Max Morath

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Max Morath
Born (1926-10-01) October 1, 1926 (age 89)
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]

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 spent several years playing for silent films.[2] He received a Bachelor's degree in English from Colorado College in 1948,[citation needed] before embarking on a 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] Those theatrical endeavors led to Morath's first professional recordings.

Morath's work in television and theatre during the 1960s preceded 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."

From 1959 to 1961 Morath wrote, performed, and co-produced 26 half-hour television programs for PBS, then NET (National Educational Television).[citation needed] The programs were produced by Rocky Mountain PBS, Denver (then known as Channel 6) and were fed nationally to the 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 were in syndication throughout the 1960s.[1][2] In addition to his television series, Morath made other contributions to NPR and PBS.[1] He appeared on The Bell Telephone Hour, Kraft Music Hall, Today, and The Tonight Show. From 1965 to 1972, he was a regular guest of Arthur Godfrey on CBS Radio, and he appeared 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, played 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 research on her and her times later led to his writing a self-published biographical novel about Jacobs-Bond told in her voice (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 (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.[citation needed] With his wife Diane Fay Skomars, Morath co-created an illustrated book on his experiences on the road, titled Max Morath: The Road To Ragtime. His musical play based on the writings of humorist Finley Peter Dunne, titled Trust Everybody... But Cut The Cards, was presented in staged readings at the York Theatre, New York, in 2003. He has also published academic articles on Dunne and his influence on American culture and politics, 1893-1915. Morath's musical One For The Road, a serio-comic exploration of America's socio-cultural dealings with drugs and alcohol, was produced in 1982 by the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis and MUNI.

After recording a handful of albums in the then-popular honky-tonk style, Morath recorded albums for Vanguard, Epic, Solo Art and RCA. These included solo piano and vocal albums, performances with his Original Rag Quartet and orchestral works.[2] He 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.[citation needed] Albums that followed included Jonah Man, Ragtime Women, and The Great American Piano Bench, each of which went beyond the then-current focus on Scott Joplin. His 1992 album , The Ragtime Man, included his own ragtime composition "Cripple Creek Suite", about the mood of the region's gold rush days. In 2015 all of his ragtime pieces were recorded by Aaron Robinson for the album Max Morath - The Complete Ragtime Works for Piano on the MAI label.[3]

Personal life[edit]

Morath resides in Duluth, Minnesota with his wife, Diane Fay Skomars, a retired administrator at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD).

Now retired from theatrical touring, Morath continues as a lecturer and consultant. He has served on the "Ragtime Symposium" in New York at Jazz at Lincoln Center, and is a speaker and MC at the West Coast Ragtime Festival, Sacramento, California. The screenplay of Blind Boone, written by Morath and his colleague Moss Hall,[4] was a first-prize winner in the category 'Music-Inspired Drama' at the Nashville Film Festival in March 2015.[citation needed]

Partial bibliography[edit]

Partial discography[edit]

Albums[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
2015 Max Morath: The Complete Ragtime Works For Piano (Performed by Aaron Robinson) MAI

[5]

See also[edit]

References[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. Ragtime.nu. Retrieved August 9, 2011. 
  3. ^ "New Recordings". E B Marks. 2015. Retrieved November 1, 2015. 
  4. ^ "Blind Boone: The Screenplay". Sites.google.com. Retrieved 2015-06-02. 
  5. ^ "Max Morath | Discography". AllMusic. Retrieved 2014-01-27. 

External links[edit]