Castle House Rag
James Reese Europe (1881-1919) BMI
The most famous and influential musician on the New York entertainment scene in the second decade of the twentieth century was James Reese Europe. Controlling the entertainment music industry through his Clef Club (a kind of musicians' union),
Europe also, to some extent, controlled the taste of the Club's clientele. A composer and conductor, his Negro National Orchestra and Negro Symphony Orchestra were influential in New York circles. Europe was written about extensively in the New York press and was quoted as an authority on Negro dance and symphonic music. His articulate responses and writings established a model for later jazz criticism. Europe's famous 369th Regiment Band of World War II — known as "The Hellfighters" — had an enormous impact on the French people and was the most popular band of all the United States musical aggregations overseas. It included Luckey Roberts, Will Marion Cook, Will Vodery, and other members of American musical fame.
Perhaps Europe's biggest contribution was to the nature of American social dance and dance music of the early to middle twentieth century. As music director for the white dance team of Irene and Vernon Castle, Europe controlled and invented much of the music to which they would dance. He is credited with the invention of the fox-trot, the turkey-trot, the Castle Walk, and other dances that were spread across the country by the Castle and Castle dance team.
Castle House Rag was written by Europe in tribute to the Castle House for the Teaching of Correct Dancing, where the most staid versions of black dance were introduced to white society and where the "rules of good taste were sufficiently strict to make the new
dances acceptable."1 "Castle House Rag," composed by Europe and introduced to the public by the Castles and Europe's Society Orchestra in 1914, is a "Trot and One Step," combining elements of the Afro-American animal dance called the turkey trot and the one-step, the most ubiquitous dance of the ragtime period. In "Castle House Rag," the dotted shuffle rhythms of the one-step in the first part contrast sharply with the syncopated rhythms of the second, both rhythmic processes revealing the piece's Afro-American lineage.
The original recorded version of this composition is played at a much faster tempo than our performance of the work. We believe that the time constraints of the 78 rpm record made it necessary for the Europe band to record the piece at the faster speed. Performances by some present-day groups mimic the Europe recording, but we believe that Europe's instruction of Allegro moderato, which appears on the published sheet music, demands a slower tempo. This conclusion is supported by the musical and stylistic effects that emerge in our performance.