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Ragging Rockin' Taco Hosts the OCRS for the Second Time

For the August 2003 meet, OCRS once again convened at the Rockin' Taco Cantina in downtown Fullerton, complete with its twin grand pianos. Nine pianists (including your emcee) turned out, and there were a few surprises in store, too. A total of 37 pieces were performed during this relatively brief (three hours) musicale.

To limber up, Stan Long noodled on Joplin's "The Entertainer" until the club's miking system was ready. To officially open the afternoon, Frank Sano then took to "piano #1" (the one closer to most of the audience) and ran through one of the standard rags in his repertoire, "Dill Pickles."

Getting things officially underway, emcee Eric Marchese responded to a request for "Found ... and Lost," a short, lyrical original he composed in 2000, before inviting Bill Mitchell up to the second piano for some duets.

Bill and Eric honored the centennials of two 1903 publications - Joplin and Hayden's "Something Doing" and Joplin's "Weeping Willow" before launching into Wenrich's "The Smiler" and Cooke's "Blame It on the Blues."

Taking a page out of Karl Haas' book, Bob Pinsker offered a "mystery composer set," stating that he would perform three different pieces by the mystery composer and ask the audience to secretly provide him the name of the composer they believe wrote the pieces. After the first piece, Bob stated, "Nobody, I'll wager, knows the composer of that one" (your emcee believed it was lady Novelty pianist and composer Edythe Baker). He proceeded with tune #2 (your scribe guessed James P. Johnson), then the third (no guess here!).

Finally, Bob revealed the answers: the mystery composer was none other than Jelly Roll Morton. The first tune was an obscurity called "We Are Elks," written by Jelly Roll in the late '30s for a national convention of the Elks Club in New York. Morton pal (and biographer-historian) Roy Carew wrote the tune's forgettable lyrics under the name "Ed Werac," Jelly hand-drew the cover artwork and the piece was self-published by the duo in August, 1938. Alas, no one at the convention showed any interest in purchasing the sheet music; disgusted by the lack of response, Jelly tossed out all known published copies of the score (but a copy remains in the Library of Congress).

The second Morton tune was "Superior Rag"; the third was J. Lawrence Cook's transcription, from a 1939 recording, of Jelly's arrangement of "Mamie's Blues," a desolate tune played and sung by the New Orleans blues singer of the turn of the century named Mamie Desdumes.

Les Soper got his set rolling with a beautifully expressive rendering of the majestic "Fig Leaf Rag," followed with a gorgeous interpretation "Cottontail Rag," a great Joe Lamb rag that doesn't get played nearly enough, and added to the Morton feel of Bob's set with a measured performance of the ever-popular "Shreveport Stomp."

Emcee Eric noted that "Fig Leaf" has served as a model of the perfect rag for many of his own compositions; as an example, he played the final section from his 1993 rag "The Grape Vine," noting the similarities with the D theme of "Fig Leaf." Eric then performed "Palm Leaf Rag," another Joplin piece enjoying its centennial this year.

Bill Mitchell carried the afternoon's Morton flavor even further with "New Orleans Joys" and "The Pearls." The latter has become something of a signature tune for Bill, and he noted that it's "my favorite - not a stomp, but up-tempo." Bob then joined Bill on the second piano and the duo gave us even more Morton - this time, a four-handed version of "Grandpa's Spells." The crowd certainly got a big kick out of the trio's "crash-bass," a technique written into the score as a novel and surprising performance device.

Ron Ross delivered three of his own compositions. He warmed up with "Ragtime Song" and followed with "Sutter Creek Evolutionary Rag," retitled by Ron from "Sutter Creek Rag" to its current name because the piece "kept evolving" every time he has played it. This time, it was the closing section that got a new twist. Ron closed his set with "Mirella," a pretty rag-tango with a haunting main theme and a minor-key second section.

Stan Long gave us "Uncle Herbie's Rag" (by Robin Frost), then "My Ditty," an original Long medley that contains bits and pieces of several familiar tunes, including "a patriotic song, a car dealership ad, a Disneyland ride song, and who knows what else?"

Andrew Barrett gave us Cobb's 1918 rag "Cracked Ice" and Scott's late (1920) rag "Pegasus." Andrew prefers to add his own ideas on the repeats of strains. For example, on the final chorus of the "Cracked Ice" trio, he slowed the tempo, as one might hear on a cakewalk, while he closed "Pegasus" with some interesting embellishments on the last two repeats of theme B, which close out the rag.

Frank Sano and Les Soper duetted on "Darktown Strutter's Ball" and "The Old Piano Roll Blues" - both tunes referred to as your basic `saloon music' by Frank.

Eric and Bob then took to the twin pianos for a rendition of "A Real Slow Drag" from Joplin's 1911 opera "Treemonisha," with guest vocalist Erika Ceporius Miller blowing everyone away with her knockout vocal version of this haunting masterpiece.

Bob did four solo encores, starting with Lamb's intricate "Ethiopia." He then dove into a 1920 song by "Alex Belledna" (actually a pseudonym for the wife of pop songwriter Maceo Pinkard, whose maiden name was Belle Alexander), "It's Right Here for You" and J. Lawrence Cook's 1930 piano piece "Modernistic Reverie." He closed his set with Don Ewell's "Parlor Social," noting that this was the first time any of Ewell's tunes had been heard at an OCRS meet. This one was from a transcription by English pianist Ray Smith. Bob said Ewell's compositions were at first heavily influenced by James P. Johnson, later by Jelly Roll Morton; fittingly, "Parlor Social" has the Morton sound, but mixed with Stride-style licks. The piece's trio is especially exciting, with a jumpy, driving rhythm.

Andrew encored with a 1998 Marchese original, "Rarin' to Go," subtitled, "A Ragtime Scrambler," then played his own original, "Frequent Flyer Rag," completed earlier this year, and Ron encored with Scott's 1911 masterwork "Ragtime Oriole."

Bob then wrapped things up with Pete Wendling's "All the Quakers are Shoulder Shakers," singing the piece's humorous lyrics and playing the raggy chorus as an up-tempo toe-tapper, and Blake's "Baltimore Todalo." Eric joined him on the second piano for Botsford's "Black and White Rag." Finally, to close out the day with a bang, Andrew joined Eric on his piano and Les joined Bob for an eight-handed rendition of "Maple Leaf Rag."

Next OCRS is at Steamers Jazz Club on Saturday, Sept. 20, from 1 to 4:30 p.m. See you there!

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