jabw_vintage/report no. 40

Let us tell you about......

Jules Ruben

this page first published by John Wright, 28 July 2007
last updated 24 November 2012vintage@r2ok.co.uk

Jules Ruben - A Lifetime In Music

written by Stephanie Ruben

NEW! Thanks to ragtime enthusiasts in USA, Ron O'Dell and Tom Brier, we can now make available some scores for Jules Rubens' ragtime compositions prepared by Ron O'Dell, and live recordings by pianist Tom Brier, see below

Jules was born on February 11th 1912, at home in 122 Evering Road, Stoke Newington, the youngest of three, and began his love of piano from listening to his mother playing and singing old music hall numbers... the first piece she taught him was a piece in 3/4 time called "Peggy O'Neill"...finding that he could play and memorise it from the first attempt, piano lessons followed, and his natural gift for sight-reading and technique flourished.

Jules' dad was a huge music hall fan, with his own band, The Rubani Trio (all ladies)! and he encouraged Jules and his older sister, Hilda (who was already a soubrette on stage) to perform, and aged fourteen, he was billed at the London Music Hall, Shoreditch, as "The Wonder Boy Pianist", who had memorised two thousand classical pieces...the audience were asked to call out any request, and he would be able to play it!

Well, crazy publicity, of course...his dad was always there in the audience, calling out the loudest, and only the pieces that Jules knew, so they didn't have to worry!

Jules was discovered there by an important agent, R. G. Blackie, from the F. Nappaly Agency, who had an act called The Four Page Boys...singing, music, tap-dancing and comedy...and they played variety houses all over the country for the following three years...he also accompanied many of the acts on the bill, including Arthur Askey, Hildegarde, Elsie Carlisle, Bruce Forsyth and Morecambe & Wise, who were just young boys themselves, at the time.

When Jules was about eighteen, he headed down to Archer Street, the place that was the heart of a musician's living, long before engagements were booked over the phone etc., waiting for gigs to be offered, with the likes of Ambrose and Jack Hylton. By now Jules' first love was jazz...he'd been listening to Art Tatum, Fats Waller, Teddy Wilson etc., and his piano style was hugely influenced by them (especially Tatum). Credited as a great exponant and lover of stride piano, he was dubbed as "the man with the fast left hand", and for his amazing stretch for tenths with ease.

Jules' first residency was at Mrs. Merrick's 43 Club in Gerrard Street (sometimes playing till 8.00am, when the last customer left)! He also played for many of the big publishing companies (such as Chappell, Francis Day & Hunter, Keith Prowse, etc.) as a song demonstrator, playing newly-published sheet music to the public, but with his own style and improvisation, and through many requests, it led to his own syncopated piano tuition, and lessons in modern improvisation...The Jules Ruben School of Modern Rhythmic Piano Playing.

Recordings of his piano style were released on the Rex label, and through a big publicity drive by Keith Prowse, Jules soon had many pupils (including the Duchess of Argyle)! He also devised and produced his own unique set of musical aids to learning...speecial charts for chord and note recognition, and "Play-A-Note, playing cards depicting all the bass and treble notes on the stave, with a series of games to be played with them, to improve sight-reading (still available today)!
In 1936 he recorded at Abbey Road studios for Parlophone, a series of Latin-American sessions, which led to his association with Nat and Maurice Berman, and The Jules Ruben Trio. This included double-piano scores with bandleader Felix King (Jules' cousin) and their good friend, Jack May, and they landed a year's recording contract with Decca, putting out more than twelve records in that time...a huge success for then.

When war broke out, Jules served in the RAF, but was released early for health reasons, and so found himself in great demand, as many musicians weren't home yet...he toured the country, playing the military bases, with visiting american artists like Martha Ray, Carol Landis, Stubby Kaye, Mitzi Gaynor, Kay Francis and Celia Lipton etc.
Jules played and recorded with the Hermanos Deniz Cuban Rhythm Band, renowned for their truly exciting and authentic latin sound (and Jules the only white guy in the band)! His solos were featured heavily in their sets, and he was equally noted for his generous accompaniament, when called for, with artists like Jessie Matthews and Adelaide Hall etc. Stefane Grappelli once said, "Jules, you have a place in the sun"!
He played for (and appeared briefly in)! the 1959 movie "The Sundowners", with Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr, being the dubbed piano music behind Glynis Johns' hands! Years of radio, recordings and TV followed, with regular appearances at London nightclubs...Freddie Mills Nite Spot, The Wardroom, Pigalle and the Talk Of The Town, and in later years, Pizza On The Park, Ronnie's and The Queen Elizabeth Hall, and with some memorable sessions of double-piano with his life-long friend Lennie Felix (and ex-pupil, actually)!

Jules' piano course was also taken up in more recent years by contemporary players like Keith Emerson, and other rock musicians.
His own jazz and ragtime compositions are part of Zomba's catalogue (formerly Bruton Music), and have been used all over the world for various TV and radio shows...most recently, in Hollywood's "The Last Shot".

Thanks to ragtime enthusiasts in USA, we can now make available some scores for Jules Rubens' ragtime compositions and a midi file, prepared by Ron O'Dell, and live recordings by pianist Tom Brier:

click the thumbnails for the full score:

Tea Room Rag

listen to the mp3: Tea Room Rag The Cad

listen to the mp3: The Cad

Red Rose Rag

listen to the midi: Red Rose Rag Stepping Out!

Jules Ruben was presented to the Queen at the VJ Day celebrations, following a concert he gave for the Veterans,one of the many works of charity he always did in his later years, and was given the BBC's Lifetime Award for Musical Contribution, which was his greatest honour.
Jules died peacefully at home in Hendon, London, on July 6th 2006, aged 94, with all his loving family around him...remembered for his fun and laughter, bright and optimistic spirit, and a true virtuoso jazz pianist...the last of his era.

Copyright Stephanie Ruben 2007

You can join the very active discussion groups and talk about Jules Rubens and other artistes of the 1920s-1950s:

The Facebook group: Golden Age of British Dance Bands

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