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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 good things.

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 mold.

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 "Blues Prelude."

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.

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