Capricious Harlem, Eubie Blake

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Capricious Harlem, Eubie Blake
Year of Composition:    
Michael Nascimben

Composer Biography

1883 — 1983

JAMES HUBERT "Eubie" BLAKE was born in 1883 in Baltimore and lived to be 100 years old. One reason for his appeal as a composer is that his experience spans so much of our American culture and so many changes in contemporary musical styles. Quoting from Robert Kimball and William Bolcom, "Eubie was to be influenced by nearly every Rag-pianist he carne in contact with through those [early] years, just as he was to influence many others. His open pair of ears took in and digested much other music, too: Victor Herbert, Franz Lehar, Oskar Strauss, and the light classics. Grieg and Wagner were also bouncing around inside his head; it was all music and all fascinating." His interest in classical music led him, in his seventies, to study music at New York University, concentrating on the Schillinger System of Composition.

BLAKE was as much as 20 years older than most of the other early jazz and ragtime musicians who composed and recorded their creations on 78s and piano rolls in the early years of this century. Incredibly, he met almost all of the pioneers, and he outlived them. By the time Eubie first recorded, he was 34, but he was already a show business veteran. With singer Noble Sissle, he brought the first 'Negro' musical to Broadway in 1921 Shujjle Along. In his later years, his willingness to travel, his ability to clearly recall events and people from 60 to 90 years before, and his openness and frankness (not to mention his keyboard facility) made him a national institution. The Amherst Saxophone Quartet met Eubie in St. Louis in 1979, and by 1980, Eubie helped the ASQ to record 14 of his works for the Musical Heritage Society record label. Dictys on 7th Avenue was composed when he was pursuing graduate work in music and features the use of the whole tone scale. Charleston Rag (1899) is an example of Eubie's classic Ragtime style. Charleston was originally entitled Sounds of Africa by Will Marion Cook, an influential conductor of the time. In 1921 it was renamed and promptly sold a million records. Even though Eubie was only sixteen when he composed the work, already a fully developed style was exhibited, with the presence of a very characteristic 'wobbly' bass line.