The Sting Is A Fun Movie With The Wrong Music

2 08 2012

I finally re-watched The Sting, after having last seen it a couple of decades ago. It is a fun movie, with plenty of twists, although some aren’t all that hard to see coming. The period costumes, sets and vehicles are great. But there is one nit: the music is from the wrong era. Don’t get me wrong, I like Ragtime. It’s just that Ragtime wasn’t really all that popular during The Depression.

Ragtime, an uptempo derivation from the Blues (a common root for most American music forms), was at the height of its popularity in the late 1800’s up until about 1918. After that, it started to decline as Jazz began to dominate the popular music scene, which stepped aside a little to make room for Swing, an evolution of Jazz. Jazz shares a common root with Ragtime, having also been based on Blues, and the early forms of Jazz were influenced greatly by Ragtime.

But The Sting is set in 1936. This was when artists like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Chick Webb and other early Jazz artists were on their way up, and right about the time that Swing and The Big Band sound was starting to hit its stride. At this point in history, Ragtime would have been effectively dead from a large-scale broadcast perspective, largely limited to individuals playing it on their phonographs at home. Radio and dance club music was dominated considerably by Jazz and Swing, with Satchmo, the Duke, Fletcher Henderson, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey and Artie Shaw being some of the bigger names of that era. It would have been just before John Hammond started to introduce the Kansas City music style to the world, with Count Basie being one of the bigger names from the Missouri side of the Mississippi.

Granted, Ragtime had some something of a revival, but that really didn’t happen until the 1940’s, when some Ragtime standards were re-arranged for Jazz and Swing bands. Yes, some records of Ragtime songs, particularly Scott Joplin, started to appear in the mid-1930’s, but they weren’t part of the mainstream music scene for that time period.

Had the movie been set in the late teens or early 1920’s, then I could buy Ragtime as suitable for the soundtrack. But this is one area where period correctness was overlooked. It doesn’t detract from the story, but it does seem out of place for the time period.

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