Jack Rummel


Manhattan Serenade

Frederick Hodges, piano

Rivermont Records BSW-2219


Manhattan Serenade / Dolly Dimples / Syncopated Love Song / Serenade to a Skyscraper / Shreveport Stomp / Aquarium Suite: Willow Moss; Moorish Idol; Fantail; Whirligig / The Joker / Sweet William / Estelle / Silhouette / Sapphire / That Futuristic Rag / Aunt Jemima’s Birthday / Society Blues / The Cyclone / Chromatic Capers / Feeding the Kitty / Russianova / Variations on “Waiting for the Robert E. Lee.”


     When it comes to interpreting, performing and recording novelty piano and ragtime of the 1920s and 1930s, Frederick Hodges has no peer.  Hodges burst upon the scene in 1998 with a highly acclaimed novelty piano CD, then faded away, only to return afresh in 2007.  Since then he has released at least one new recording each year, including a twin piano disc with Adam Swanson, a trio album with the Crown Syncopators and a tandem release with vocalist Ann Gibson.  That he has mastered such a body of complex musical literature in such a short time is further testimony to his prodigious talents.

     Billed as “Piano Masterpieces of the Jazz Age,” Hodges’ selections certainly offer an amazing variety of compositions, almost all of which are not nearly as well known as they should be.  Of the more familiar composers, we are treated to six selections by the ever-popular British novelty pianist Billy Mayerl (his Aquarium Suite plus The Joker and Sweet William), as well as four novelty numbers by Rube Bloom, an American composer who is vastly under-recorded (Silhouette, Sapphire, That Futuristic Rag and Aunt Jemima’s Birthday) and two advanced rags by Boston writer George L. Cobb (Chromatic Capers and Feeding the Kitty).

     Louis Alter contributed Manhattan Serenade and Dolly Dimples; both Syncopated Love Song and Serenade to a Skyscraper came from the pen of Dana Suesse; Ferde Grofé gave us Cyclone and Bert Grant and Cecil Arnold teamed up for Russianova – all composers that are perhaps less familiar to ragophiles.  The most familiar name of all, however, will undoubtedly be Jelly Roll Morton, who composed Shreveport Stomp.  Hodges closes the CD with a true show stopper: his own seven minute Variations on “Waiting for the Robert E. Lee.”

     Tempos and dynamics run the gamut, often varying widely within a single piece but always under complete control.  Passages that sound almost impossible to play seem to roll effortlessly off his fingertips.  The album’s graphics are excellent with many color reproductions, the liner notes are extensive and informative, and the piano, a 9’2” Fazioli concert grand, was miked perfectly, capturing every nuance.  With the arrival of jazz combos and the decline of ragtime, novelty piano music became the logical extension for composers wishing to write pieces for solo piano, and they didn’t care that their opuses were often too technically challenging for the average home pianist.  Thanks to Frederick Hodges, we can enjoy these fascinating compositions vicariously.  Recommended.

     Available for $22.00 postpaid from <>.

Posted January 15, 2012 at: