Felix Arndt – 1915: What the Mississippi Rag is to piano ragtime, Nola is to the genre of Novelty piano solos. While actually not a true novelty rag, it was certainly a pioneering effort in that direction and one of the most well known pieces of a style that would ultimately become a display of pianistic prowess. Arndt started out as a self-taught pianist and later studied with some of the best teachers in New York. He became a staff musician for the Duo-Art reproducing piano company, cutting many spectacular rolls totaling 3000 in all during his short tenure there. Nola was composed for his fiance of the time, Nola Locke, who was both a vocal teacher and professional concert singer. This piano solo caught on very quickly, and lyrics were later added to a simplified version of it. There was even a modified fox trot edition in the early 1920s. Unfortunately for all, Arndt’s life was cut short during the world-wide flu epidemic of 1918. Based on his few published compositions, he certainly had the potential to equal the talents of Billy Mayerl or Zez Confrey, both successful novelty and jazz composers.
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