The Flying Piano Roll Man

The Flying Piano Roll Man divides the author's life into four time spans: – , –, –, and – to the present time. In three different.
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My first experience of J. Some of the hot jazz rolls, which appeared under his own name, particularly those released during the s, are masterpieces of swing piano playing. The arrangements are superb, clearly the product of a very fertile imagination, without doubt the work of somebody with a complete understanding of the idiom.

He was far and away the most prolific and successful roll artist the world has ever known — yet he was just a part-timer both Mike Montgomery and Bob Billings have told me that Cook held down a night job with the U. He graduated from college preparatory and piano courses toward the end of Sometime around his twentieth birthday he saw an advert in the music magazine Etude about a Leabarjan music roll perforator. The Leabarjan perforator was launched by using, as its trade mark, the three initial letters of each of the partners surnames.

One of the partners, John Lease, saw the perforator as a valuable musical educational tool and a limited number of schools were lucky enough own one. Lawrence Cook arrived in New York about March hoping to persuade the roll companies to take him on board. He was advised by Eubie Blake that New York was the only place to make the big time in the music business. He placed a number of adverts in the press in an attempt to attract customers.

Several of these very early adverts can be seen below. Demonstrate your compositions the new way and get best results. I make the rolls. Alan Wallace sends the following advert from The Billboard , dated Saturday, 21st May , page 41, columns 2—3. Lawrence Cook and Morris L. A monthly bulletin for June , featuring 5 hits of the famous blues singer Mamie Smith, was published in The Chicago Defender , dated Saturday, 4th June , page 7, column 6.

Together with race artists like James P. Johnson, Thomas Waller, Lemuel Fowler, Clarence Williams, Clarence Johnson and Luckeyth Roberts, he joined the QRS race recording blues department, and in order to gain as much experience as possible, he enrolled for a five-year course in harmony and counterpoint. He studied all the different styles of music ranging from ragtime, blues, classical and popular ballads. I began my search for J. I received a swift reply from Ramsi P.

About a month after I wrote to Lawrence, I received the first of many letters from him. The exchange of correspondence between us continued right up until the time of his death. I decided to keep my letters as brief as possible, so that any questions put to him might receive a direct answer.

Anybody Seen Buzz's New Piano Roll?

I find that if you burden musicians with an excessive amount of probing questions and badger them for detailed references to past events, they will simply take the easy way out and give answers that they believe you would like to hear. I explained in my very first letter that I had an interest in player pianos and music rolls and would like to obtain a background history of his career, beginning with how he managed to get started in the music roll industry, and how he was enjoying his retirement.

I received the following reply: Reddings, sic Thanks for yours of above date. Eubie Blake is a long time friend of mine since About two years have now passed since I semi-retired from Aeolion Rolls. Ramsi had promised me an occasional assignment when I retired, but nothing has happened as yet in this regard. In my next letter to Lawrence I asked him just how many music rolls he had arranged during his career and how he compared the arrangements of today with the great numbers of the past. I also wanted to know if he could help me obtain some sheet music arrangements of Jelly Roll Morton.

This is the reply I received from him: It has been estimated that I have made something between 10, and 20, piano roll masters in my lifetime. Interest in the result of all my efforts has survived through all these years only because I have worked very hard to please everyone who liked various styles of musical expression from Nursery Rhymes to Concertos. I would suggest that you contact Lewis Pub. Regards to you and all of yours from me and all of mine. During the s, while he was working at QRS, Lawrence arranged a huge number of music rolls that were recorded by named artists on the Melville Clark recording piano.

He continued to do this until recording operations were suspended due to falling sales caused by the Depression. In the s, Lawrence took a job with the U. Postal service, but still continued to take on assignments both for Imperial and the Aeolian Corporation. Working in the basement of his home in the Bronx, he also produced small quantities of rolls for collectors. John Farrell has compiled a comprehensive listing of all known piano rolls played by Thomas Waller , together with those arranged by J.

Among his finest works, created during the 40s and 50s, are his transcriptions of famous jazz pianists of the day. Many of these high-quality masterpieces were featured at my player piano concerts from to Alan Wallace sends the following article from the New York Age , dated Saturday, 2nd November , page 8, column 2. Among those initiated were John C. Christian and Lionel Russell, C. King, secretary; Walton Mitchell, treasurer. Lawrence Cook, Edgecombe Ave. Jean Lawrence Cook sends details of this interesting piano folio titled: During the past decade J. Lawrence Cook has devoted his time to recording and arranging popular music for player piano rolls.

This folio is published to satisfy the demands of many of his pupils in jazz, admirers of his playing and his innumberable friends. This collection holds no charm for beginners. It will furnish a wealth of worthy material to those who have studied music to some extent.

The miscellaneous selections of choruses offers an interesting study in styles of executing the diversified types of popular songs they represent. For those who wish to obtain these rolls, the following list is offered —. We wish to express our sincere appreciation to Mr. Max Kortlander and Mr. Handy for the use of their compositions, and our heartiest gratitude to Mr. Sparkes for going over the proofs. This book is respectfully dedicated to Mr.

Steven Townsend and Prof. The photograph of J. Lawrence Cook accompanies his entry and appears on page July 14, , Athens, Tenn. Jacob Lincoln and Zella Lawrence Cook; m. July 28, ; Annizella, b. Elks; Monarch Lodge, No. Presbyterian; Residence, Prospect Ave. He is the son of the late Rev. Song Service Studios, a school of modern popular music, that seeks to approach the subject seriously and from a new pedagogical angle, in May, Wrote and published J.

Compiled a twenty-lesson correspondence course in refined popular piano playing, with player piano rolls to demonstrate the exercises included in lesson assignments. Scored a concert-jazz arrangement of St. Louis Blues for W. Handy, the composer and publisher, and released the manuscript to W.

It will help pianists to improvise when accompanying singers who like to have their own interpretation of this great song. Alan Wallace sends details of the following items of J. Lawrence Cook memorabilia from his collection. In Handy Brothers Music Co. Player Roll Artist and Earle L. In Alfred Music Co. Karl Ellison and Randolph Herr send the following article, which was published in the Fortune magazine, dated December Music Rolls Like the piano industry see page 99 , the player-piano roll industry has had tough sledding.

But while the piano industry has good hopes of recovering, the player-roll industry looks very much as if it might not. But now it is almost completely archaic and a bit wistful. There is only one very active company in the business — the Imperial industrial Corp. Max Kortlander takes the business to heart. QRS was the great roll name though no one knew for sure what the name stood for — maybe Quality, Real Service.

He spotted Max as a natural for player rolls and persuaded him to go to Chicago. As QRS slipped softly into its decline, Mr. Kortlander became a Director and in bought out the musical end of the business. He calls it Imperial Industrial Corp. Sacred songs sell well and so does foreign music — Polish, Bohemian, and German, with Greek picking up fast. South Africa is the best export field. But they make rolls that can he played only on their own pianos. Their only new output is popular stuff, no classical. Hardly any player pianos are made.

You probably know the principle of the player piano. In the player piano is a perforated cylinder over which the roll passes. When air is sucked in through a hole in the cylinder, a note plays. When you want to play C, you punch a hole in the paper so that it will pass over the C hole in the cylinder. This makes it possible for anyone to make it piano roll by punching holes in paper. Which is just the way Imperial makes its rolls today. Lawrence Cook, a Negro, sits at his desk, a piano at his side, and plays a few bars of a song on the piano, arranging as he goes along.

Then he draws lines on a roll of paper to indicate notes. Then someone punches holes where the lines are drawn, and there is your piano roll. It never gets near a piano until you play it. Cook does an average roll in two or three hours and is very adept at imitating the styles of popular pianists. Ampico and Duo-Art scorn this cheaper method; their rolls are actually played and interpreted — as the old QRS roll were. It is, naturally, always possible to correct an interpretation by pasting up a wrong note or punching in an omitted one. Paderewski, a notoriously inaccurate player, always needed a lot of editing.

It is also possible to perform feats that no pianist could dream of doing — miraculously full of chords and fantastic arpeggios. The old and very popular pianola style of rolling bass and octave tremolo was never actually played by pianists. It was punched in afterwards. The potentialities of the player once got musicians very excited. Busoni was going to write a special work for one but died before he got around to it. Lawrence Cook was my chief assistant there and he was great on the theoretical side of the jazz piano and shaped the printed courses we had, containing sheet music of my improvisations on popular melodies.

They proved very successful in teaching by mail. However, I had to give it up in the end because costs just kept soaring. Advertising and copyright payments were heavy items, especially as the latter were always for very popular songs. The other partners in my school were Eve Ross and Teddy Cassola. Their contribution rounded out the work done by the [ sic ] Cook and me. I was completely involved. Alan Wallace sends the following article from the New York Age , dated Saturday, 8th February , page 6, columns 3—4.

Ubert Vincent, son of Mrs. Naomi Vincent, of West th street and the late Dr. Conrad Vincent, made a fine scholastic record of standing the fifth highest through his school career with an average of On the basis of his regents of One of his prize possessions is a gold medal for three years Latin. In the romance language department young Vincent attained an average of Caliper school literary publication staff and received gold scholarship pin and gold service pin.

This boy who ranked fourth highest among other graduates had a page of merits listed in his name. During his career in Stuyvesant he kept his average at On his New York State Regents tests given in these subjects he made 97 per cent and 96 per cent. At the commencement exercises he received a gold scholarship pin and a bronze service pin, and a French medal. Roll On, Imperial One of the most magniloquent named organizations on earth. But Imperial is a complete monopoly and it is enjoying a small boom, largely produced by A.

Its customers are mostly U. To this small but steady market, Imperial sells approximately half a million pianola rolls a year. President Kortlander has about 25 employes sic. Lawrence Cook is a nearly indispensable man. There hangs a tale and a technique. It also hired such early jazzers as J.

But as the pianola gave ground to the phonograph, the pianola industry could no longer afford to pay for personal recordings. Most of the pianola artists moved on to greener pastures. He continued to make his own rolls, also produced rolls that accurately ghosted the performances of other jazz improvisers. All are ghosted by J. Cook was born in Athens, Tenn. Cook High School bears the name of his father, a Presbyterian minister. As a boy he learned the clarinet and piano. He never made the big time as a jazz pianist. He has made over 20, arrangements for pianola rolls.

Today, Cook spends his days with Imperial, his evenings earning a little extra cash as a clerk in the post office near Grand Central Station. His year-old son, Jean Lawrence, studies medicine at Columbia University, his daughter, Annizella, takes a voice course at the Julliard School of Music. Cook has found time to complete a course in short story writing, also contributes a monthly column to the International Musician official organ of the American Federation of Musicians on jazz piano technique.


Lawrence Cook, which was published in Each is entirely different, yet are often mistaken for each other by the general public and amateur musician. In chronological order, the blues, no doubt, came first. That is the object of this publication. First printing May Roger Richard sends the following article titled: Frog-I-more Rag By R. In Frog-i-more Rag Morton followed a customary form, — introduction, first part, second part, repeated first part and a trio. The composition is tuneful, the 32 bar trio especially having a beautiful melody.

About the Spikes Brothers and Jelly Roll in collaboration used the first part and trio of the rag for a song which they called Froggy Moore, which was never published. Recordings have been made and issued under the various titles, but it is always Frog-i-more that is used. The limited edition I have just published fully justifies my belief. Lawrence Cook did a superlative piece of transcribing and editing.

Duncan Schiedt , renowned jazz photographer, author and historian sends the following breathtaking black-and-white photographs, which he took of J. Lawrence Cook and others at the Imperial Industrial Co. Duncan had gone along to ask J. Performing and recording an arrangement direct onto the master roll using the step-perforator and recording piano unit. Editing the pre-production master roll against a first test punching of the finished roll. Here a hand punch is being used. Using a suction pump to keep the perforator mechanism clean for optimal operation.

Once the pre-production master is produced, a copy for use in factory production is run off, as shown in this picture. Another view of J. Lawrence Cook performing and recording an arrangement direct onto the master roll using the step-perforator and recording piano unit. A side view of J.

The Man I Love Gershwin 1924 Player Piano Roll

Lawrence Cook editing the pre-production master roll against a first test punching of the finished roll. This picture shows him using a knife. Checking the paper that feeds into the twin production perforator. Producing piano rolls from the final master roll. This twin perforator uses one master roll to operate two side-by-side punches to produce multiple copies quickly. There is another similar machine in the background. The onlooker appears to be John Sonnentag who worked in the shipping department from to Some of these shots may well be simply posed around the factory to make an interesting photo-shoot.

In , when Duncan took the above photographs of J. Lawrence Cook and others, the Imperial Industrial Co. Lawrence Piano Roll Cook is featured on the cover, along with a number of other notable artists.

Abbey Records, a small record company located at W. In March , Abbey discovered what they were looking for in terms of publicity, credibility and success. It came from a surprising source. Matrix G Abbey by arr. Lawrence Cook was issued on QRS Lawrence Cook was contracted to make music rolls, which would appear on r. There are still at least , in use today. Perhaps the guy around the corner from you has one rotting in his basement. His name is J. Lawrence Cook, and since May 1st, , he has been a piano roll maker for Q.

From his home at E. Hawkins, pastor of St. Augustine Presbyterian Church, had this to say: They are an inspiration, not only to their race, but to all peoples who look to church ties and family ties as the last hope of salvation in a troubled world. Just returned from a one-month vacation in Europe where he and Edith the little woman visited their son and daughter more about them anon , the inventor-musician was a picture of ease and relaxation in his E.

My reception was less than enthusiastic until I met James P. Johnson who was just hitting the big-time with his music on piano rolls. I did most of the work on a little machine at home. I sent some of my work to the U. Music Company in Chicago, and surprisingly enough, they liked it. Before long I was so improved that the U. Music Company investigated the success of the rival company, and after finding out that I was one of the main cogs in the wheel, they called on me quick.

They are the only company in the U. Cook had set up his machinery and workshop. So I purchased these machines and went into business for myself. A fellow in Hempstead, L. I also supply music rolls for merry-go-rounds, hurdy gurdys, carillons, chimes, and all mechanical instruments. It was sort of a reunion. She is spending a year in France studying literature and music to get additional credits as a voice student. Army in Captieux, France. Remember years back some of us could boast of a player-piano. I never had one, because my father believed in piano lessons for his daughter, so I had to be the piano player in the family.

I used to throw the lever and pump like anything and watch the roll go around as the music rolled out. Who made these rolls or how I never did find out. Today there are still 50, player pianos in this country and their hunger for music rolls is supplied by J. Cook turns out these magic rolls in a little room in the Bronx.

The nickelodeon foreran the player-piano. I remember someone showed me how to take a long string and attach paper clips the length of the piano inside. One clip for each string, so that when I played the piano the clips hit the various strings, sort of a mandolin effect was accomplished. It sounded fine to me, but when my father heard it, he did not think it such a good idea and made me take it off. In those days, so it. After school you heard piano practicing coming from many homes, today I hear it very seldom.

Also, I used to see students walking with their music either rolled in leather roller or flat going to or from the music teacher, now I never see it. Also I remember popular orchestras used to have their own arrangements in books sold on stands with sheet music in many stores, today these same stands seem to be filled with comic books. Tricky modern chords became popular which made all melodies seem to sound alike.

I remember how my father was against me making up my own chords. Johnson piano rolls recordings, which appeared on a London LP record. The record features 8 piano rolls by James P. The recordings were made with the co-operation of J. He is also a great composer. For the past few years ho has been seriously ill and not much in the musical limelight, but, for his artistry, his teaching, and, more practically, his generosity to struggling artistes, he is and always will be remembered particularly amongst the musicians of his own race.

His music and his records are sought by collectors for they are always authentic and first-rate. As one critic says: A pounding, good-time music, full of exhilaration and the joy of playing, a professional and skilful kind of jazz that retains all the true spirit of the cruder New Orleans variety.

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Very few of them had been issued in this country until recently when two long-playing selections were made up, one called Daddy of the Piano which included some of his earlier solos and another of Fats Waller Favourites which he recorded in June, The piano roll library is proving a positive treasure-trove of such music, recorded by early composers like Scott Joplin and the great jazz pianists such as Fats Waller and Jelly Roll Morton.

Johnson started with the ragtime tradition strong in his blood. He was born in New Jersey but soon drifted to New York and with the ragtime as basis, he added a strong feeling for the blues and his natural flair and liking for the better type of party and theatre music; the result is the unique mixture to be heard in its original form here and to be heard at second hand in the playing of all the pianists who learnt their playing within the orbit of the great originator.

These rolls were made from to , of tunes by such diverse composers as Jimmy Durante and W. All of them take on a new vigour at his touch. Lawrence Cook, a pianist in his own right who can be heard on London records.

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He has probably cut more piano rolls himself than anybody else, and was present at many of these sessions by other pianists. Judging by his faithful rendering of the solos on the Fats Waller Jazz Archive record, a style we are more familiar with, we can assume that these mechanical renderings at James P. Johnson have been given the maximum of reality and authenticity by his sympathetic and expert touch. Now, at any rate, we have the proof.

Original QRS label numbers of the roll and months of issue are as follows: Loveless love , April Harlem strut , May Charleston , June Pallet on the floor , September From Cadence is J. Alan Wallace sends details of the following J. In Cadence Records released a 7-inch extended play record titled: Not everyone owns a player-piano. Not everyone wants to own one. But now, with this album, everyone who owns a record player can enjoy the music that comes from this one.

As nearly as we can figure, and this is mostly a guess, there are fewer than , player-pianos in the United States. A person who is addicted to player-piano music, is really addicted. Player-piano music is extremely nourishing. By that I mean very satisfying to hear, because something seems to be going on with much more profusion than it seems to have a right to. It is also a real link with the past and, if no personal association is made with the past, then an historical memento. An old yellow player-piano roll, mellowed with age and still playable gives a person the same feeling as reading hieroglyphics from an Egyptian papyrus.

It might seem hard to believe, but player-piano music has kept astride of the times like the modern automobile. One can trace the history of different styles of piano playing through piano rolls. There are the usual different moods, tempos and styles. This brings us, then, to modern piano — player roll style. Who would think to record player-piano rolls. Archie was listening to a player-piano one night and he was so charmed with the music that he decided then and there to record the selections contained herein. Lawrence Cook, who is the chief and only active player-piano artisan was contacted for help in preparation of these sides.

Cook has devoted his life-time to the making of player-piano rolls. He claims that player-piano music is a separate and distinct art form aside from manual piano playing and the nickelodeon. The nickelodeon usually does not compare with the range of sound or beauty of the player-piano.

Most player-piano owners will feel rather deeply insulted if you refer to their instrument as a nickelodeon. The interesting thing to most people is the fact that the player-piano rolls recorded in this album include some of the hit tunes. Lawrence Cook music rolls, which appeared on a Mercury LP record. The record features 12 music rolls by J. Guitar, string bass and drums accompany the numbers.

The liner notes on the reverse side of the record cover give no indication that Lawrence was involved in the actual recording. But how can Cook claim to be an artist when a player-piano is mechanically grinding out the modern hits, backed by rhythm section? Cook happens to be one of an almost deceased profession. Lawrence Cook came to New York from Pittsburgh in , after completing a college preparatory course in piano technique.

In the spring of , he purchased a simple, hand-operated music roll perforator and studied the work of contemporary piano roll artists. His first piano rolls were made for U. Music Rolls in and continued thru , when he joined the staff of Q. Lawrence Cook Pure Music Co.

Garlic Arc Music Corp. For this recording session, the Hardman Duo player-piano, which played the piano rolls arranged and perforated by J. Bass was set on the left with the piano, while drums and guitar are on the right for stereo. For the monaural recording, all four mikes were picked up on one tape track as on Amplex , while for stereo, the separate left and right channels were etched on quarter-inch tape by an Amplex stereo tape recorder. Notice the authenticity of this recording, wherein at the start of each number, the mechanical noise of the player-piano is slightly audible.

In fact, player piano rolls are extremely difficult for live musicians to work with, because their mechanical perfection is at times disconcerting in that sidemen vary tempo, while the piano roll is as steady as its mechanical counterpart, the metronome. Hal Mooney Mercury Recording Director. Kortlander, composer of popular songs and a manufacturer of piano rolls, died yesterday in the office of the Imperial Industrial Company, East th Street, the Bronx. His age was Kortlander was president of the company, which engages exclusively in the manufacture of player piano rolls.

Kortlander of Pacific Palisades, Calif. Then he gave the nod for the first piano passage, and the piano came right in on cue. The instrument was a player piano, and the unseen fingers that pounded the keys belonged, in a way, to Stravinsky himself. Most of them — foot-pumped jobs with no concert-grand pretensions — were being played for the sheer rinky-tink fun of it by people who own either vintage instruments rescued from dusty oblivion or brand-new models, bought in a shiny showroom.

The player piano is coming back into its own again to the tune of Moon River and The Peppermint Twist. In my dreams it always seems I hear you softly call to me. Lone survivor of the once more than 50 U. Lawrence Cook, turns out the rolls by playing on a special piano rigged to a device like an IBM machine, which punches the proper holes in a master roll. Then the master roll is placed on the production perforator, which can punch out more than 30 finished rolls at a time.

In Palisades Park, N. In cabarets and coffee houses across the land, pianolas are twanging away. Says Co-Owner Harry Schwimmer: Many buyers are women who recall the pleasure of pumping one as a child and want to share the fun with their own kids. In suburban Elmhurst, Our seven-year-old twins bring in all their friends on weekends, and they sing away for hours. Through the years, they were modified and improved until — at the peak of their heyday around when , were sold in the U. The Hardman, Peck Co.

They feature player spinets with foot pedals only, feel that pumping out the music is a genuine part of the nostalgia that is their stock in trade. Clark Solomon Special No. Vals La China Princesa. Cancion Among My Souvenirs Carmen. Fox Trot Te Vengo a decir adios. Corrido Sodaditos de Madera. Danzon Pagan Love Song Venenosa. Tango Toros y Toreros. Pasa Calle El Caballo Criollo. You Have No Idea. Czysta Bieda Cleny Strzat.

Galop Czy Ja Cie Kocham. Walc Bartosz And Na Wawel. When The Honeymoon Was Over. Fox Trot Rosa Caraquena. Chote Lagrimas De Amor. Mazurka Cuando Et Amor Muere. Valse Sobre Las Olas. Cuple El Capote De Paseo. Chote Vida Del Alma. Cancion Mi Noche Triste. Paso Doble El Gitanillo. Paso Doble El Pagare. Paso Doble La Revolcada. Valse Honor Y Gloria. Valse Vida Del Alma. Danzon Amor Imposible Besos Frios. Couplet A Mi Amor. Bluish Fox Trot Darktown Capers. A La Blues Darktown Capers. Fox Trot General Callas. Fox Trot El Gitanillo.

Paso Doble Viva Mi Desgracia. Paso Doble Alma Andalusa. Paso Doble El Lirio. Vals Reliquia De Amir. Danzon El 26 de Infanteria. Julian Todo Por Ti. Fox Trot Palabras De Amor. Do You Love Me? Cancion Es Un Golfo. Tango Mexico En Chicago. Playground In The Sky. Is She My Girl Friend? Hawaiian Waltz Milenberg Joys. Cancion Donde Estas Corazon? Valse Ya Va Cayendo. Valse Por Unos Ojos Negros. Love Affairs Sorry For Me.

Fox Trot And One Step.