Presenting the critically acclaimed ragtime CD

"Syncopated Odyssey:"
"From Joplin to Bolcom and Beyond"

John Roache, Piano

Syncopated Odyssey Cover Art
This is my premier CD of classic and contemporary ragtime, stride and novelty piano music. These are all new recordings. Even though a few of the songs are available as MIDI sequences on this Web Site, all of the songs included on the CD are digitally recorded using my Roland RD-500 Stage Piano utilizing new MIDI sequences never released publicly. Six of the songs are premiere recordings having never been recorded by anyone before.
This is the perfect gift for a Ragtime Piano Fan! It is also a nice way to share my music with a person who does not have a computer.
Ordering Information Play List
Demo Sound Clips Credits and Liner Notes
Hot Kumquats
Don't miss my other CD "Hot Kumquats"
"...All in all, this is one of the finest ragtime CD's I have ever encountered. If you avoid getting it because it is 'computer music' you are doing yourself a grave disservice. If it bothers you that much, tear up the liner notes before you read them and forget you saw this review. Just put John Roache on your stereo, settle into your listening chair, and prepare to be delighted."
--Mike Nichols writing for "Ragtime Revelry" Kansas City, MO

BUT THAT'S JUST ONE MAN'S OPINION. PLEASE READ WHAT OTHER PROFESSIONALS, REVIEWERS AND CONSUMERS ARE SAYING ABOUT SYNCOPATED ODYSSEY.

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Play List:
Title and Composer Playing Time:
1. Maple Leaf Rag , Scott Joplin (1899) (Arr. John Roache) 2:47
2. The Chrysanthemum , Scott Joplin (1904) (arr. Jim Turner) 2:53
3. Back To Life , Charles Hunter (1905) 2:38
4. White Wash Man , Jean Schwartz (1908) (arr. John Roache) 2:42
5. Eccentricity Waltz , James P. Johnson (1925) (arr. John Roache) 3:46
6. Sleepy Piano , Billy Mayerl (1926) 4:48
Compositions by William Bolcom:
7. Graceful Ghost Rag (from Three Ghost Rags) (1971) 4:02
8. Incineratorag (1967) 3:37
9. The Poltergeist  (From Three Ghost Rags) (1971) 3.52
10. *Tabby Cat Walk (1968) 5:42
11. Exhilaration Rag (1997), George McClellan (arr. John Roache) 2:53
12. Palmetto Rag (1987), Hal Isbitz 3:44
Compositions by Robin Frost:
13. Three Sheets In The Ocean, One Foot In The Sunset, And You (1986) 4:18
14. Rolling Avocado (1986) 3:39
15. Occident Express (1983-85) 3:49
16. Space Shuffle (1980) 3:30
17. Windmill Rag (1979) 4:06
18. Eccentric Formalism Rag (1985) 2:54
**Total Playing Time**  65:24
*This track not on Cassette Tape    **Tape Playing time: 60 min.

MIDI Demo Clips Go to Top
Please Note: Since these are monaural compressed music clips they DO NOT accurately reproduce the FIDELITY of the original music. Please do not judge the SONIC quality of the CD from these samples.
White Wash Man
Listen to a 30 second monaural sample of me playing the tuba, piano and banjo.
Eccentricity Waltz
A 30 second monaural sample of James P. Johnson's great stride waltz.
Sleepy Piano
A 30 second monaural sample of Billy Mayerl's wonderful 1926 piano novelty composition.
Graceful Ghost Rag
A 30 second monaural sample of William Bolcom's most famous rag composition.
Incineratorag
A 30 second monaural sample of William Bolcom's most obscure rag composition.
Occident Express
A 30 second monaural sample of Robin Frost's brilliant novelty composition.

CREDITS AND LINER NOTES Go to Top

Album Credits:

  • Produced and Engineered by John Roache
  • Cover Art and Graphics: Sondra Seeger
  • Liner Notes: Irwin Schwartz
LINER NOTES by Irwin Schwartz
By transmuting old-fashioned mechanical technology to modern electronic and computer technology, John Roache has created a virtual library of music (indeed, a library of virtual music) within the confines of his home studio.  Over the years he has shared his music with the world via the Internet and, now, with this compact disc he brings piano players and player pianos into the home for all to hear.

John's interest in piano rolls dates back to when he studied and learned to appreciate the skills of QRS master piano-roll arranger J. Lawrence Cook.  John now produces his own digital “rolls” called MIDI sequences on his computer.   He is considered by those who know about MIDI sequencing to be at the very top of the list of practitioners.   Sequencing allows John to do what only a piano roll could do; that is, create arrangements that would otherwise be humanly impossible to play.   But, unlike piano rolls, MIDI sequences have the capability to reproduce all of the dynamics, character and nuances of a live performance.

The title of this CD reflects the broad historical sweep of the music.  It contains turn-of-the-century rags composed by such classicists as Scott Joplin and Charles Hunter as well as the end-of-the-millennium rags by such contemporary composers as George McClellan, Robin Frost and  William Bolcom.  The program also features stride, swing and novelty piano.

The Odyssey:

This Syncopated Odyssey begins with the first rag John learned to play, Scott Joplin's “Maple Leaf Rag”. John has studied the styles of many of the great pianists who have recorded this piece and added a few “tricks” of his own.  In this arrangement you will hear some Jelly Roll Morton, Wally Rose, Ralph Soutane, Hank Dunce, Margin Ash, Don Ewe and Scott Carboy.  You will also hear a lot of John Roache, who I think of not as a copier but as an adopter.  This is not a classic interpretation of Joplin.

Moving along in time a bit, we encounter another familiar classic Joplin rag, “The Chrysanthemum.” John gives this piece a distinctive stride-piano treatment.  The arrangement is Jim Turner's.  Jim — a southern California jazz pianist — performed this arrangement at El Segundo, California's Old Town Music Hall's Ragtime Concert.  Jim gives the minor-key fourth strain a stronger Latin flavor than just the hint of one that Joplin gave it.  The added spice really works here and provides a perfect lead-in to the swinging bring-it-on-home repeat of the trio.

Returning to classic ragtime, John arranged Charles Hunter's "Back To Life&uqot; with a hint of stride by using some tenths in the bass and a few of his own licks in the right hand.  “Back To Life” has been described by David A. Jasen and Trebor Jay Tichenor in their book “Rags and Ragtime: A Musical History” as “one of the most curious rags ever published."

The next piece, Jean Schwartz's “The White Wash Man”, is John's first (and only) experiment in ragtime instrumentation.  He arranged it for piano, banjo and tuba. “And I got to play them all!” John says, adding that “this was fun because I have never played two of those instruments.  Through the magic of MIDI I was able to come up with what I think is a very nice-sounding trio.  My synthesizer has a particularly good banjo sample.  It has a really nice ‘bark’.”  If you listen carefully to the tuba, you'll hear John's attempt to humanize its playing — he retained a couple of flubs on purpose.  “After all,” he says, “it was the first time I ever played a tuba (and from a keyboard, no less!).”

Moving into the stride piano era, we hear “the father of stride piano” James P. Johnson's “Eccentricity Waltz”.  John thanks the great Australian stride pianist John Gill for a few new ideas for this beautiful jazz waltz.

The novelty piano style was developing at about the same time as stride (novelty was born in 1921 with the publication of Zez Confrey’s “My Pet” and “Kitten on the Keys”).  The next piece, “Sleepy Piano”, written by the great British keyboard wizard Billy Mayerl, is a fine example of the composer's lyrical style.  Close you eyes and enjoy the sound of this beautiful piece.

Jumping from the Roaring Twenties to more recent times, we hear four rags by William Bolcom.  “Graceful Ghost”, his best-known rag composition, is a melancholy tribute to his father. Always on the cutting edge of harmonic experimentation, Bolcom's “Incineratorag”, recorded here for the first time, is a tour de force of counter melodies.  Moving into the occult, his “Poltergeist” is a marvelously visual piece of music.

It instantly brings to mind a poltergeist (noisy ghost) flitting around its haunt doing all sorts of mischief.  And, finally, “Tabby Cat Walk” is pure fun and, again, highly visual music.  You'll even hear a “meow” before the repeat of the second strain.  Bolcom again uses counter melodies to add interest.  The stoptime in the final strain is suggestive of the old tabby cat stalking his prey.

George McClellan wrote “Exhilaration Rag” during the middle months of 1997.  Originally titled “Keystone Kops,” a friend implored George to come up with a more original title.  Not only did he think of a new title but he composed two more rags to go with it — “Excitation Rag” and “Exhaustion Rag”.  Hence, the “EX-Files Trilogy” was born.  John chose the most upbeat of the three to present here in a four-hand piano-roll style which George is quite pleased with.

Hal Isbitz is a widely-recognized composer of Latin-inspired “new ragtime” (aka “terra verde”) music.  Many are unaware of his beautiful classic ragtime pieces.  The composition here, “Palmetto Rag”, was written in 1987.  It has never been recorded and is seldom played.  It is reminiscent of the styles of Joseph Lamb and James Scott (listen for the call-and-response figures so often used by Scott), while amply demonstrating Isbitz’s unique talent for lyricism.

John first heard Robin Frost perform in 1986 and instantly became an admirer of his music.  Robin retired from solo ragtime performing in 1990 and since that time his music has been rarely performed.  Curious about this, John asked several prominent ragtime performers why they didn’t play Frost’s music. The most common answer was “It’s just too darned hard to play.”  Through the magic of MIDI, John presents six of Robin Frost’s jewels.  Ragtime historian and lecturer Edward Berlin described Robin and his music: “Frost [is] an inventive and witty composer on the fringes of today’s ragtime world.  Frost’s selections are not truly rags, being closer to a full-handed stride and the 1920s - 30s novelty piano styles of Zez Confrey and Rube Bloom.  But while recalling past styles, the Frost selections are not simply nostalgic recreations in bygone languages.  His music takes us down what might at first seem like familiar paths, but then sidesteps the expected with delightfully unanticipated twists. . . . [His music is] a treat of foot-tapping polyrhythms, surprise modulations, ear-tickling melodic patterns, and harmonies that appear suddenly from left field, satisfying as much as they startle.  This is fun music.  And though technically demanding, it is eminently pianistic, developed from keyboard patterns that fall naturally to the hands.”

Frost’s “Three Sheets In The Ocean, One Foot In The Sunset, And You” almost wasn’t included in this collection because its title wouldn’t fit on one line on the back cover!  What the title means can only be understood when you see Robin’s hand-drawn sheet music cover art. Leave it at that; just enjoy the music which will leave you speechless.

“Rolling Avocado” seems like another nonsense title but it suggests to John the wandering melodic line of the first strain.  This is a really fun piece to listen to.

“Occident Express” (“It’s like the Orient Express, only it runs the other way,” says Robin) is a romp through seeming familiar melodic territory with Robin’s characteristic twists and turns carefully crafted to delight the ear.  John’s rendition contains a second strain which is not included in the original manuscript.  Robin added it two years later to fill out the rather short piece.

“Space Shuffle” is Robin’s most popular piece.  It’s the only one of his compositions that is regularly performed.  Written in 1980, it is a tribute to NASA and the Shuttle program.  This one takes the pianist all over the keyboard.  There’s a right-hand run at the end of the first strain that continues all the way up to the topmost note on the keyboard followed almost immediately by the playing of  the lowest bass note on the keyboard.

“Windmill Rag” was penned by Robin in 1979 and, according to John, it is the most representative of the Frost style.  The first strain, in a minor key, becomes increasingly complex both rhythmically and musically (did a gale hit the windmill?). The third strain builds on the complexity, modulating between major and minor.  A quick reprise of the first strain brings us to the big Busby Berkeley-style finale.

The final Frost composition, “Eccentric Formalism Rag”, is a real tour de force.  The oxymoronic title hints at the melodic and rhythmic complexity of the piece.  The first strain is definitely eccentric — and delightfully so.  It is followed by a remarkably simple (formal?) second strain, then to an abbreviated repeat of the second strain followed by a turn-it-loose-and-let-’er-rip trio.

A Few Words About MIDI
MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) is a protocol standard that allows different electronic instruments to communicate with each other and with a computer. As with computers, there is an input device (a keyboard in John Roache’s case, although it could be a guitar, a saxophone or even a mouse), a data management device (a computer with sequencing software) and an output device (a synthesizer). The MIDI standard and the editing software allow music to be shaped — sculpted is the word I like to use — with respect to note duration, volume, attack and decay. In short, all the elements of the "touch" which in inherent in a live performance. Additional "live" effects such as panning left or right, room depth (from a small room to a concert hall or large cathedral), echo delay and many other criteria are also possible.  It is the manipulation of these parameters that gives the music and its sculptor individuality. With good equipment the difference between an acoustic instrument and its electronic equivalent can barely be discerned.

John used a Roland® RD-500 digital stage piano, a Pentium™-based PC with the Cakewalk-Pro™ software sequencer, an AWE64 gold wave-table sound card and a Mackie® 1202-VLZ mixer to produce the reference master of this compact disc.

About John Roache
A resident and native of Southern California, John — a pharmacist by profession — has been playing the (acoustic) piano for almost fifty years. Long interested in ragtime (and well before “The Sting” repopularized the style in 1974), he was one of the original experimenters with electronic  ragtime music.  His first collection of computer ragtime was commercially published in 1985.  

As this collection of music demonstrates, John is very good at what he does with MIDI. He is a scrupulous and demanding musician who I know from personal experience will spend as many hours as are necessary to perfect a single measure of music. It is that attention to detail that places him in the top tier of MIDI sculptors. This collection of music took more than two years to put together.  Each note was carefully chiseled with respect to the MIDI parameters mentioned above. Then each composition was listened to and critiqued by John with a depersonalized ear, edited where necessary, and then listened to and edited again. It is not unusual for one composition to require three months from data entry to final version.

The result of John’s meticulous approach to sequencing is very well-fashioned and superior music.  John is a perfectionist--  “I am frustrated when I cannot play the music I ‘hear’ in my head.  MIDI sequencing gives me the tool I need to realize the dream of perfectly producing the  music which is too difficult for my fingers to play”.

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