Paul Johnson
independent researcher

The Art of the the Popular Piano Roll Arrangement

Scant attention has been paid to the artistic contributions made by those who created arrangements for piano rolls. In response, this presentation describes a high level view of three major eras of popular piano roll arranging, the distinctive qualities of each, the economic forces that led to each era and the influence these arrangements may have had on the piano playing public. The discusson will include some of the rich recorded legacy rolls can provide scholars. This includes how piano rolls chronicled the birth and/or development of such distinctively American genres as ragtime, jazz, blues, boogie woogie and novelty piano. Because the piano did not record well on the phonograph until 1925, piano rolls are the prime resource for arrangements and piano works made between 1900 and 1930.

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Paul Johnson has been an independent scholar and avid collector of popular piano rolls for nearly forty years. He has shared knowledge about the topic with a network of other major collectors. He previously ran an international auction of piano rolls. His background in business provides a unique view of how economics shaped the industry. He has been a student of dance of the period, learning first-hand, many of the popular dances of the day. He has presented mechanical music and ragtime at universities including UC Berkeley, Sacramento State and Dartmouth College via their Ilead series. He assists the Stanford Player Piano project in their collection of popular music rolls and presented about ragtime piano roll arranging styles at the Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival.