992 The Ragtime Man Omega Music
1994 Fountain Favorites From the World of Coca-Cola (with Bolcom & Morris) Coke
1995 Drugstore Cabaret Premier
1995 Real American Folk Songs Solo Art
2003 Sing Yip Harburg (with Bolcom & Morris) Original Cast
2004 Sing Gus Kahn (with Bolcom & Morris) Original Cast
2005 One For The Road Skomax


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Al Campbell (1926-10-01). "Max Morath | Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved 2014-01-27. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Oleg Mezjuev (1996). "Max Morath". Biography. Retrieved August 9, 2011. 
  3. ^ Du Noyer, Paul (2003). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music (1st ed.). Fulham, London: Flame Tree Publishing. p. 122. ISBN 1-904041-96-5. 
  4. ^ "Max Morath | Discography". AllMusic. Retrieved 2014-01-27. 

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