12 January 2016


While I was in New Orleans during April 2016, I had the good fortune to be in Royal Street when Tuba Skinny were busking. Their programme included Hilarity Rag. Apparently this was a tune they had only just learned and they were giving their first public performance of it. I managed to film it. You can see and hear the piece by clicking on here.

But where does Hilarity Rag come from? The answer is that it was composed in 1910 - an early piano rag by James Scott (who also composed such classics Climax Rag, Ophelia Rag and Grace and Beauty).

You can hear the original piano rag (and see the sheet music - with sincere thanks to the video-maker codenamed RagtimeDorianHenryby clicking on here.

Like so many of those early piano rags, it had to be 'simplified' and adapted quite a bit to make it playable as a full-band piece. Bunk Johnson obviously liked it and played it with his bands. Fortunately, at the end of his revived career, he was recorded in New York, playing his version. You can hear that by clicking on here. Sounds quite a bit different from the piano piece, doesn't it?

Other bands before Tuba Skinny have taken it up from there. For example, there's a lovely clear performance by an English band with the late Norman Thatcher on trumpet. You can watch it by clicking on here. (I remember Norman Thatcher as one of the rare musicians who also had Scott's Grace and Beauty in his repertoire in the 1980s.)

And now we have the young band Tuba Skinny in New Orleans playing Hilarity Rag. Their version also closely follows the Bunk Johnson reinterpretation of Scott's original.

I must mention that they also added to their repertoire in April 2016 tunes called Frog Hop and Frog-i-More Rag. Unfortunately I did not video them playing these tunes. But I noted that RaoulDuke504 did so in the weeks that followed. For his video of them playing Frog HopCLICK HERE.  And for Frog-i-More RagCLICK HERE.

Clifford Hayes composed Frog Hop in 1929 and recorded it with his Louisville Stompers. You can hear that original performance by clicking on here.

Tuba Skinny's version, that I heard at the dba in New Olreans on 8 April 2016, was modelled very closely on this - including the sustained link notes at the ends of choruses.

Frog-i-More Rag is, of course, a much better known piece - in the repertoire of most bands. It was composed by Jelly Roll Morton in 1918.