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Young guns lend pop to September meet

A couple of young piano students energized the Sept. 14, 2002, meeting of Orange County Ragtime Society and got the crowd ready for the upcoming annual OC Ragtime festival. Eight musicians, including three OCRS newcomers, took to the stage and delivered a total of 38 tunes over a three-hour period.

The meeting received a strong jump-start by Andrew Barrett and Brett Torres, two 14-year-old piano students whose interest in ragtime lends credence to the fact that ragtime music appeals to all age groups. The music continues to attract younger fans devoted to mastering the skill of performing ragtime, and Andy and Brett are proof of that.

OCRS founder Eric Marchese emceed the proceedings, kicking things off with Charles Hunter's first-composed rag, "Tickled to Death," written in 1899 but unpublished till 1901. He followed with Joplin's 1903 piece "Palm Leaf Rag," an elegant composition that just doesn't get played enough.

Brett Torres took the stage, wowing the crowd with his lively rendition of Joplin's 1896 descriptive march, "The Great Crush Collision," complete with a whistle being blown, on cue, by Brett himself. Brett followed with two of his own compositions, "Morning Garden" and "Creeping Triplets." The former is a semi-classical piece with the unusual feature of having numerous time signature changes and a mood that moves from plaintive to increasingly forceful. The piece allowed Brett to show the benefit of his outstanding classical piano training. Like its title, "Creeping Triplets" has numerous triplets in the treble, shifting rhythms, general mood that's deliberately "weird" (or "creepy"), and a powerful, driving finish.

Eric then offered the popular hit by May Aufderheide, "The Thriller," which Eric said was named for a wooden rollercoaster ride in Indianapolis. The 1909 piece, Eric said, always reminds him of amusement parks and fun zones. Eric then brought an OCRS newcomer to the stage, the outstanding pianist and piano teacher, Shirley Case, who treated the audience to a set largely devoted to lady ragtime composers. Shirley started with Imogene Giles' "Red Peppers," demonstrating outstanding technique and control at the piano and some dynamite dynamics. She followed with Irene Cozad's "Eatin' Time" and Irene Giblin's "Chicken Chowder," then closed off her set with a non-lady composer, Harry Jentes, and one of her favorite tunes of his, the animal fad dance "Bantam Step" from 1915.

Eric related the story of how the title "Eatin' Time" helped propel him to write "Winnin' Time," his 1991 tribute to the winning spirit of the Los Angeles Lakers. He played the piece because, he noted, L.A. now had two championship pro basketball teams: The Lakers and, since the summer ended, the LA Sparks (women's pro team). He then played a far more serious piece, his 1997 elegy to Princess Diana ("The Last Princess"), to mark the five-year anniversary of her passing. The piece, he said, was about loss, grief, acceptance and moving forward in life while remembering those lost, and that its principles also applied to the recent observance of the first anniversary of Sept. 11.

Ron Ross then announced that he'd play three pieces that were "old, new, and newer..." He started with the "old," a piece, he said, that he'd been "struggling with for months," James Scott's masterful 1911 birdcall rag, "The Ragtime Oriole." The "newer" piece was Ron's standard "Digital Rag," while the "new" was a piece he calls "Friday the 13th, Part 1." He then wrapped up his set with his song tune, "Good Thing Going," with vocals provided by OCRS newcomer Jim Lutz.

Eric then played 'Stump the Crowd.' He first played a brief piece and coaxed the audience into identifying first the genre, then the composer, then (hopefully) the actual title. After everyone was stumped, a lone audience member called out the correct answer, "Little Black Baby," written by Joplin in 1903 as the melody to a poem written by Chicago poet Louise Armstrong Bristol. Eric then tried again with a jazzy tune out of the teens. Shirley Case identified it as novelty style; Bob Pinsker got the composer, Charley Straight. No one knew the title, so Eric gave one more hint: "It's got the same title as a classic rag." Andy Barrett got it right with "Blue Grass Rag" (from 1918; Joe Lamb wrote a rag of the same title published years later, in the 1960s).

Andy then took his turn, delivering Harry P. Guy's melodic ragtime waltz from 1900, "Echoes from the Snowball Club." The piece is rarely played at ragtime meetings, and Andy's performance was beautiful and expressive. He followed with another rarity, "Cactus Rag" by L.P. Gibson.

Brett Torres' encore started with the Joplin-Chauvin rag "Heliotrope Bouquet," which Brett gave unusual dynamics and some interesting register changes in both hands, to mix it up. He followed with yet another original composition, "The Ocean." Brett performed this piece at RagFest 2001; it combines a jazzy, funky sound with more classical aspects of piano literature, and has a main theme that's quiet, soulful and dramatic.

Continuing his practice of unveiling a different 1902 Joplin rag at each meeting this year, this time Eric chose Joplin's original version of his folk ballet, "The Ragtime Dance," which Eric said was launched in late 1899. Joplin pressured Stark into publishing this 9-page score, complete with lyrics and dance steps by Joplin, in 1902; Stark lost money on it and later chopped it down to four pages, re-issuing it four years later in the "piano rag" format most pianists today learn. Eric played the entire original score, which has a different intro, two opening sections that serve as the "verse," and the part most know as the intro as a bridge between the "main" section (the "ragtime dance" theme) and the part most know as the second or B strain. Eric noted that each section represented a variety of Negro folk dances (the Backstep Prance, the Jenny Cooler Dance, the Sedidus Walk, etc.) and that the stoptime sections at the end were meant to be clapped or stomped to. Eric did the playing, and the audience merrily did the stomping.

Bob Pinsker, with a stack of Library of Congress pieces by songwriter Spencer Williams in tow, launched into an entire set dedicated to Williams. He gave some background information on Williams, then started with "My Little Moonlight Maid," which Bob noted was quite "advanced harmonically" for something out of 1913. Indeed, he was entirely correct. Next, Bob did the 1916 tune "Shim-Me-She-Wabble," Williams' first big dance tune hit. Bob even sang the last half of the tune. Bob then related the story of how Williams and buddy Clarence Williams (no relation) copyrighted a tune called "Trix Ain't Walkin' No More," and sold the tune to Shapiro-Bernstein in 1919 - about the same time that "Jelly Roll" Morton said that he had heard his racetrack buddy "Kid North" playing a tune of the same title, which Morton subsequently used in the verse of "Someday Sweetheart"! The task of the two Williams', Bob said, was how to render lyrics about the 'world's oldest profession' publishable. The Williams's version of the tune remains unpublished but, thanks to Bob, we can now hear it played once again.

Bob then unveiled "Roumania," another collaboration with Clarence Williams (and Dave Peyton). He followed it with Williams' "Got to Cool My Doggies Now," which became the first piano roll by the nineteen-year-old Fats Waller. Bob then wound up his Williams set with "Your Time Now," another great Williams tune made into a piano roll by Waller. In fact, Bob noted, Fats tacked his favorite riff ending onto the piece, a typical Fats lick that would appear again and again in the future. Its use here on the roll of the Williams song was its first appearance anywhere.

Jim Lutz then took the stage and delivered a second centennial (1902) Joplin rag, the march/two-step, "Cleopha," adding some nice treble embellishments during the trio strain. He followed up with the Joplin-Marshall tune "Swipesy."

Stan Long delivered a hilarious Tom Lehrer song from the '60s, "The Wild West is Where I Want to Be," which refers to above-ground atomic bomb tests (ended in 1963). Stan offered us his "subtitled" version (as he calls it) with commentary of his own devising, "so that my two-year-old grandson can understand the lyrics!" Stan then offered a version of "Maple Leaf Rag" with "alternate elements," and a rendering of Confrey's ever-popular "Dizzy Fingers."

Shirley Case encored with Bolcom's "Old Adam," the opening rag in the four-rag "Garden of Eden" suite. The piece has a funky, jazzy A theme and a wonderful riff ending.

Andy Barrett encored with a Charley Straight tune. He noted that although Straight composed more than 30 rags, "around 20 are unpublished, available only on piano roll." Andy chose "Hot Hands," one of the few published pieces and, Andy said, the composer's "biggest hit," adding his own piano roll-style licks and tricks to a wonderful performance. Andy then impressed the entire room by playing the impressionistic, modern 1931 piece by Beiderbecke, "In the Dark." Andy proved the composition to be slow, moody and impressionistic, and his handling of it was quiet, reflective and wistfully pretty.

Bob then wrapped up the afternoon with a rendition of "The Tucker Trot" by Jules Buffano. He also told the crowd about his upcoming performance of the James P. Johnson piece "Yamekraw" for piano and full orchestra. He's performing this piece, which is very rarely heard in this full form, in late October with the North Coast Symphony in two concerts (Oct. 26-27) at Mira Costa College in Oceanside (north San Diego County). Bob invited the crowd to attend, and also invited everyone to be sure to attend RagFest (Oct. 19-20), the once-a-year ragtime festival held right at Steamers and, three blocks away, at the Fullerton College Recital Hall. Take Bob's advice and don't miss out on this great event, now in its third year!

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