Ukulele ragtime

About ragtime, ukulele, and ragtime on the ukulele

My sixth book of original ukulele music, Eight Rags a Week, features eight new pieces in ragtime style for re-entrant ukulele. It’s published and distributed worldwide by The Ukulele Bookshop. It’s available both in print edition and as a sheet music PDF book.

This is Saturday’s Rag, one of the included pieces.

So, what’s ragtime?

Ragtime is a style of music developed in the late 19th century, characterized by syncopated melodies sustained by solid on-the-floor rhythmic bases. Say, a combination of the poly-rhythms of the African music with the tradition of the European polka.

In this note I propose you a playlist to enjoy a few performances of ukulele ragtime. Who knows, you may discover some new favorite artist!

Parlour Music, by John Kavanagh, published in 2006, is one of the first ukulele albums I enjoyed when I started playing the uke. It’s a collection of “Ragtime & Classical Duets for Uke and Guitar” arranged and performed by Kavanagh himself.

I’ve chosen Honolulu Cakewalk for our playlist. This piece was written by J. W. Lerman in 1899, and tagged as a ragtime march. The original score is available online Hope you’ll enjoy it!

By the way, John Kavanagh wrote Rag that Uke for the Ukulele Yes! blog. A recommendable read.

Scott Joplin (1868-1917) was an American composer an pianist, nicknamed “King of Ragtime”. He wrote a bunch of extraordinary ragtime pieces. Among his well know compositions, I bet you know The Entertainer or the Maple Leaf Rag. For today’s playlist, I’ve selected his Heliotrope Bouquet as performed by The Original Redcats, a trio of guitar, bass, and Ukulelezaza on ukulele, banjo or whatever.

12th Street Rag, published by Euday L. Bowman in 1914, is probably the most infamous rag in the ukulele world. Worldly known as the SpongeBob SquarePants closing theme, there are many amazing versions to choose from, such as the one by Roy Smeck where the steel guitar leads the tune. But for our ukulele ragtime show I’ve gone with Johnny Marvin and William Carola’s version on ukulele and guitar.

Forward a century: in 2020 Phil Doleman released an album of original ragtime music for solo ukulele. Rags, Cakewalks & Dances is available on Bandcamp as a set of audio recordings and a tablature ebook. It’s a fine collection that I enjoy performing and I fully endorse. For today’s selection, I chose The Breakfast Rag.

Listening to–and studying–Doleman’s pieces led me to consider my own collection of ukulele ragtimes. I had already included a couple of them in my first book, 50 Miniature Studies for Ukulele. Medium Rare Please among them.

In May the Low 4th I included The Balcony Rag, performed here by Tony Mizen.

And for the collection of Brevities for baritone ukulele I wrote this Brevity for Gwendolyn dedicated to the amazing Gwendolyn Fitz.

Hope you’ve enjoyed this selection of ragtime music on the ukulele. I’ve set up a YouTube playlist with all these pieces you can save and revisit as you like.

Remember: if you’re in the mood to play some tricky original ragtimes, Eight Rags a Week may be the sheet music book you’re looking for.