Creating the holiday, and
the 1902, spirit
Though your emcee (and faithful scribe)
arrived at Steamers a few minutes late for the Dec. 21, 2002, OCRS
meet, young Andrew Barrett entertained the audience in the interim.
Andy warmed up with "Dill Pickles," then got even hotter
with Charley Straight's "Hot Hands" before Eric Marchese
blew in and got things officially rolling.
Our final OCRS meet of the year lasted just over three and a quarter
hours. In that time, 11 musicians (including Eric) delivered a total
of 43 tunes (okay, so three weren't tunes, but medleys of various
tunes!). Quite a lineup, and quite a collection of varying styles
and musical material.
Two themes prevailed: One was the recognition of the centennial year
of eight of Scott Joplin's published pieces; the other was that of
the winter holiday season. Accordingly, nearly all of the performers
saw fit to include a 1902 Joplin piece, or a Christmas-themed tune,
or both, in each of their sets.
Eric offered anyone in the audience a one-dollar bill if they could
name the titles of all eight Joplin compositions from 1902. A couple
of titles were shouted out, but no one stepped up to the plate on
the bet. As the afternoon unfolded, six of the eight were performed.
The two that were not performed were "Cleopha" (which had
been performed at an earlier 2002 OCRS meeting) and the ragtime song
"I Am Thinking of My Pickaninny Days."
OCRS founder Eric Marchese started by firing off the lively '02 Joplin
masterpiece "Elite Syncopations" before turning things over
to Bill Mitchell. Bill's first selection was a raggy, jazzy piano
version of "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town." He followed
with one of his rag standards, the 1912 W.R. McKanlass piece "Bag
of Rags," then entered the 1902 Joplin derby with the wonderfully
march-like rag "The Strenuous Life," dedicated to then-President
Teddy Roosevelt's advocacy to the American public the leading the
so-called "strenuous life" led to vigorous health and other
OCRS newcomer and Orange County resident Jeffrey Briar tolled in with
one of Joplin's most well-known tunes of all, the 1902 rag/two-step
"The Entertainer." He took to the stage and displayed a
1937 "Novelty" instruction booklet for piano, demonstrating
one of the many techniques included by opening "The Entertainer"
by making the piano sound like the chimes of a clock. Jeffrey played
all four sections of the rag, adding some tango rhythms to the trio
and jazzing up the fourth theme before returning to the familiar first
theme and using it as a kind of coda to the piece.
Jeffrey's next selection was actually a medley of musical tunes familiar
to us all as pieces used in old-fashioned melodramas of the stage
and screen. Titled "Jeffrey Briar's: A Musical Melodrama,"
the work's genre had been referred to by Jeffrey, in the past, as
"halluci-theater"; he now describes it as "Imagin-elevision."
With snippets of pop tunes, the Classics and such film music as that
used by Chaplin and Laurel & Hardy, Jeffrey told a complete story
in music and in words, providing the on-the-spot narration as well.
He wound up his set with his 1987 "sequel" to Joplin and
Hayden's "Something Doing," titled "Nuthin' To It."
Its jazzy first theme gives way to some imaginative harmonies and
to a trio that uses the stoptime technique before returning to the
A theme for the piece's ending.
One of the hit performers of RagFest '02, Sonny Leyland, took the
stage, prefacing his first tune with the remark, "Believe it
or not, I have a Christmas tune for you. My wife's dad's a minister,
so I had to get something ready in time for next week." The result
was Sonny's own take on "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," in
which he recast this traditional piece mainly in the minor key before
breaking into a full-blown Stride version. Sonny followed up with
"Eddie's Blues" (by Eddie Boyd), an untitled original boogie
piece, and finally one of Sonny's personal favorites, Little Brother
Montgomery's "Shreveport Farewell."
Shirley Case, also fresh from a triumphant performance at RF'02, next
chimed in with her own Christmas offering, "Go Tell It on the
Mountain." She followed with Ron Ross' "Digital Rag,"
in which Shirley cleverly interpolated parts of Berlin's "White
Christmas" and, overall, add all kinds of interesting improvisations.
She wound up her set with a terrific rendition of Terry Waldo's wonderfully
bluesy and jazzy rag, "Proctology."
Brad Kay, yet another of RF'02's stars, opened his set with Joplin's
only march from 1902, the "March Majestic." He spent considerable
time expounding on the meaning of the cover image, which shows Prince
Hal of England placing the crown upon his own head. Brad explained
that the image, and the line of dialogue he espouses, is from Shakespeare.
Brad had researched this and gave us all of the background on King
Henry IV, his son Prince Hal (later Henry V) and concluded that all
of this had "absolutely nothing" to do with Joplin's fine
and often rousing march, played by Brad with great timing and verve.
Brad even added an original coda of his own that made perfect sense
musically and created a terrific ending for this rarely heard and
even more rarely played Joplin piano piece. Brad continued his set
with the 1927 pop song "Blue River" and Joplin's lovely
1906 rag "Eugenia."
Eric Marchese then offered another 1902 Joplin piece, "A Breeze
from Alabama," which publisher Stark advertised as "a story
in transitions" for its daring tonal plan, wherein the master
composer uses harmonic changes based on the flatted sixth note of
the scale as the tonal plan for the entire piece.
Sonny Leyland encored with an original composition so new it doesn't
even have a title yet, then followed up with an improvised boogie
tune. Both were exciting examples of Sonny's talents as a composer
and improviser of pieces cast in the barrelhouse, boogie and blues
The next five performers all continued with the Christmas theme. First
was Nancy Kleier, who took the stage and offered a Christmas-themed
set: "Evergreen" (James Scott) followed by "Reindeer"
(Joe Lamb), then the not-often heard "Holly and Mistletoe"
by Geraldine Dobyns.
Ron Ross performed an original Christmas song composed in 1981, which
he said was "before (his) ragtime phase." The tune, "It's
That Very Old, Merry Old Time of Year" offered entertaining lyrics
(sung by Ron, of course) and a catchy melody. Ron followed up with
his 1999 piece "Ragtime Song." Glen Perlman provided a very
raggy, rocked-up piano solo version of the ever-popular "Jingle
Bell Rock"; Eric Marchese then played an original rag for Christmas,
"A New England Yuletide," providing listeners with what
Eric said was "the more poignant side of the winter holidays."
Andrew Barrett offered a ragged-up version of "Winter Wonderland"
(composed by Felix Bernard), then followed with the Charles L. Johnson
staple "Crazy Bone" and an outstanding rendition of "Scott
Joplin's New Rag." Andy took this difficult piece at a nice,
easy gallop, to bring out all of the treble notes, and added some
interesting, walking bass figures of his own invention.
During the meeting, O.C. dancemeister Richard Duree made an appearance
to announce a ragtime, waltz and tango workshop in Santa Ana on Saturday,
January 18. Offered by Duree's Dunaj International Folk Ensemble,
it runs 1:30-4 p.m. at the Wise Place event center, 1410 N. Sycamore
St., Santa Ana. Richard said admission is $5 per person, that instruction
will be at the intermediate and advanced level, and that those interested
could phone 714.641.7450 or contact Richard via email at DanceTraditions@msn.com.
Stan Long took the stage, warming up with "Maple Leaf,"
then segueing into a pair of original medleys of popular songs. The
first, covering the theme of "dreams," included "I'm
Forever Chasing Rainbows," "New York, New York" and
"Someone to Watch Over Me." The second was a medley of Disneyana
that included "It's a Small World." Stan wound up his set
with a very funky original boogie tune.
Bill Mitchell encored with the 1906 piano solo version of "The
Ragtime Dance," which Scott Joplin originally had published in
— you guessed it — the year 1902, complete with lyrics
and dance steps. The shorter (four-page) version is the one most audiences
are acquainted with, and Bill delivered a terrific performance. The
Steamers audience even filled in the stoptime sections at the piece's
conclusion with hand clapping and foot stomping.
Jeffrey Briar encored with more Joplin — this time, the masterful
1909 rag-tango, "Solace — A Mexican Serende" —
adding many interesting improvisations and some bluesy touches to
this beautiful piano solo. Shirley Case's encore was Alexander Tansman's
Nancy Kleier followed with her encore, the holiday party-titled "Cracked
Ice" by George Cobb (1918); Eric Marchese then chimed in with
Tom Kelly's 1910 piece "A Certain Party."
Brad Kay's encore set was comprised of one of his favorites, Duke
Ellington's jazzy, bluesy and very modern-sounding "Awful Sad";
James P. Johnson's "Mule Walk," a demanding Stride piece
given wonderful dynamics by Brad, and the great "Back in Your
Own Back Yard," a great piece by Jolson, Rose and Dreyer offering
tantalizing augmented chordal harmonies.
This wonderfully fun December holiday meeting came to a close with
Pamla Eisenberg leading a singalong of that Johnny Marks Christmas
perennial, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," accompanied
by Eric at the Kawai grand piano. It was a lighthearted and enjoyable
way for musicians and audience to close out the year, leaving everyone
looking forward to a ragtime-filled 2003.