Monthly Archives: May 2008

Smokey Mokes

Smoky Mokes — played by Dennis Pash and
Meredith Axelrod

A very popular cakewalk from 1899, “Smoky Mokes” was composed by Abe Holzmann. Here it is played by Dennis Pash and Meredith Axelrod on Saturday, 17 November 2007 at the 21st annual West Coast Ragtime Festival.

About the song:

Smoky Mokes was the first of Holzmann’s compositions and it was dedicated, possibly as a commercial play, to the then grand old man of Tin Pan Alley, Monroe H. Rosenfeld . It is a splendid cakewalk in AABBACCBB form with a 4-bar introduction and a 4 bar interlude between C- and B-strains whereby the AABBA and CCBB sections are in the major keys of C and F respectively. The original sheet music scores the final bar with a DC but no corresponding Fine is given – repeating the AABBA strains feels about right. It was also published as a song with a “Humorous Darky Text”. The front cover of the original sheet music shows a quartet of Negro lads- the singers of the song perhaps or may be the cake walkers? Who knows?

About the odd mandolin:

Technically, that’s a type of mandolin called a mandolin-banjo. It’s a mandolin in function with a banjo head, much like how an ukulele-banjo is essentially an ukulele with a banjo head. These instruments were created for the louder sound they produced. says:

Abe Holzmann (1874-1939) was born in New York City. He was conservatory trained and was the composer of “Bunch of Blackberries” (1900) that was popularized internationally by J.P. sousa. “Smoky Mokes” became a very popular and successful composition.

Described as a cakewalk and two-step, we find, in the vocal parts, a text that is in Negro dialect and the song is an example of the lyrics in what were to become known as “Coon songs.” Lyrics are by W. Murdoch Lind. The lyrics are typical of many “coon” songs of the era and below we give an example of the lyrics.

There are two versions published with different covers. The vocal copy has a picture of Edna Collins in the foreground with a caricature of a Negro in the background. In the instrumental cover there is a picture of four young Negro lads. The cover reminds us that it can be used as a cakewalk or two-step. Also given on the left of the picture is a statement: “published also as a song with humorous darky text.” The given text given above is what is referred to in this statement. The cakewalk/ragtime song was primarily an instrumental form, when the words are added it became the Coon song.

E. Pique revealed

My credits for the 1892 song Slightly on the Mash left the creators a mystery:

It was written by A. G. Send, arranged for guitar by the enigmatic E. Pique, and published by J. Oettl. I didn’t find any biographical info or other work by these people.

As it turns out, gurdonark managed to dig up more info:

I found this on Edward Pique:

And looking up that source, which is from 1892:

EDWARD PIQUE, one of the oldest professional musicians on the coast, was born in the city of Prague, Austria, July 15, 1815. He early developed marked talent for music, and later studied guitar music with efficiency. He achieved such marked success that he received the great compliment of being summoned to play before the Empress of Russia and Austria, also the King of Prussia and Saxony and other crowned heads. He came to the United States in 1848, and the following year was united in marriage with Miss Frances Weller, of England, and three years later, in 1852, they came to California. On the evening of the day of his arrival Mr. Pique played for the benefit of Catharine Sinclair, the wife of Edwin Forrest, the great tragedian. Mr. Pique was under engagement to Harry Meiggs, and many years later his wife opened Assembly Hall as a dancing school, which was then located on the corner of Post and Kearny streets, where the White House now stands. This was for many years one of the most prominent terpischorean halls in the city, and was conducted by Mrs. Pique with ability and financial success. When Mr. Pique first came to San Francisco he sang in the opera, also in many of the churches and in concerts, and was always ready to contribute his efforts and voice in behalf of worthy charities. He has done much in composition, and received the prize composition at the second annual prize competition of Fairbanks & Cole, of Boston. Mr. Pique has been engaged in teaching for over forty years, and is one of the oldest teachers on the coast. He has numerous testimonial letters from members of the profession and friends, all testifying of his worth.

So now we know a lot more about about how this song happened. The guy who converted the original score to a guitar part was a 70-year-old gentleman from Austria. He was an educated musician, a European who had moved to the United States 37 years before at the mature age of 33, and had been in California for 33 years. He was an established player, was probably in semi-retirement, and would have been a natural candidate for this job.

According to C.F. Martin & His Guitars, 1796-1873, Pique knew the founder of Martin Guitars, Martin himself. Pique was a music teacher in Philadelphia in 1850 and also arranged popular songs for guitar.

The Gold Rush started in 1848 and he moved to California in 1852, so his motivation might have been to get rich quick on gold. Given that he was still doing pickup musical work like guitar arranging in his old age, I imagine the career change didn’t work out.

He lived in San Francisco, which was near the location of the dedicatee “Pianissimo”, who lived around present-day Silicon Valley.

Carrie Waltz, v2

This post is my second recording of D. E. Jannon’s 1854 piece Carrie Waltz. I previously blogged it about a year ago on

MP3: Carrie Waltz, version 2 (2:27)

I redid it because I’ve gotten better since then. Now I know to make a song start strong in the first couple seconds, to make the lines more fluid and improvisational, and to mash the guitar right onto the mic for a hotter recording.

Sheet music here:

Versions of the recording in other file formats:

You are free to share and remix this recording per the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 US license.

Vess Ossman version of “Maple Leaf Rag”

After posting my Vess Ossman playlist I came across a star recording over on that I didn’t know about — a 1907 banjo version of Scott Joplin‘s 1899 piece Maple Leaf Rag, which would be almost the only currently recognizeable song in Ossman’s recorded works. (The other recognizeable works are the highly lame “William Tell Overture” and “Yankee Doodle”):

Vess Ossman – Maple Leaf Rag (1907)

According to Tangleweed, the blog where I found the song:

Only two of Joplin’s rags were recorded commercially during his lifetime, and the first piano recording of his most famous composition, Maple Leaf Rag, was not made until 1923, six years after his death.

More typical is this arrangement by banjo virtuoso Vess Ossman. The ubiquity of the banjo and relative scarcity of the piano in early recorded music has more to do with the limitations of early mechanical recording technology than with the popularity of the instruments. The volume and focused, directional sound of the banjo, combined with its lack of sustain, made it ideal for early mechanical recordings. Instruments like the piano and violin, however, tended to sound weak and warbly.