|The Paragon Ragtime Orchestra
Rick Benjamin, musical director
While Harry L. Alford (1875-1939) was a composer of rare talent and imagination, the creation of melodies was only of peripheral interest. Alford yearned for something quite different and new-a musical path that had not yet been blazed by anyone else: that of expert sound-sculptor, ensconced in a modern office, sophisticated yet keenly attuned to the popular, working exclusively as an "arranger of music.
In the 1890s, when Alford formed this ambition, no such profession yet existed. Alford's vision of a large-scale independent bureau serving publishers, producers, theatrical stars, conductors, composers, and songwriters with ingenious, instantaneous, made-to-order musical arrangements had no precedent. And his execution of this dream succeeded beyond anyone's expectations, resulting in over thirty thousand scores which formed a repertoire played by virtually every American band and orchestra and heard by millions.
Alford arrangements were commissioned by almost all of the nation's music publishers and his songwriter and composer clients formed a virtual "who's who" of American popular music of the early twentieth century. Dozens of the biggest pop hits of the 1910s and '20s were first introduced to the public as "clothed" by Harry Alford. Vaudeville was America's leading form of entertainment, and during its golden age Alford was the composer/arranger of choice for every top vaude act.
Harry Alford's influence on American music was powerful, not only because of his massive output, but through his innovations. His distinctive "chromatic counterpoint," promotion of the brass and woodwind instruments as absolute equals of the strings, and brilliantly conceived percussion writing stood America on its ear. And through his once widely celebrated achievements, arranging came to be a recognized and a highly respected branch of the musical arts. The selections heard on this recording were written between the years 1905 to 1925, the twenty-year period that offers the best overview of Alford's influence and artistic legacy.