Peabody Ragtime Ensemble, adding pluck and stride piano

January 15, 1993|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,Pop Music Critic

It used to be that jazz was music of the moment, and that once a style (or the musicians responsible for it) died out, it was gone forever -- except on record.

These days, though, there's increasing interest in a sort of repertory approach, in which well-trained musicians revive the rhythmic idioms and improvisational approaches of the '20s, '30s and '40s. In New York, for instance, there's the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra; in Boston, the New England Conservatory Jazz Repertory Orchestra; and in Baltimore, we have the Peabody Ragtime Ensemble.

In the case of the Peabody ensemble, though, a bit of explaining is in order. "When we started the group, we were students at the Peabody and were 110 percent ragtime," says tubist Ed Goldstein. "We played mostly Joplin and Joseph Lamb and James Scott and Eubie Blake."

But times changed, and so did the group's approach. "We had to get diverse really quickly," he says. "We started improvising more, started playing more Dixieland and moved into big band music. Now it's evolved to almost anything goes.

"Obviously the name is not totally representative of what we do."

As a case in point, just look at the Ensemble's current concert series. This weekend, the group will perform with Buddy Wachter, perhaps the foremost exponent of the four-string banjo, and stride pianist Keith Nichols.

"Buddy Wachter grew up in Baltimore, and is somewhat known here, but he's a household word in Europe," says Goldstein. "He can play anything. Buddy can sit down with a symphony orchestra and play Fritz Kreisler tunes; he can play the Mozart clarinet concerto type. He's got a jazz CD out. He plays one of the most soulful 'All The Things You Are' I've ever heard, on any instrument.

As for Nichols, Goldstein calls him "one of the world's greatest stride piano players, very much in the school of James P. Johnson and Fats Waller." Although a stunning pianist, Nichols actually studied trombone at the Royal Academy of Music in London, and has what Goldstein describes as "a computer-like mind."

How so? "Well, you could take a very technical rag by Zez Confrey -- something like 'Kitten on the Keys' -- that might be written in D-flat, and you could say to him, 'Hey, Keith, why don't you play it in A?' And he'll sit down, look at the music, and just do it. It's scary."

Jazz concert

When: Tonight at 8 at the Maryland Theatre in Hagerstown; 8 p.m. Saturday at the Bryn Mawr School in Baltimore; and 8 p.m. Sunday at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theater in Rockville.

Tickets: $17 in advance, $20 at the door.

BCall: (800) 347-4697 for tonight's performance, (410) 484-5200 for Saturday and Sunday's show.

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