Adam Swanson still only digs on pop culture of the past.
The young pianist, who has been playing ragtime piano in the Diamond Belle Saloon since he was a teenager, has little interest in any type of entertainment one would call “modern.” No reality shows, no CGI animation and certainly no Wilco, Radiohead, Rod Wave or Elton John. Swanson’s music of choice is the type that sold more as sheet music over recorded form, as it was likely that when the music was new, households had pianos, not phonographs.
Like his preference of music that is a century old, films he favors are of the “silent” variety.
Swanson continues to keep busy offering entertainment of the past, performing weekly ragtime piano shows each Sunday on his Facebook and YouTube channels, while also playing a few nights a week through the end of the year in the Diamond Belle. His most recent offerings include a new record, “Take Me To The Land of Jazz,” recorded with Domingo Mancuello, a partner who too solely digs on entertainment offerings made before World War II, and hosting his “Silent Sundays with Swanson” series, now in the Durango Arts Center.
Their record is a 22-track release of classic pop songs from the golden age of early recorded music, the “newest” cut on the release originally written in 1932. It’s a throwback blast that’s catchy and fun while showcasing both musicians’ talent for historical entertainment; it was also a chance for Swanson to make a record with a colleague and friend.
“We’ve wanted to do an album together because we love the same types of songs,” he said. “He’s also one of the very few performers who can do authentic justice to ragtime and 1920s-style music.”
WHAT: “Spooky Silent Sunday with Swanson,” pianist Adam Swanson provides live piano accompaniment to silent films.
WHEN: 2 p.m. Sunday.
WHERE: Durango Arts Center, 802 East Second Ave.
TICKETS: $12, available online at https://bit.ly/3oI0ttF.
MORE INFORMATION: Call 259-2606 or visit https://bit.ly/3oI0ttF.
But right now, Swanson is all about the movies. The “Silent Sundays with Swanson” series is a chance for he and the audience to have a movie theater experience just as people did a century ago, with an orchestra or pianist providing the score. On Sunday it will be a piano, with Swanson playing on the DAC’s 9-foot grand piano. The films shown Sunday will be Laurel and Hardy’s 1928 film “Habeus Corpus,” Buster Keaton in “The Haunted House” from 1921 and “A Trip to the Moon” from 1902.
It’s a welcome challenge for Swanson, as he digs into the catalog of songs he knows, which can extend beyond classic ragtime tunes; it’s all about finding music that will fit a scene.
“This actually takes a lot more time and practice than most of my regular engagements because I have to try and take music that I already know and fit it to the action on the screen. The bigger feature length movies did have full orchestral scores composed just for the movies, but we don’t have a 1920s theater with a pit for an orchestra. And this happened during the original period too, pianists or orchestras would just improvise to the movie, and that’s what I do,” Swanson said. “I might take a little Debussy, for instance, for ‘A Trip to the Moon,’ the Laurel and Hardy I’m sure will be much more funny, so I can use a bit more ragtime for that.”
Swanson lives in Durango for the town’s history, as it’s a place that fits the brand of entertainment he offers. Showing old films and playing a niche style of music like ragtime isn’t common in 2021, but for some locals and tourists who visit, it makes for a perfect afternoon of entertainment.
“This is a special town, that’s one of the reasons I live here,” he said. “For some reason it attracts people that understand what I do. They get it, it’s unique.”
Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. Reach him at email@example.com.