You may not have known that a renowned expert in early blues and ragtime is right here in town: Professor Emeritus Bill Westcott retired from teaching music at York U. in 2010. He has a couple of solo CDs featuring his piano playing and has now assembled a group to play some of these songs in a more formal setting. Brenna MacCrimmon is on voice & percussion; Andrew Downing, bass; Tim Posgate, banjo and Chris Robinson on clarinet. In these performances, they take us back in time to a period when blues and jazz were emerging from ragtime and into vaudeville. This may be the first time such a comprehensive survey has been undertaken of this exciting period in music history. Before recordings got under way, much of this music was available only as sheet music and Westcott in his booklet notes gives us valuable information you probably won’t find anywhere else. The album title, and the group name, comes from “Ragtime Oriole”, a 1911 composition that shows the transition. The first bluesman was reputed to be Butler May aka Stringbeans, who died young in 1917 before he could record but he apparently came up with many of the blues piano licks that we all know. He isn’t included here but there are many others who are. Westcott spent quite a lot of time with blues piano legend Eurreal “Little Brother” Montgomery, whose own teacher was there in the early 1900’s and “Martin/Anderson Blues” is Westcott’s medley of two tunes remembered by Little Brother. Bessie Smith was so popular that she could tap the best songwriters and four songs here were made famous by her: “Mama’s Got the Blues” and “I Need A Little Sugar in My Bowl,” both co-written by Clarence Williams in 1923, are among the first appearances of ‘blue notes’ in popular music. Her “Careless Love Blues” is used as an example of an updated pre-blues ballad. Jelly Roll Morton, Merline Johnson and Sidney Bechet are all featured here as well. Ragtime Orioles is an all-star gathering, MacCrimmon has sung with Westcott often but is also involved in theatre and is world-famous as a singer of Turkish folk songs, bassist Downing is a founding member of the Art of Time Ensemble, Posgate is a jazz banjo ace with several CDs and Robinson is a master of New Orleans saxophone & clarinet with the Swing City band. They play this music very well indeed. The CD art is a 1908 map of New Orleans and the notes include a comprehensive reading list. The CD Release will be held at the Monarch Tavern at 12 Clinton St. on March 3rd. Check out