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The Music of Aurthor Pryor


Born in St. Joseph, Missouri in 1870, Arthur Pryor exploited the possibilities of the slide trombone and its mechanism in production of smears, as upward and downward glissandi. The trombone of Pryor spoke in a humorous folk dialect. His compositions preserve the flavor of marching bands that once paraded town streets to advertise minstrel shows, circuses, and electoral candidates, as well as marching in patriotic and holiday parades. Pryor formed his own band marching and dance band that played with far more syncopation than other brass bands of his day. He was an important figure in the evolution of ragtime and jazz from the marching band to the ragtime orchestra. Playing in Sousa's Band he was the one that arranged popular and ragtime tunes for the band's concerts. Pryor was with the Sousa Band from 1892 to 1903 and was the assistant conductor with the band as well as one of its arrangers. The old timers of Sousa's Band were a little embarrassed at syncopated music. They felt it was beneath their dignity to play it. Pryor's band programs showed a connection between original cakewalks and long-standing brass band music traditions. He created a new genre of band music. It was Pryor's arrangements of cakewalks and ragtime that Sousa played on his European tour that was met with energetic acclaim. His arrangements and Sousa's Band influenced European classical music and this influence led to many famous composers using this ragtime genre in their compositions, to name a few: Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, Igor Stravinsky, Darius Milhaud and many others. Sousa and Pryor gave ragtime and jazz the legitimacy it needed to be accepted as an art form. The rest is history. Pryor composed many cakewalks and ragtime pieces as well as the traditional marches and band suites of the day. Perhaps his most famous song is "The Whistler and His Dog." 

Coon Band Contest
Southern Hospitality
Skipperjack Dance
Mr. Black Man
On Jersey Shore
Toute La Nuit
The Whistler and His Dog
Razzazza Mazzazza
Triumph of Old Glory
Captain Cupid
Canhanibalmo Rag
Fox Trot
We'll Be There Uncle Sam

Coon Band Contest - 1899

Pryor wrote this piece for concert band performance. The music illustrates the link between brass band music and the Negro type music, i.e., the cakewalk. Published in 1899, it is a very good example of the cakewalk genre using the characteristic cakewalk rhythm and syncopation. There is also a very characteristic trombone performance with a generous use of the glissando.

Southern Hospitality - 1899

Marked a ragtime cakewalk, we find the name of "Sousa's Band" following Pryor's name on the composer's credit. The introduction has an interesting use of the cakewalk rhythm in unison. It is marked "Marcia Moderato," again linking the cakewalk music to the march and brass band. Using both the cakewalk rhythm and the syncopation of ragtime it is a bridge between the two styles.

Skipperjack Dance - 1901

Written in 1901 during the ragtime era it is called a 'dance,' using triplets and eight-notes in its themes, we do find some use of syncopation. It is in the regular march form with a repeat of section A which leads to a 'poco piu animato finale section ending with a two bar coda marked piu mosso.

Mr. Black Man - 1904

Marked 'March and Two-Step" "Mr. Black Man" is a fully developed cakewalk. In the 2nd section we find unison in the 13th measure using the cakewalk rhythm, a tradition with any 'authentic' cakewalk. There is an interesting use of the Scotch snap (o o). In what is similar to a trio, we find lyrics in the sheet music, the melody being repeated with new music. The lyrics:

"Oh Mister Black Man, what have you been. I'se gwine to leave you if you don't' run right round here and love you Baby love. Love her true for it you don't she'll lose you."

Except for the dialect it is not the traditional stereo type for a cakewalk, and shows the respect Pryor had for this style.

On Jersey Shore - 1904

One of three Pryor marches on the program, it contains 4 sections with a repeat of the trio to a fine ending. Using traditional harmony there is no syncopation present but the march sounds like a typical march of the period at the turn of the 20th century.

Toute La Nuit (All Night) - 1904

Marked a One-Step-Two-Step-Rag, it is arranged by the well-known concert band arranger/educator, M. L. Lake. It is in march form, much like early ragtime form, again linking the march to the evolution of early jazz and ragtime. There is little use of syncopation and sounds more like a march than ragtime.

The Whistler and His Dog - 1905

Played by Arthur Pryor and his band the melody of this piece is probably familiar to most people. It is marked a Caprice and is not to be played too fast. The melody is used as background music for many early motion pictures for a relaxed background or a lax-a- daiscal attitude of a present. It begins with the familiar melody but includes other section of material leading back to the main melody. This main melody is brought back three times with interludes between. The cover shows a small boy whistling, sitting on a barrel with a small dog attentively listening with some observers looking over a fence with a poster about the upcoming performance of the Pryor Band.

Razzazza Mazzazza - 1905

There are no marking as to the type of piece this is but in examining the rhythmic structure it should be placed in the ragtime style. There is much use of syncopation but with no use of the cakewalk rhythm. It is written in ragtime form having sections A, B, A2, C, a repeat of B ending the composition. The cakewalk rhythm is used a few times but the rhythm begins with a tie on the first note of the rhythm (o o o o). The rhythm of the Scotch snap is found (bars: 8,16, and 18 of section A. The modified use of the cakewalk rhythm is found in section B in measures: 23, 25, 28, 31 and 35.

The Triumph of Old Glory - 1907

"The Triumph of Old Glory is marked "Our President's March," which would at this time have been Teddy Roosevelt (1901-1909), it is a series of 8 marches, written is 16 and 32 bars in length. Section D is marked 'trio' and changes from 2/2 meter to 4/4 meter. Section C uses a modified cakewalk rhythm in certain measures, but mostly in regular march rhythms and styles associated with the march.

Captain Cupid - 1908

Written in 6/8 meter it is a short march but is marked a 'two-step,' once again showing the relationship between the march and the early jazz dance the two-step. There are three sections, each 16 measures long, beginning with a 4 four introduction.

Canhanibalmo Rag - 1911

Using the typical cakewalk rhythm this composition shows the close relationship between the cakewalk and the rag. This pieces uses the cakewalk rhythm with syncopation. The piece was arranged by Charles Roberts and seems to have been published for dance orchestras, piano and full band. It modulates from Bb to Eb in the trio, which is in two sections. The trio has some unusual and more demanding rhythmic figures. Written in 1911, one can see the development and the influence of the rag by the cakewalk. Both styles were on the downward scale in popularity during this time and would not last past the lst World War. It also can be seen that dance music is becoming more technically demanding with the rhythm becoming more complicated.

Fox Trot - 1914

The title "Fox Trot" names the most popular jazz dance of the 20's, made popular by the dancing pair of Vernon and Irene Castle. The rhythm uses dotted patterns in all sections with section D a repeat of section B. The use of syncopation is found in section C. Section C uses the typical ragtime feeling and one can notice that this song shows the evolution from ragtime to the popular Fox Trot, a characteristic song of the new jazz age.

We'll Be There Uncle Sam - 1917

Written in 1917 during the First World War, it is marked a 'Patriotic March song," containing words throughout. It is in two sections, each 32 bar long, acting like a verse and chorus format, it shows the patriotic feeling of Americans during the 'Great War."

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