Let’s Talk Books: Joseph F. Lamb, A Passion for Ragtime

Recently Carol Binkowski, a friend of mine, brought her latest book, Joseph F. Lamb, A Passion for Ragtime, to life at an evening event at the Montclair, NJ Historical Society. Using photographs and music, Carol painted a vivid picture of Lamb: the man, his music and his times. From young parlor piano player to accomplished adult composer, Montclair, NJ native Lamb (1887-1960) was one of classic ragtime’s big three composers, along with Scott Joplin and James Scott.

An accomplished pianist, Carol interspersed lively snippets of Lamb rags that had us toe tapping and nodding along with an engaging and colorful PowerPoint presentation that included colorful stills of Lamb’s sheet music covers, stylized artistic renderings of their times. Carol danced her audience through Lamb’s life from young unpublished Montclair, NJ composer of songs for which he wrote both music and lyrics, to his student days in Canada when he made his first sale (“Celestine Waltzes”), then on to his time in California where he continued to develop his keyboard skills and built his musical knowledge base.

Carol went on to talk about how once back in the New York metro area, Lamb secured another non-music-related day job and pursued his musical interests in his leisure time. We learned about Lamb’s prophetic meeting in a N.Y. park with Scott Joplin, who soon after became Lamb’s champion. We heard about Lamb’s relationship with music publisher John Stark and Tin Pan Alley; of Lamb’s classic rags, his notoriety beyond sheet music sales and piano rolls through the pages of professional publications and beyond.

Never having heard a rag prior to Carol’s rendition of Lamb’s work I now understand why Lamb’s compositions are just as enthusiastically praised today by performers and audiences alike as they were well received during his lifetime.

Yes, Joseph F. Lamb: A Passion for Ragtime is a well-written book that’s an easy read. With unprecedented access to a wide variety of family and research sources, Carol has woven a story that appeals to both ragtime music aficionados as well as those who love a lively read about exciting and innovative eras in U.S. history. The book, with its many photographs, appendices, notes and index, is chock full of history, musical and otherwise.

Carol (left) with Lamb’s great grand niece Kate Smith, who attended the talk.

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