Inquiries into the early years of SJI

Sunday, December 28, 2008

St. James Infirmary piano sheet music

As you know, St. James Infirmary was composed by "Joe Primrose," who didn't exist. The song had been circulating for years, was firmly ensconced in the public domain, until copyrighted by the impresario and music publisher Irving Mills under the pseudonym of Joe Primrose. That was in 1928, the very early days of the song's commercial trajectory. The piano sheet music you see here, by far the most popular download on this site, was produced in 1929. I scanned this sheet music from an orchestral score, published by Mills Music, Inc. Clicking on the score should open a larger image, in which the notes can be clearly read. With all the people downloading this score - about 9,500 at the last count (March, 2012) - it would be good to read some of your impressions.

5 comments:

Lucas Gonze said...

The first thing I notice is that it's the banjo star Fred Van Eps near the end of his life and definitely past his shelf life as a musician.

I'd love to learn more about where you got this.

Robert W. Harwood said...

I think Van Eps was near the end of his creative life as a banjo player, but he did continue on, switching to guitar after the 1930s. I think he kind of fell into the background, though, doing some studio work and that sort of thing. About the sheet music: I found it through ebay. Van Eps did (or put his name to) the SJI orchestral arrangement for Mills. This particular orchestral score includes music for drums, piano, 1st and 3rd alto saxophones, 2nd tenor saxophone, violin, trombone, 1st and 2nd trumpet (I've posted the trumpet score elsewhere on this blog), tenor banjo, bass, and 1st violin. This is from 1929; the price then for the entire score was 50 cents.

patrick said...

Fred Van Eps (1878 - 1960) was a banjo virtuoso. When the banjo went out of fashion, he had already started another career in engineering. He didn't switch to guitar. One of Fred's sons, George, was a well known guitarist.
In the 1950s, FVE issued his own disc recording of his banjo playing, three 78s and an LP.
Pat Doyle

Robert W. Harwood said...

Thanks for that, Pat. I probably got some of my information from Wikipedia, where it is written:

"By the 1930s the banjo had fallen out of favor in popular music, and Van Eps switched to guitar, playing as a studio musician with Benny Goodman, Ray Noble, Red Norvo, and others. He was associated with the British Banjo composer Frank Lawes, and recorded some pieces with him. In the 1950s he attempted a comeback with a number of banjo recordings, before his death in Burbank, California at the age of 81."

Possibly the guitar references should point to Fred's son rather than to Fred Van Eps himself?

patrick said...

More confusion, sadly. FVE had corresponded with Frank Lawes and the two met when Fred came to the UK with his wife and Faye Shields.
Fred rearranged some of Frank's compositions, such as 'Syncopatin' Shuffle', 'You've Gotta Syncopate', 'Low Down High', and recorded them for posterity, as they were never issued. Lawes wrote out some piano parts for Fred's son Robert to play.
Franks Lawes had a very unique style, playing a four string plectrum banjo with his fingers.