Smokey Mokes

Smoky Mokes — played by Dennis Pash and
Meredith Axelrod

A very popular cakewalk from 1899, “Smoky Mokes” was composed by Abe Holzmann. Here it is played by Dennis Pash and Meredith Axelrod on Saturday, 17 November 2007 at the 21st annual West Coast Ragtime Festival.

About the song:

Smoky Mokes was the first of Holzmann’s compositions and it was dedicated, possibly as a commercial play, to the then grand old man of Tin Pan Alley, Monroe H. Rosenfeld . It is a splendid cakewalk in AABBACCBB form with a 4-bar introduction and a 4 bar interlude between C- and B-strains whereby the AABBA and CCBB sections are in the major keys of C and F respectively. The original sheet music scores the final bar with a DC but no corresponding Fine is given – repeating the AABBA strains feels about right. It was also published as a song with a “Humorous Darky Text”. The front cover of the original sheet music shows a quartet of Negro lads- the singers of the song perhaps or may be the cake walkers? Who knows?

About the odd mandolin:

Technically, that’s a type of mandolin called a mandolin-banjo. It’s a mandolin in function with a banjo head, much like how an ukulele-banjo is essentially an ukulele with a banjo head. These instruments were created for the louder sound they produced. says:

Abe Holzmann (1874-1939) was born in New York City. He was conservatory trained and was the composer of “Bunch of Blackberries” (1900) that was popularized internationally by J.P. sousa. “Smoky Mokes” became a very popular and successful composition.

Described as a cakewalk and two-step, we find, in the vocal parts, a text that is in Negro dialect and the song is an example of the lyrics in what were to become known as “Coon songs.” Lyrics are by W. Murdoch Lind. The lyrics are typical of many “coon” songs of the era and below we give an example of the lyrics.

There are two versions published with different covers. The vocal copy has a picture of Edna Collins in the foreground with a caricature of a Negro in the background. In the instrumental cover there is a picture of four young Negro lads. The cover reminds us that it can be used as a cakewalk or two-step. Also given on the left of the picture is a statement: “published also as a song with humorous darky text.” The given text given above is what is referred to in this statement. The cakewalk/ragtime song was primarily an instrumental form, when the words are added it became the Coon song.

2 replies on “Smokey Mokes”

[…] Back in May of 2008, when I was living in Venice Beach, I blogged a YouTube video of an 1899 ragtime piece. Yesterday I was coming out of the subway in San Francisco and the banjo-mandolin player from that video was busking. […]

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