Arts Counsel

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The Independent Online

Occasionally in my life I have found myself ahead of a trend, a lone prophet ushering in a new wave; and a bloody thankless task it is too, I can tell you. For instance, I happened to be in the United States as a teenager when the whole bossa nova thing broke, and I came back to England raving about Stan Getz and Desafinado and Antonio Carlos Jobim, and people patted me on the head, saying: "There, there, Miles. A blend of jazz and Brazilian music? There's a likely story. Just sit down for a while and you'll feel fine". Six months later the Stan Getz LP was issued in Britain, and all the people I knew went nuts about bossa nova, and then "The Girl From Ipanema" and Astrud Gilberto came along after that, and I said to the people who were going nuts: "This is the stuff I was telling you about!" but they couldn't remember me telling them about it, so I went into a sulk and retreated into my old jazz records.

But not my old ragtime records. This is because there were no old records of ragtime around, back then. All the histories of jazz said how important ragtime was as a precursor of jazz, but you couldn't get to hear any, except in modern honky-tonk versions hammed up for the tourist trade. Then it occurred to me that ragtime, being music written for the piano, was a part of jazz that one could play for oneself, so I set out to buy some ragtime sheet music and play it on the piano.

But there wasn't any. Nobody, back then, had reprinted any ragtime. So, as there seemed no other way of clapping my eyes on the sacred notes, I made the effort of going to the British Museum, who did actually have some, and I painstakingly copied out "Maple Leaf Rag" by hand. It took days and days. Finally I finished the copying. And as I did so, I noticed something I hadn't spotted before: a photocopying machine, about 10 yards from my seat. Disgusted, I flung the Scott Joplin book back at the museum staff, and went home to learn to play "Maple Leaf Rag" from my horrible handwriting, which I much enjoyed doing, though nobody else took a lot of notice of my tinklings.

Then, soon after that, "The Entertainer" came out and Scott Joplin became a hit and Joshua Rifkin went on sell-out tours playing Scott Joplin as it should really be played, and when people asked me if I knew about this guy Scott Joplin, I cursed and spat, because yet again I had been ahead of a trend and it had done me no good.

So today I come to tell you about Ernesto Nazareth, but I do it with some diffidence. Ernesto Nazareth was a Brazilian composer who lived from 1863 to 1934 and wrote tangos for the piano. I came across a book of his pieces published by Schott a year ago. I had never heard of him before. But the pieces looked rather attractive and playable by an amateur. So I bought the book. I have now mastered enough of them to know that the music is very lilting, and rhythmic, and seductive, and the best way to describe it is to say that it sounds like tangos would have sounded if they had been written by Scott Joplin. Ripe for a small trend, in other words. It's no use, however, looking up Ernesto Nazareth in any but the largest music encyclopedias. He is forgotten. Ignored. But his tangos do crop up on occasional CDs. The other day I saw a listing of a record of his stuff played by Marco Antonio de Almeida, and the CD was entitled Brazilian Ragtime, which suggests that I am not the only one to see the link with Joplin.

It may come to nothing. He may not even have a temporary surge of interest. But if ever Ernesto Nazareth's tangos do tickle the public palate, I am going to wave a copy of this article in everyone's face and say proudly that I got there first, and this PROVES it, and they are all going to say: "Yeah, Miles, whatever...", because, let's face it, nobody likes a smartarse.