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Max Morath, Pianist Who Staged a One-Man Ragtime Revival, Dies at 96

ByTeam BB

Jun 20, 2023

Reviewing that series for The New York Times, Jack Gould wrote: “In an uncommon mixture of earthiness, emphasized by his chewing of a big cigar and wearing of loud vests, and erudition, reflected in his knowledgeable commentary on music and the social forces that influence its expression, he presides over a wonderful rag piano and lets go.”

The series was bought by commercial stations, greatly expanding Mr. Morath’s audience. He was soon juggling recording dates, college gigs (some 50 a year), and concert and club bookings. He also crafted another NET series, “The Turn of the Century” (1962): 15 installments that related ragtime music to its social, economic and political period, using lantern slides, photographs and other props.

With its wider focus — on life in America from 1890 to the 1920s — “The Turn of the Century” was a runaway success. In addition to being seen in syndication on commercial television, it became a one-man theatrical show. Mr. Morath presented it at the Blue Angel and the Village Vanguard in New York, brought it to the Off Broadway Jan Hus Playhouse in 1969 and then toured nationally for many years.

“In a two-hour jaunty excursion, Morath gives us a look at the 30-year period that spanned the time of McGuffey’s Reader, women’s suffrage, the grizzly bear dance, Prohibition, legal marijuana and Teddy Roosevelt,” The Washington Post said when Mr. Morath opened at Ford’s Theater in 1970. “It was a time of sweeping changes in the moral climate of our nation, and Morath uses popular music, chiefly ragtime, as the centrifugal force for sorting out the different phases.”

As the ragtime revival surged into the 1970s, it was given momentum by the musicologist Joshua Rifkin, who recorded much of Scott Joplin’s work for the Nonesuch label in 1971, and by the success of George Roy Hill’s Oscar-winning film “The Sting” (1973), starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford as con artists, which featured Joplin’s “The Entertainer” on the soundtrack.

Mr. Morath appeared on “The Bell Telephone Hour,” “Kraft Music Hall,” “Today,” “The Tonight Show” and Arthur Godfrey’s radio and television programs. A series of Morath productions — “The Ragtime Years,” “Living the Ragtime Life,” “The Ragtime Man,” “Ragtime Revisited,” and “Ragtime and Again” — opened Off Broadway and were followed by national tours.

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