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Max Morath

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Max Morath
Born(1926-10-01)October 1, 1926
Colorado Springs, Colorado, U.S.
DiedJune 19, 2023(2023-06-19) (aged 96)
Duluth, Minnesota, U.S.
Occupation(s)Musician, composer, actor author
Years active1940s–2023

Max Edward Morath (October 1, 1926 – June 19, 2023) was an American ragtime pianist, composer, actor, and author. He was best known for his piano playing and is referred to as "Mr. Ragtime".[1] He was a touring performer as well as being variously a composer, recording artist, actor, playwright, and radio and television presenter.[2] Rudi Blesh billed Morath as a "one-man ragtime army".[3]

Early life and education


Max Edward Morath was born in Colorado Springs, Colorado.[4] 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.[3][5] He received a bachelor's degree in English from Colorado College in 1948,[1] before embarking on a career that included jobs in radio and television, jazz, and theater. In the midst of this, Morath earned a master's degree from Columbia University in 1996 in American studies.[6]



Early years


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 theater, 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.[2]

1960s television and theater work


Morath's work in television and theater during the 1960s preceded the 1970s ragtime revival and had an influence on how it was constituted.[2] 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",[7] and on Morath, Eric Salzman wrote in Stereo Review: "[t]he person who kept rag alive almost single-handedly during all the dark years was really Max Morath."[8]

From 1959 to 1961 Morath wrote, performed, and co-produced 26 half-hour television programs for PBS, then NET (National Educational Television).[1] The programs were produced by Rocky Mountain PBS in Denver (then known as KRMA Channel 6) and were fed nationally to the public broadcasting network. The Ragtime Era series showcased the development of the music of that period and brought him national recognition.[3] It was followed by the Turn of the Century series, which dealt with popular music's interaction with the nation's social history (and which he afterwards turned into a one-man touring show).[3] The productions were in syndication throughout the 1960s.[2][5] In addition to his television series, Morath made other contributions to NPR and PBS.[2] 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.[5]

Touring shows


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.[5][3] His one-man show, Max Morath at the Turn of the Century, was a critical success and played Off-Broadway at the Jan Hus Playhouse in 1969, followed by a four-year national tour.[1][2][5] Other similar productions followed: The Ragtime Years, Living the Ragtime Life, The Ragtime Man, Ragtime Revisited, plus Ragtime and Again. These productions also toured nationally following Off-Broadway openings.[2][3] Morath continued touring until 2007.[4]



In 1996, Morath earned a master's degree from Columbia University 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).[2][9]

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.[10]

Morath's musical revue One For The Road, a serio-comic exploration of American culture's dealings with drugs and alcohol, was produced in 1982 by the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis and MUNI.[3]

2002 saw the publication of his book The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Popular Standards, an authoritative overview of the Great American Songbook.[11]

The screenplay of Blind Boone, written by Morath and his colleague Moss Hall, was a first-prize winner in the category 'Music-Inspired Drama' at the Nashville Film Festival in March 2015.[12]

Morath's interest in American popular culture extended to the work of humorist Finley Peter Dunne (1867–1936), creator of the popular "Mister Dooley" editorials. An academic article he wrote on Dunne's work titled Translating Mister Dooley: A New Examination of the Journalism of Finley Peter Dunne was published in the Journal of American Culture in 2004.[13] Dunne's editorials also form the text of Morath's musical play "Trust Everybody... but Cut the Cards," presented in staged readings at the York Theater in New York. He had been working on a 60,000-word volume of "translations" of Dunne's writings out of the Irish dialect in which they were originally published and into standard English.[14]



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.[5] He also recorded five 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.[2] 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.[1] 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.[15]

In the early 1970s, Morath recorded four vinyl LPs for the Vanguard label which presented ragtime in an unprecedented fashion: namely, recording and presenting ragtime in a truly serious manner, and creating four non-commercial albums for a commercial recording company. These albums notedly highlighted Morath's pianistic abilities for a warmth and roundness of tone; a spontaneity and lightness of touch; and a complex use of dynamics, changes of mood and tempi. He has also been recognized as a major influence on younger pianists recording ragtime.[16]



Morath died in Duluth, Minnesota, on June 19, 2023, at age 96.[17][18]

Awards and honors


Partial bibliography

Solo authored
  • Best of Ragtime Piano. Mel Bay Productions. 1987. ISBN 0-7866-8137-3.
  • "Ragtime Then and Now". In The Oxford Companion to Jazz, Bill Kirchner, ed. Oxford University Press, 2000, pp. 29–38. ISBN 0-19-512510-X
  • The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Popular Standards. Penguin-Perigee Trade. 2002. ISBN 978-0-399-52744-9.
  • Original Rags for Piano. Hal Leonard. 2008. ISBN 978-1-4234-5816-6.
  • I Love You Truly: A Biographical Novel Based on the Life of Carrie Jacobs-Bond. iUniverse. 2008. ISBN 978-0-595-53017-5.
  • Morath, Max; Skomars, Diane Fay; Schoenstein, Ralph (1999). Max Morath : The Road to Ragtime. Virginia Beach, VA: Donning Company/Publishers. ISBN 1578640687.




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 Music for Moochers, Gold Diggers, and Cattle Rustlers Talking Machine Records
1958 Honky Tonk in Hi-Fi Gold Camp
1959 More Morath Gold Camp
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
1993 Siren Songs (Piano Accompaniment for Ann Fennessy ) Bilnan Productions
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 fhe Road (Compilation, Includes Previously Unreleased Material) Skomax
2015 Max Morath: The Complete Ragtime Works for Piano (Performed by Aaron Robinson) MAI

See also



  1. ^ a b c d e f Black, Noel (March 2, 2016). "Max "Mr. Ragtime" Morath to be Inducted into Colorado Music Hall of Fame". KRCC. Archived from the original on September 25, 2016. Retrieved September 24, 2016.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Al Campbell (October 1, 1926). "Max Morath | Biography". AllMusic. Archived from the original on October 13, 2016. Retrieved January 27, 2014.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Wilson, John S. (July 30, 1982). "Max Morath in Rag and 'Unragtime'". The New York Times. Archived from the original on September 25, 2016. Retrieved September 24, 2016.
  4. ^ a b McFadden, Robert D. (June 19, 2023). "Max Morath, Pianist Who Staged a One-Man Ragtime Revival, Dies at 96". The New York Times. Retrieved June 19, 2023.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Oleg Mezjuev (1996). "Max Morath". Ragtime.nu. Archived from the original on August 8, 2011. Retrieved August 9, 2011.
  6. ^ Brown, G. (July 16, 2018). "Max Morath". Colomusic.org.
  7. ^ Morath, Max. "Ragtime Then and Now". In The Oxford Companion to Jazz, Bill Kirchner, ed. Oxford University Press, 2000, pp. 29–38.
  8. ^ "Record Reviews: Popular". Stereo Review. 29: 90. November 1972.
  9. ^ Morath, Max (2008). I love you truly : a biographical novel based on the life of Carrie Jacobs-Bond. New York: iUniverse. ISBN 978-0595530175.
  10. ^ Morath, Max; Skomars, Diane Fay; Schoenstein, Ralph (1999). Max Morath : The Road to Ragtime. Virginia Beach, VA: Donning Company/Publishers. ISBN 1578640687.
  11. ^ Morath, Max (February 5, 2002). The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Popular Standards by Max Morath. Penguin Books. ISBN 9781101203118. Retrieved June 21, 2023.
  12. ^ "Blind Boone: The Screenplay". Archived from the original on May 19, 2015. Retrieved June 2, 2015.
  13. ^ "Max Morath: A Personal View". The Syncopated Times. February 28, 2022.
  14. ^ Wilson, John S. (July 30, 1982). "MAX MORATH IN RAG AND 'UNRAGTIME'". The New York Times.
  15. ^ "New Recordings". E B Marks. 2015. Archived from the original on October 1, 2015. Retrieved November 1, 2015.
  16. ^ "Records that changed Ragtime History" in Interview with Matthew de Lacey Davidson, "The Syncopated Times: Artist Profiles" Archived December 30, 2022, at the Wayback Machine. Published online, September 30, 2021.
  17. ^ Gabler, Jay (June 19, 2023). "Duluth's Max Morath, ragtime legend and public TV pioneer, dead at 96". Duluth News Tribune. Retrieved June 19, 2023.
  18. ^ McFadden, Robert D. (June 19, 2023). "Max Morath, Pianist Who Staged a One-Man Ragtime Revival, Dies at 96". The New York Times. Retrieved June 20, 2023.
  19. ^ "Max Morath". Archived from the original on January 29, 2023. Retrieved June 19, 2023.
  20. ^ Melton, Larry (September 29, 2022). "Glenn Jenks Ragtime Revue Scheduled for Oct. 23". The Syncopated Times. Archived from the original on March 24, 2023. Retrieved May 20, 2023.
  21. ^ Gabler, Jay (December 26, 2022). "'Mr. Ragtime' Max Morath, public TV pioneer, is happily living his coda in Duluth". The Duluth Times. Duluth, Minnesota. Archived from the original on February 7, 2023. Retrieved May 20, 2023.
  22. ^ "Max Morath | Discography". AllMusic. Retrieved January 27, 2014.