Young guns lend pop to
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written in 1899 but unpublished till 1901.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,
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
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
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!