From 1899-1917, as jazz gestated in uterine New Orleans, ragtime (contraction of "ragged time") was America's liveliest music. Near the end of its reign, but before the coronation of acoustic recording, Scott Joplin committed his sheet-music bestseller "Maple Leaf Rag" (1899) to piano roll, whereby perforated paper mechanically reproduces a musical performance. To modern ears, the noises of this toilsome contraption are distracting, rather like a milkman's horse-drawn wagon clopping through deserted cobblestone streets at dawn. But when the delivery includes "Maple Leaf Rag," who's complaining? Combining stately rhythms with irreverent syncopation, Joplin made jazz inevitable. A landmark.
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