An ensemble of the finest musicians offering class, quality and versatility

Preludes, Rags and Cakewalks

Album by The Symphonic Brass of London

This vibrant recording celebrates the 100th anniversary of the death of Claude Debussy (1862-1918) and demonstrates the influence of the ragtime music of his contemporary Scott Joplin (1868-1917) on Debussy’s own music and that of Eric Satie and ‘Les Six’ in France. All of the arrangements, for ten brass and two percussion, are new and original, making this a world premiere recording.
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Album cover for Preludes, Rags and Cakewalks

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‘Debussy and other French colleagues became fascinated by the ‘ragtime’ music and ‘cakewalks’ beginning to be performed at the end of the 19th century by negro minstrel groups and which gave birth to jazz. The now acknowledged master of ragtime was of course the American composer Scott Joplin, many of whose compositions are featured on this brilliantly performed and recorded CD. World famous trombonist, composer and arranger Eric Crees has researched the performance style of Joplin’s music and its influence on Debussy and other French composers. He has arranged eight of Joplin’s piano pieces for 10 brass players and two percussionists and has similarly arranged a selection of thirteen ragtime and jazz-influenced piano pieces by Debussy, Auric, Milhaud and Satie, providing a highly entertaining and virtuosic series of performances, which often makes one wonder whether this music could ever have been composed in any other way!’

Presto News, April 3rd 2020


‘This classy, sassy collection of transcriptions of music by Debussy, Milhaud, Satie, Joplin and Auric could be just the tonic you need in these unsettled and unsettling times, regardless of whether or not brass ensemble repertoire is your usual line of country: everything really sings and dances, with Joplin’s Weeping Willow and Satie’s Parade standing out as particular highlights’.

Presto Classical, Presto Editors Choices - April 2020 - Katherine Cooper


‘Superb - best thing I’ve heard in a longer than long time. These players are, as someone sometime said, ‘out of sight’ -  the standard remarkable: technically and musically several moves beyond reasonable expectations. Their own obvious talents apart, they owe much to yourself [Eric] - the orchestrations and conducting skills are at the highest levels. Daring too. I would never have tried (risked) especially Debussy, but you solved the various problems/difficulties with seeming ease - no casualties. Much pleasure, not simply for brass enthusiasts I’m sure.

I hope the CD has a great and well-deserved current and lasting life. The disc should have a great welcome both in the UK and US (Japan?) if it is promoted well. I hope my enthusiasm for what I will continue to value as an outstanding recording is evident!

Congratulations - do some more.’

Elgar Howarth - Conductor, composer, arranger, trumpeter. Long time member of the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble


‘It is sheer delight to hear this splendid collection of varied pieces so exquisitely performed. Congratulations to The Symphonic Brass of London!’

Ursula Jones - Former manager of the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble


‘Directed by the internationally-renowned trombonist, Eric Crees, The Symphonic Brass of London is a hand-picked group of Britain’s finest brass and percussion players. The ensemble’s critically-acclaimed debut album, ‘A Bridge over the Pyrenees’, was released in 2014 and focused on the influence of Spanish music on French composers. ‘Preludes, Rags and Cakewalks’, the ensemble’s eagerly-awaited second album is, once again, adventurous in its exploration of repertoire, this time focusing on the enormous impact of ragtime music on French composers.

From the first of its 21 tracks, the listener can be in no doubt about the quality of the featured ensemble. Under the guidance of Eric Crees, The Symphonic Brass of London makes it sound so easy, with every player exuding class and style, from the elegant piccolo leads, down to the rock-solid bass lines.

Similarly, the skillful arrangements create an immediate impact, the instrumentation of ten brass and two percussion enabling the arranger, Eric Crees, to give the music proper reverence, detail and colour whilst respecting the original voicings of the composers. For some, the idea of presenting piano works in a burnished brass and percussion colouring, may not seem appealing, but when approached with such adept skill, the result is striking.

Featuring the music of Debussy, Joplin, Auric, Milhaud and Satie, the programme is well- structured and varied. The ragtime influence is easy to hear, particularly when listening to Joplin’s Swipesy and Debussy’s Golliwogg’s Cakewalk back-to-back. The technical execution is exceptional throughout, although it is some of the more reflective moments, including a sublime performance of Debussy’s La fille aux cheveux de lin, that leave a lasting impression.

The presentation of this MPR release is much like the playing and the arrangements – first-class. A full colour 20-page booklet provides informative background to the music and the performers, together with historical images including original score covers. The sound produced is also to be admired; great balance and clarity at all dynamics, placing the listener in the front row to enjoy the music-making. The new arrangements, the uncovering of neglected gems and the general body of research involved in this project makes it an impressive release, but even if ‘Rags and Cakewalks’ are not for you, I highly recommend this CD for the brass playing alone; an object lesson in performing with musicality and style’.

David Childs - Editor, Brass Band World. Programme **** Performance ***** Recording ***** Presentation *****


‘The French and Americans have enjoyed a rather complex form of musical ‘entente cordiale’ over the past century or more.

Cajun music with its deep emblematic Francophone roots has remained hugely popular, yet when Edith Piaf first arrived in New York she was initially rejected by audiences who didn’t understand her lyrics.

And despite the latter day Trumpian disdain for French imports Jane Birkin sold out Carnegie Hall in 2018 singing nearly all her show in a peculiar form of lingua-franca.

On the other side of l’Ocean Atlantique the Parisian public adored the great Josephine Baker (and presented her with the Legion d’honneur), but by the mid 1980s the French Culture Minister was demanding that US pop videos only to be played with subtitles.

Mutual respect

Yet a lasting mutual respect has been retained through a love of jazz and its precursor, the era of ragtime at the turn of the 20th century. 

Debussy was certainly a fan, as was Ravel and Stravinsky, so by the time Scott Joplin’s music with its rhythmic subdivisions and inventive progressions found worldwide popularity after being brought to Paris in 1903, a trans-Atlantic cross fertilisation of styles from the likes of Satie, Milhaud and Auric began to emerge and has been maintained ever since. 

It is a fascinating tale told with academic rigour and performed with informed musical insight by the Symphonic Brass of London ensemble under the direction of Eric Crees, whose research underpins the project and the 21 splendidly arranged tracks. 

From the high kicking ‘cakewalks’ and stylised syncopations of the vigorous two step ‘rags’, to the fluid movements of gentle swing, it is sophisticated music distilled into an intoxicating shot glass mix of bourbon and absinthe. 

Eccentric and exquisite

It is both eccentric and exquisite in turn - the inner workings of ragtime chromaticism and virile harmonies paced, as Joplin insisted it must be, to perfection – and “never fast at anytime”.

Debussy’s appreciation is arguably more evocative and Satie’s implicitly charming, whilst Milhaud and Auric are definably idiosyncratic.

Joplin though is a genius – his works miniature masterpieces of form and function; the complexities made to sound almost naive in their simplicity.  They are anything but - from the opening ‘Swipesy - Cake Walk’ to the glorious ‘Stoptime Rag’ to close.

The men may never have met in their lifetimes (Joplin died in tragically reduced circumstances in New York in 1917, Debussy less than a year later, but already celebrated, in Paris), but all seem to pay direct and personal homage in their writing to a man who defined the musical style of a generation. 

Eric Crees also pays his affectionate respects in performances subtly styled, coloured and paced – from the touchingly restrained to the joyfully raucous.  Musical authenticity permeates through, understated yet valued in placement and precision. 

It is a fabulous exploration that deserves the richest of accolades on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean’.

Iwan Fox – 4 Bars Rest - Verdict *****


‘At first blush, the recent release of Preludes, Rags and Cakewalks, conducted by Eric Crees, might seem like an album of encores, or a collection meant for light listening. But this compact disc is much more.
Arrangements of favorites from Claude Debussy, plus selections by Eric Satie, Darius Milhaud, and Georges Auric, carefully positioned alongside and around those of certain lesser-known yet quite substantial works of Scott Joplin, convincingly demonstrate something that is quite special and warrants widespread hearing. It’s persuasively audible, thanks to Preludes, Rags and Cakewalks, that just before and after the Great War, French musicians had recognized the artistry and innovation of America’s first true original classical music - ragtime. The opening juxtaposition of Swipsey - Cakewalk, Golliwog’s Cakewalk, The Strenuous Life, and Rag Time Parade immediately makes this connection crystal clear. And the linkage of Joplin’s Solace - A Mexican Serenade with Debussy’s La Puerto del Vino definitely demonstrates that both creative composers took inspiration just outside their own countries’ borders. Before jazz would inspire so very many French composers in the 1920s, the vigorous richness and expansive sophistication of American ragtime, as well as nearby Spanish sources, already had captured their attention.

Among the other tracks, six others stand out for different reasons. Joplin’s Weeping Willow - A Ragtime Two Step, and especially his Bethena - A Concert Waltz, reveal unsuspected lyrical gifts projected in Eric Crees’ imaginative arrangements for brass and percussion. Debussy’s humor comes through in the settings of his Hommage à S. Pickwick Esq. P.P.M.P.C. (which caricatures a Dickens character) and his Général Lavine - eccentric (inspired by an American vaudevillian who performed in Paris), which present a palpable physicality of the seemingly larger-than-life personae they portray. And Auric’s Adieu, New York!, as well as Satie’s Le Piccadilly, surely illustrate how open-minded and well-travelled French composers were in the early twentieth-century. New perspectives provided here readily elicit new appreciation of this vibrant music.

Of course, it’s easy to imagine other selections that could complement these fine choices. For instance, adaptations of Gabriel Fauré‘s energetic Le pas Espagnole, from the Dolly suite, his exotic Air de danse from the incidental music to Caligula, or even his elegant fourth Prélude might have fit well here too. Hmmm… why not a Fauré set in the next Symphonic Brass of London release?

Crees’ arrangements of this early 20th-century music, most originally for solo piano, re-imagine each within the brass domain via flexibly shifting configurations, creating intriguing and evolving effects of timbre, texture, and spatiality. Above all, rhythmic vitality, even in the slower works, dominates Preludes, Rags and Cakewalks. Of course, bringing all of this to life is the inspired playing of the Symphonic Brass of London, whose members include James Fountain (piccolo trumpet), Chris Deacon (piccolo trumpet), Paul Archibald (trumpet), Katie Smith (trumpet), Bruce Knockles (flugelhorn, trumpet), Hugh Seenan (horn), Christopher Houlding (trombone), Simon Wills (trombone), Nick Lloyd (trombone), Christian Jones (bass trombone), Adrian Miotti (tuba), Scott Bywater (percussion), and Jonathan Kitchen (percussion). Recorded at 24/96 resolution (hi-res audio), the CD’s sound has brilliance and impact, plus considerable presence.

While Online Trombone Journal readers may find these percussion-augmented arrangements of Joplin, Debussy, and the other French composers to be engaging concert features as well as exciting encore options, they also are apt to discover that many may serve as effective teaching pieces. Their incisive syncopations, contrasting dynamics, and divergent modulations require extremely precise ensemble and exceptionally careful intonation, so university troupes are sure to benefit as well as enjoy. Brass Wind Publications may be releasing the arrangements individually as soon as the late summer of 2020, so interested directors and performers might start with the CD, which is available through MPR and is distributed widely. Recommended!’

Online Trombone Journal - May 11 2020 - James William Sobaskie

‘WOW!!!!!  Fantastic in every way. Your writing is superb, as usual - very inventive. The playing is wonderful and although I usually don’t read through the notes, even your prose is great (a lot of stuff I never knew). I especially like the information about ’stomp’. The ‘feet’ determines the tempo, (often sadly overlooked by today’s youth - attempting to impress rather than serving the music).’

Professor Jiggs Whigham - International Jazz Trombone Soloist, Director Bundesjazzorchester, Former Professor Hochschule für Musik Berlin, Former Director RIAS Big Band , BBC Big Band


‘I have been quite ill lately and just the first track lifted me out of my doldrums. Always enjoyed Swipesy, but your version is especially…well, Swipesy! I really enjoyed your CD. Great sounds coming out of the UK. I found it delightful.’

Larry Melton - Curator & Founder of the Sedalia Ragtime Archive, Founder and Adviser to the Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival Board


’Your CD is wonderful! What a good choice of repertoire! To mix Joplin and the French composers is a very good idea and very logical!

Your arrangements are terrific! Very good taste and perfect balance! Very good musicians, very good to see Paul Archibald and this new crew!

The sound is very ‘English’; you have in your country a specific sound and a way of playing in Brass Ensembles, probably the best in the world - I have loved it for a long time, even if it’s a little different from the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble, more symphonic and more ‘muscled’.

Bravo and I would love to hear you live!’

Thierry Caens - Trumpet Soloist, Cultural Ambassador for the Town of Dijon, France, Professor Lyon and Dijon Conservatories


‘Preludes, Rags and Cakewalks is the latest release from The Symphonic Brass of London. It adds exciting new colours to the piano works of the early twentieth century French composers Claude Debussy, Georges Auric, Darius Milhaud and Erik Satie while exploring the influence of ‘ragtime’ music and ‘cakewalks’ on their work. A showcase of these styles would, of course, be incomplete without the American ‘King of Ragtime’ Scott Joplin, whose lesser known works thread this series together nicely.

This project has been masterfully collated by the ensemble’s Artistic Director Eric Crees, who has researched each of these responses to the ragtime and cakewalk traditions with great detail and, with his widely celebrated orchestrating skill, has transformed each piece into new works for a line-up of ten-piece brass and two percussion.

This clever work has been brought to life by the musicians of The Symphonic Brass of London, a hand-picked pool of players who come together with a brilliant orchestral sound, but with the versatility needed to bring a varied programme to life. This release follows the ensemble’s fantastic debut album ‘A Bridge Over the Pyrenees’.

With such a specific focus on style, influence and era, you might expect many of the pieces to sound similar, but this is a varied and carefully balanced programme. This music has it all; it’s sometimes calm - with a special nod to La Fille aux cheveux de lin (The Girl with the Flaxen Hair), it has moments of terror and is both lively and serene. The satirical nature of this music is enhanced by the characterful brass. These works successfully highlight the immense capabilities of the brass ensemble, tastefully lifted by the percussion.

This delightful collection is not just a display of brilliant brass playing and directorship, but these arrangements are so clearly a successful enhancement of what is already exciting music. This is a classy creation and everyone will find plenty to enjoy here’.

The Trombonist, the Journal of The British Trombone Society - Jane Salmon


‘Preludes, Rags and Cakewalks is one of the most interesting brass recordings I have heard recently. Several elements come together to make this work a fantastic example of the great English brass ensemble tradition. The wise choice of repertoire merges the tracks during listening and sounds like a large orchestral suite put together by the prestigious arranger and conductor Eric Crees.

This refined arranging skill brings out the original beauty of the compositions with an added touch of elegance and sophistication; the unmistakable personal sound signature of Maestro Crees goes even further this time. The Symphonic Brass of London adds the icing on the cake with their magnificent performance full of delicacy, grace and style. Definitely a reference CD for music lovers’.

Daniel Perpiñán Sanchis - Professor Brass Academy Alicante, Catalonian Higher Music School, Barcelona Higher Music Conservatoire, Aragon Music Conservatoire


‘As someone who has spent the vast bulk of his professional career steeped in London’s professional music scene, Eric Crees has a contacts book that is second to none. It comes in very useful indeed for the celebrated trombone player, director and arranger when he calls upon The Symphonic Brass of London, an ensemble comprising leading orchestral brass and percussion players including names familiar to brass band audiences such as James Fountain, who shares piccolo trumpet duties, and trombonist Chris Houlding.

In its latest release, the star-studded group turns to arrangements made especially for the world-premiere recording, by Eric, of music by Scott Joplin and his apparent influence on the likes of Debussy, Eric Satie and members of Les Six in France. Eric Crees has gone to painstaking lengths to retain a degree of authenticity in his music, paying close attention to tempi and harmonies found in the original arrangements. Swipesy, by Joplin and his pupil Arthur Marshall, sets the tone for this engaging release, encapsulating the cheeky charm and humour associated with ragtime. As one might expect, the playing is of a terrific calibre throughout, the ensemble finding a wonderful homogeneity and blend, no doubt underpinned by the quality and consistency of personnel, which endures across its appearances and recording work.

Joplin’s The Strenuous Life, Searchlight Rag and Weeping Willow are treated with a remarkable sense of poise, no doubt alluding to comments from the composer, highlighted by Crees in the sleeve notes, warning: “never play ragtime fast at any time”. It elicits a gentle swagger which often goes untapped in this genre.

La Puerta del Vino provides a refreshing change of pace, taking the listener into an altogether more violent sound world – not least thanks to the bass trombone interjections of Christian Jones. There’s a luxurious warmth, meanwhile, to Debussy’s La fille aux cheveux de lin. Percussion is used sensibly, adding a variety of colour without becoming overbearing. Works by ragtime ‘guru’ Joplin permeate the release and his apparent influence never seems far away, even during the music of composers like Debussy, Milhaud and Satie; Debussy’s Minstrels and Le Piccadilly, by Satie, for example, feel at home.

In an album of this type, there’s a danger the repertoire could become one-dimensional and samey. The harmonic languages of the French composers bring the necessary variety.

The recording, which was made in London’s Henry Wood Hall, authentically captures the individual and collective sounds produced by these eminent musicians. Accompanied by detailed, informative sleeve notes, it makes for an engaging chamber brass recording which would be a worthy addition to any listener’s library, arranged and performed by musicians of the highest calibre’.

Mark Good - Editor, The British Bandsman. Programme **** Performance ***** Recording ***** Presentation *****


‘Throughout his life, Scott Joplin sought to have his ragtime music accepted as American art rather than have it considered mere entertainment. It was a losing battle against the racism and snobbishness of the times (he composed between 1895-1917).

Although many white bands adopted “Maple Leaf Rag,” Joplin was not able to achieve his dream of having his pieces considered “serious music.” It would take many decades before ragtime was finally thought of as “respectable.”
Joplin would have loved being included on Preludes, Rags and Cakewalks, a project on which the Symphonic Brass of London performs eight of his compositions next to 13 works by Claude Debussy, Erik Satie, Darius Milhaud, and Satie’s protégé Georges Auric.

The Symphonic Brass Of London, comprising a piccolo trumpet, three trumpets, french horn, four trombones (including a bass trombone), tuba, and two percussionists, performs arrangements by their conductor Eric Crees.

In many cases, a Joplin piece is followed by a classical work from the era that has some abstract connection, showing that Debussy or Satie were clearly a bit influenced by some aspect of ragtime (at least briefly), hinting at ragtime during their own much more dissonant writing. Sometimes there is only a slight connection and in most cases the Joplin rags sound absolutely jubilant compared to the more harmonically advanced classical pieces.The CD gives one a rare chance to hear such pieces as Debussy’s “Golliwogg’s Cakewalk” and Satie’s Rag Time Parade” next to Joplin’s “Swipesy,” “The Strenuous Life,” and “Solace”. 

The intriguing Preludes, Rags and Cakewalks is mostly recommended for listeners who have a strong interest in Debussy and Satie. Scott Joplin would have been pleased.’

Scott Yanow. ‘The Syncopated Times’ May 27, 2020 Rating*****


Track listing

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  1. Swipesy – Joplin arr. Crees
  2. Golliwoggs Cakewalk – Debussy arr. Crees
  3. The Strenuous Life – Joplin arr. Crees
  4. Rag-Time Parade – Satie arr. Crees
  5. Solace – Joplin arr. Crees
  6. La Puerta del Vino – Debussy arr.Crees
  7. Rag-Caprice No 1 – Milhaud arr. Crees
  8. Minstrels – Debussy arr. Crees
  9. La Fille aux Cheveux de Lin – Debussy arr. Crees
  10. Adieu New York! – Auric arr. Crees
  11. Searchlight Rag – Joplin arr. Crees
  12. Des pas sur la neige – Debussy arr. Crees
  13. La Diva de L’Empire – Satie arr. Crees
  14. Le Petit Negre – Debussy arr. Crees
  15. Weeping Willow – Joplin arr. Crees
  16. Hommage a S. Pickwick Esq – Debussy arr. Crees
  17. Rose Leaf Rag – Joplin arr. Crees
  18. Le Piccadilly – Satie arr.Crees
  19. Bethena – Joplin arr. Crees
  20. General Lavine – Debussy arr. Crees
  21. Stoptime Rag – Joplin arr. Crees

Conductor – Eric Crees

Recording label – MPR

Producer – Mike Purton

Recording engineer – Anthony Falkner