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Tuesday, September 23 2014 @ 03:19 AM CDT

Antonio Maggio and the Anarchist Blues

Art & Revolution

Among the noteworthy musicians active in New Orleans in the early 1900s, Antonio Maggio remains a dim historical figure, remembered only for a single pioneering composition, “I Got the Blues,” published in 1908. David Lee Joyner identifies Maggio’s work as an “early example of twelve-bar blues in ragtime” that foreshadows W. C. Handy’s famous “St. Louis Blues.” Peter Muir calls it a “milestone in blues history,” as it is the “first known instance in print of the [twelve-bar blues] sequence being associated with the notion of having the blues.”

Antonio Maggio and the Anarchist Blues

by Shane Lief
The Jazz Archivist
2012

Among the noteworthy musicians active in New Orleans in the early 1900s, Antonio Maggio remains a dim historical figure, remembered only for a single pioneering composition, “I Got the Blues,” published in 1908. David Lee Joyner identifies Maggio’s work as an “early example of twelve-bar blues in ragtime” that foreshadows W. C. Handy’s famous “St. Louis Blues.” Peter Muir calls it a “milestone in blues history,” as it is the “first known instance in print of the [twelve-bar blues] sequence being associated with the notion of having the blues.” Muir also points to “suggestive parallels” between Maggio’s “I Got the Blues” and Handy’s “St. Louis Blues.” However, any evidence of a direct borrowing is tenuous at best; as Lynn Abbott and Doug Seroff observe, more probably “Handy and Maggio were coincidentally attracted to similarly irrepressible ‘snatches’—Handy’s favorite term—of floating folk melody.” In any event, Maggio’s composition had a significant impact on local performing musicians and their audiences, receiving attention as a locally composed “Italian rag.” Other than this achievement, however, Maggio seems not to have played a prominent role in the burgeoning jazz scene of New Orleans, though he has been noted in an article that emphasizes the complex ethnic mixture of the city’s population—especially among its musicians—at the turn of the century.

Very little has been discovered about his early musical career, apart from the few facts that surround the genesis of “I Got the Blues.” As Maggio recounted during an interview in 1955, he was inspired by a musician he heard on the levee back in 1907, “an elderly negro with a guitar playing three notes.” Maggio told the story of this tune’s unlikely transformation into sheet music:

He kept repeating the notes for a long time. I didn’t think anything with only three notes could have a title so to satisfy my curiosity I asked what was the name of the piece. He replied, ‘I got the blues.’ I went home. Having this on my mind, I wrote ‘I Got the Blues,’ making the three notes dominating most of the time. The same night our five-piece orchestra played at the Fabaker [sic] restaurant (in New Orleans) ‘I Got the Blues’ which was composed with the purpose of a musical caricature, and to my astonishment became our most popular request number [...] I had no intention of publishing it because my interest in music was entirely classical. However, the people’s demand by now was so overwhelming that our first violinist, Barzin (later to play first viola with Toscanini at the Met) persisted until I finally consented to publish 1000 copies for piano, 500 for band and 500 for orchestra which were printed in Cincinatti [sic] by Zimmerman Publishing House. This took place in 1908. The copies were sold in a very short time. I wasn’t interested in another edition for the reason already explained.

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