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MORATH - Max Morath, preview (Chgo Trib, May 15, 1998)

Chicago Tribune



May 15, 1998

Max Morath to appear at Woodstock Opera House

By David Royko

Pianist, singer and one-man-showman Max Morath may have carved out his own place in the entertainment world, but please don't say he has found his niche.

"I think one of the reasons I'm still working," says Morath, "is I reach out to a general audience. If I were playing only to people who were predisposed to piano ragtime, I'd be out of business. I love rags but I don't sit around at home listening to them. Ragtime is a niche."

At the forefront of the ragtime revival of the 1970s, Morath's ragtime roots stretch back much further. Yet where others may view ragtime in narrow terms, Morath's performances illustrate the relevance of ragtime to our present day as a form that permeates all popular music, much like blues.

"It used to be ragtime was honky-tonk piano," says Morath. "Then it became 'ragtime' when it was legitimatized with the Scott Joplin revival. Musically, the word 'ragtime' means nothing. It is simply the uses of piled-up syncopations, which we've been doing ever since under different names: rock and roll, hip hop, bebop, funk, punk. I look for the continuity."

With Morath's sense of swing as sure as that of his comedic timing, his shows place ragtime's history in a package that includes social commentary and satire, with lines of influence drawn clearly and cleverly.

"Hoagy Carmichael, who was a piano player, wrote 'Hong Kong Blues' about a piano player stuck in Hong Kong," says Morath. "Hoagy, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Richard Rogers, they were all born right around the turn of the century and they grew up around ragtime music. As little dudes, it got into their subconscious. So during that part of my show, I, as the piano player in Hong Kong, play some ragtime inside the song. And then in my style, I do Billy Joel's 'Piano Man.' Joel's a guy who played piano in saloons and came up working all of those gigs, and wrote that great song about what it's like to sit at a piano bar night after night and watch the drunks. The continuity is that everybody who has played the piano in saloons wants to write a song about it."

Max Morath will perform at 8:00 PM Saturday at the Woodstock Opera House, 121 Van Buren, Woodstock, phone 815-338-5300. $15.00.

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