Bandmates’ relationship spans five decades
It may have been baseball over which they first bonded, but it was bands like The Beatles that solidified a friendship and musical relationship that has spanned almost five decades.
Kevin Sanders, Basehor, and Pat Ireland, Mission, met at the age of 7 when Ireland moved into Sanders’ neighborhood in Kansas City, Kan. Both the same age, they formed a friendship playing baseball together. By age 10, however, they had traded baseball cards in for records by The Beatles, The Kinks, the Rolling Stones and The Who.
“Like most people our age, we first were interested in British invasion rock music,” Sanders, who is now 56, said. “Those were like our four favorite bands.”
Together, Sanders and Ireland have since created several bands they say are inspired by those rock bands they first loved, but to the indiscriminating ear, the music may sound a little different. The music they have played and performed together as The Etcetera String Band, The Isles of Rhythm and The Rhythmia is ragtime — a very structured, syncopated genre of music that began in the mid-1890s and died out about 1917.
Sanders said he and Ireland discovered ragtime initially from listening to British invasion rock music and wanting to find out more.
“As we got older … we started looking into the kind of music that influenced those bands,” Sanders said, noting the blues as a big influence of bands like The Beatles. “And we kept going back in time and when we discovered ragtime, we really liked that and just kind of stuck with it.”
Ragtime, Sanders said, has a specific arrangement that is common to almost all ragtime arrangements.
“Generally, the first theme is played twice, (the second) theme is played twice, (the first theme) is repeated only once, and then the third theme is played twice,” Sanders said, adding that the third theme almost always changes keys. “Then we’ll stay in that key for the fourth (and final) theme, which is played twice. It’s a syncopated melody played over an unsyncopated, or steady, accompaniment.”
Sanders is a self-taught musician specializing in guitar, bass, banjo and percussion, among others. Ireland is a classically trained violinist. Both have written their own ragtime compositions for years, with Ireland saying he writes about one a day. The two formed their first ragtime band, The Etcetera String Band, in 1973 with fellow musician Dennis Pash. That band disbanded in 2000.
In 2009, Sanders and Ireland put together The Isles of Rhythm, which included performances from several other musicians, specifically for releasing a Christmas album, “Merry Christmas Tonight.” The album includes ragtime, Caribbean and Irish renditions of well-known Christmas favorites, like “Here Comes Santa Claus” and “Ava Maria,” and also some Christmas arrangements original to The Isles of Rhythm band members.
“It’s surprising how that stuff fits together,” Sanders said of the different genres of music included on the disc. “There’s certain ones that just seem to work together.”
The most recent incarnation of the band, The Rhythmia, which includes member Bob Ault, formed shortly after the “Merry Christmas Tonight” release in 2009. The three members perform original ragtime pieces by early composers like Scott Joplin and Charles Johnson, as well as their own ragtime and Caribbean compositions. Sanders said Caribbean music is always part of the repertoire because of the strong similarities between the music.
The members are well aware of Kansas City's significance in ragtime history.
“Kansas City was one of the most important places where ragtime music developed,” Sanders said, adding that Joplin’s first ragtime composition, or “rag,” was published in Kansas City. Outside of St. Louis, he said, “more rags were published in Kansas City, Mo., (than anywhere else).”
During performances, the Rhythmia members play a lot of music published in Kansas City and also offer history about Kansas City ragtime, as they did during a recent performance at the Kansas City, Mo., Public Library. Kansas City wouldn't be so widely acknowledged for its jazz history if not for ragtime, Ireland said.
“If (people) talk about Kansas City jazz, they need to know where the roots are and the fact that there was something before that that influenced (jazz),” Ireland said.
Over the years, Sanders and Ireland have played frequently in the Kansas City metro area and at festivals throughout the country, bringing to audiences their long-held belief that though ragtime’s heyday may be over, its influence over jazz and rock and roll makes it an important genre of music to remember.
“For me, popular music has the same elements (as ragtime), so that the things that made ragtime good (back then) are the same things that make rock and roll good,” Sanders said. “It’s just finding them.”
And unlike ragtime, which died out once the
blues came on the scene, Sanders and Ireland say their friendship will never suffer the same fate. They’ve been together this long, after all.
“We’re more like brothers, and that just goes (on),” Sanders said. “If you’re more like brothers, your relationship just kind of continues. It doesn’t ever go away.”
The Rhythmia has several performances scheduled for 2011, including the Turkey Creek Festival May 21, 2011, in Merriam. Go online to sandersmusic.com for more dates.
“Merry Christmas Tonight” and the self-titled “The Rhythmia” albums can be purchased at sandersmusic.com, amazon.com, iTunes and cdbaby.com.