Max Morath (born October 1, 1926) is an American ragtime pianist, composer, actor and author. He is best known for his piano playing and is referred to as "Mr. Ragtime". He has been a touring performer as well as being variously a composer, recording artist, actor, playwright, and radio and television presenter. Rudi Blesh billed Morath as a "one-man ragtime army".
Early life and education
Morath was born in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He studied piano and harmony as a child and was exposed to the rudiments of ragtime piano by his mother, a schooled pianist who had spent several years playing for silent films. He received a Bachelor's degree in English from Colorado College in 1948, before embarking on a career that included jobs in radio and television, jazz, and theater.
His appearances as pianist and musical director with melodrama companies in Cripple Creek and Durango, Colorado, triggered his interest in early American popular music and theater, including a study of its social and economic history, largely inspired by George and Ira Gershwin, Irving Berlin, and his ragtime heroes Eubie Blake and Scott Joplin. Those theatrical endeavors led to Morath's first professional recordings.
1960s television and theater work
Morath's work in television and theater during the 1960s preceded the 1970s ragtime revival and had an influence on how it was constituted. Commenting on the significance of ragtime, Morath stated, "Scorned by the establishment as ephemeral at best, trashy at worst, ragtime was the fountainhead of every rhythmic and stylistic upheaval that has followed in a century of ever-evolving American popular music."
From 1959 to 1961 Morath wrote, performed, and co-produced 26 half-hour television programs for PBS, then NET (National Educational Television). The programs were produced by Rocky Mountain PBS in Denver (then known as Channel 6) and were fed nationally to the public broadcasting network. The Ragtime Era series showcased the development of the music of that period and brought him national recognition. It was followed by the Turn of the Century series, which dealt with popular music's interaction with the nation's social history (and which he afterwards turned into a one-man touring show). The productions were in syndication throughout the 1960s. In addition to his television series, Morath made other contributions to NPR and PBS. He appeared on The Bell Telephone Hour, Kraft Music Hall, Today, and The Tonight Show. From 1965 to 1972, he was a regular guest of Arthur Godfrey on CBS Radio, and he appeared with Godfrey in television guest appearances.
Moving from Colorado to New York around 1963, Morath was by then performing nationally in college concerts and nightclubs, including New York's Blue Angel and the Village Vanguard with his Original Rag Quartet. His one-man show, Max Morath at the Turn of the Century, was a critical success and played Off-Broadway at the Jan Hus Playhouse in 1969, followed by a four-year national tour. Other similar productions followed: The Ragtime Years, Living the Ragtime Life, The Ragtime Man, Ragtime Revisited, plus Ragtime and Again. These productions also toured nationally following Off-Broadway openings. Morath continued touring until 2007.
Returning to academia, Morath earned a master's degree from Columbia University in 1996 in American studies. His thesis was based on the life and work of songwriter Carrie Jacobs-Bond (1862-1946), composer of "I Love You Truly" and other popular songs. Morath's research on her and her times later led to his writing a self-published biographical novel about Jacobs-Bond told in her voice (2008).
Among his other published works are the essay "Ragtime Then and Now" in The Oxford Companion to Jazz (2000); The NPR Curious Listener's Guide To Popular Standards; and various music folios over the years for the Richmond Organization, Edw. B. Marks Music, G. Schirmer Inc., Mel Bay Publications, and Cherry Lane.
With his wife Diane Fay Skomars, Morath co-created an illustrated book on his experiences on the road, titled Max Morath: The Road to Ragtime.
His musical play based on the writings of humorist Finley Peter Dunne, titled Trust Everybody... But Cut The Cards, was presented in staged readings at the York Theatre, New York, in 2003. He has also published academic articles on Dunne and his influence on American culture and politics, 1893-1915.
Morath's musical revue One For The Road, a serio-comic exploration of American culture's dealings with drugs and alcohol, was produced in 1982 by the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis and MUNI.
The screenplay of Blind Boone, written by Morath and his colleague Moss Hall, was a first-prize winner in the category 'Music-Inspired Drama' at the Nashville Film Festival in March 2015.
After recording a handful of albums in the then-popular honky-tonk style, Morath recorded albums for Vanguard, Epic, Solo Art and RCA. These included solo piano and vocal albums, performances with his Original Rag Quartet and orchestral works. He also recorded vocal albums with the team of William Bolcom and Joan Morris. Morath's 1969 album, At The Turn of the Century, encapsulated the essence of his television series and live shows, and helped usher in the 1970s ragtime revival. Albums that followed included Jonah Man, Ragtime Women, and The Great American Piano Bench, each of which went beyond the then-current focus on Scott Joplin. His 1992 album, The Ragtime Man, included his own ragtime composition "Cripple Creek Suite", about the mood of the region's gold rush days. In 2015 all of his ragtime pieces were recorded by Aaron Robinson for the album Max Morath: The Complete Ragtime Works for Piano on the MAI label.
Now retired from theatrical touring, Morath continues as a lecturer and consultant. He has served on the "Ragtime Symposium" in New York at Jazz at Lincoln Center, and is a speaker and MC at the West Coast Ragtime Festival, Sacramento, California.
In 2008, Morath received the Louis T. Benezet Award from Colorado College.
In 2016, Morath was inducted into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame.
Morath resides in Duluth, Minnesota with his wife, Diane Fay Skomars, a retired administrator at the University of Minnesota Duluth.
- Solo authored
- Best of Ragtime Piano. Mel Bay Productions. 1987. ISBN 0-7866-8137-3.
- "Ragtime Then and Now". In The Oxford Companion to Jazz, Bill Kirchner, ed. Oxford University Press, 2000, pp. 29–38. ISBN 0-19-512510-X
- The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Popular Standards. Penguin-Perigee Trade. 2002. ISBN 978-0-399-52744-9.
- Original Rags for Piano. Hal Leonard. 2008. ISBN 978-1-4234-5816-6.
- I Love You Truly: A Biographical Novel Based on the Life of Carrie Jacobs-Bond. iUniverse. 2008. ISBN 978-0-595-53017-5.
- Morath, Max; Skomars, Diane Fay; Schoenstein, Ralph (1999). Max Morath : The Road to Ragtime. Virginia Beach, VA: Donning Company/Publishers. ISBN 1578640687.
|1955||Max Morath At The Gold Bar Room||Gold Camp|
|1956||Max Morath At The Gold Bar Room, Volume II||Gold Camp|
|1957||Max Morath At The Mighty Gold Bar Piano||Gold Camp|
|1959||Honky Tonk In Hi-Fi||Gold Camp|
|1960||Music For Moochers, Gold Diggers, and Cattle Rustlers||Barbary Coast|
|1963||Presenting That Celebrated Maestro||Epic|
|1964||Oh, Play That Thing: The Ragtime Era||Epic|
|1969||Max Morath At The Turn of The Century||RCA-Victor|
|1972||Max Morath Plays the Best of Scott Joplin & Other Rag Classics||Vanguard|
|1973||The World of Scott Joplin||Vanguard|
|1974||Irving Berlin: The Ragtime Years||Vanguard|
|1975||Max Morath Plays Ragtime||Vanguard|
|1975||Good Friends Are for Keeps (with other performers)||Bell System/United Artists|
|1976||The World of Scott Joplin, Volume 2||Vanguard|
|1976||Jonah Man: A Tribute To Bert Williams (1996 CD release added four tracks from Morath's 1981 album)||Vanguard|
|1977||Living The Ragtime Life (not to be confused with similarly titled later release)||Vanguard|
|1977||The Ragtime Women||Vanguard|
|1978||These Charming People (with Bolcom & Morris)||RCA-Red Seal|
|1978||Don't Give the Name A Bad Place (with other performers)||New World Records|
|1979||Max Morath In Jazz Country||Vanguard|
|1979||The Great American Piano Bench||Vanguard|
|1981||Max Morath & His Ragtime Stompers||Vanguard|
|1983||More Rodgers and Hart (with Bolcom & Morris)||RCA|
|1987||Living A Ragtime Life (1990 SoloArt CD version contained additional tracks and is re-sequenced)||Normacks|
|1991||The Ragtime Century||PianoMania Music Publishing|
|1992||The Ragtime Man||Omega Music|
|1994||Fountain Favorites From the World of Coca-Cola (with Bolcom & Morris)||Coke|
|1995||Real American Folk Songs||Solo Art|
|2003||Sing Yip Harburg (with Bolcom & Morris)||Original Cast|
|2004||Sing Gus Kahn (with Bolcom & Morris)||Original Cast|
|2005||One For The Road||Skomax|
|2015||Max Morath: The Complete Ragtime Works For Piano (Performed by Aaron Robinson)||MAI|