Ragging up Rockin’
Taco Cantina for the first time
For the June 2003 meet, the OCRS broke
precedent by making Rockin’ Taco Cantina in downtown Fullerton
a new alternate destination for Orange County’s ragtime fans.
The venue’s primary advantage: Two grand pianos in place at
all times, allowing for more four-, six- and even eight-handed renditions
of the great ragtime literature. This was the first time OCRS had
gathered anywhere besides Steamers Jazz Club; the turnout of musicians
— 11 in all — was a formidable lineup of southern California
ragtime talent and the audience showing was impressive. And although
things didn’t get underway until nearly 1:30, a total of 40
pieces was performed.
Emcee Eric Marchese opened with an early James Scott tune. His original
choice was "A Summer Breeze," for two reasons — this
was the start of summer, and this year is the 1903 piece’s centennial
year. But, as he explained, he liked the very upbeat, raggy "The
Fascinator," from the same year, much better, so rendered that
Eric continued with the often-stormy, often patriotic-sounding 1907
Joplin masterpiece "The Nonpareil," then ended his set with
his newest composition. Called "Quiddity Rag," the piece
opens with two folk rag-style themes, then segues into a trio inspired
by the sounds of rhythm-and-blues music.
Andrew Barrett then took to one of the two pianos and delivered the
lovely mood tune "The Legend of Lonesome Lake," a 1922 piece
by Eastwood Lane from the composer’s six-piece suite "The
Adirondacks Sketches." Andrew followed with Lamb’s immortal
"Top Liner Rag," a tough piece handled admirably by this
Bob Pinsker gave us the full and complete version, off the 1914 score,
of Euday Bowman’s ubiquitious and now-classic "Twelfth
Street Rag." He followed this with "Karnival on the Keys,"
a piece by Willie The Lion Smith, from a 1945 transcription by Harold
Potter. Bob said the piece is described as "a modernistic piano
novelty," and his performance is very much so, sounding like
something from the mid-1930s, with numerous inventive modulations.
Then, more Lion, with "Concentratin'." Bob said the piece
was recorded by its composer in different ways over a twenty-year
period — either rhythmically or rhapsodically, depending on
The Lion’s mood. Bob emphasized both aspects but leaned more
to the melodic, with tricky interplay between both hands. Like "Karnival,"
the piece has very "modern" harmonies typical of the composer.
Les Soper made another OCRS appearance, launching his set with an
expressive reading of Joplin’s lovely and gentle 1904 intermezzo
"The Chrysanthemum." Les followed with one of Joplin’s
all-time greats, "Fig Leaf Rag" (1908), then a modern masterpiece:
Glenn Jenks’ passionate, haunting opus "Sosua" (1988),
emphasizing the piece’s lyricism.
Ron Ross unveiled two of his biggest hits off his CD "Ragtime
Renaissance": "Joplinesque" (subtitled "a Gringo
Tango") and "Retro Rag," a bouncy piece with a lyrical
trio, played in tribute to Bill Mintz (the rag was his favorite).
Brad Kay then took to the stage and delivered Fats Waller’s
"African Ripples," which has a jazzy, Harlem sound. Brad
took the piece from a lyrical opening to a faster tempo in the more
rhythmic sections, to an all-out Stride-style ending.
Vocalist Pamela Eisenberg then joined Brad and belted out the comical
lyrics to "Ragtime Cowboy Joe" (Muir, Clarke and Abrahams).
Brad then noted that he had tracked about a half-dozen songs by James
Reese Europe, including "I’ve Got the Finest Man"
from 1912. Ms. Eisenberg then delivered a vocal rendering of the song’s
delightful lyrics, with accompaniment by Brad.
Eric returned to the stage and, with Jeffrey Briar at the second piano,
the audience got four-handed versions of "St. Louis Rag,"
"The Easy Winners" and "Pine Apple Rag." Jeffrey
then soloed on Morton’s lively "King Porter Stomp,"
one of Jelly Roll’s best and most famous, with typical (for
the composer) licks in the treble and a great striding bass.
Inspired by this stomp, Brad Kay delivered two more: Fats Waller's
"Midnight Stomp" and (by request from an audience member)
Duke Ellington’s "Jubilee Stomp." Brad said the former
was well-delivered by Waller and an orchestra in 1929, and indeed,
Brad’s performance offers many Fats touches, including a Stride
bass and breaks in the melody. By contrast, the Ellington number is
very jazzy and modern and, in Brad’s hands, a driving piano
Nancy Kleier opened her set with "Welcome Rag" (Jager),
which has a catchy theme that opens and closes the piece with a Novelty-style
break. She closed with two vintage rags: "Smiling Sadie,"
a 1905 rag by Archie Scheu, and Jay Roberts’ 1911 "Joy
Eric tried to stump the crowd (and succeeded) with the rare 1906 Louis
Chauvin tune "Babe, It’s Too Long Off" (a ragtime
song with lyrics by Elmer Bowman). He followed it with the hit 1912
dance tune "Ballin’ the Jack," asking if the audience
could figure out the connection between this number and the Chauvin
piece. The connection: Chris Smith, the composer of "Ballin’
the Jack," got his start working with Elmer Bowman. (Bob Pinsker
got the gold star for announcing this fact.)
Stan Long delivered an original short boogie, Daniels’ early
hit "Hiawatha, A Summer Idyll" and closed his set with "Goldenrod
Rag." Frank Sano then gave us a medley of old-time songs (including
"Million-Dollar Baby"), followed by an original piano piece
called "Pet Dander Rag."
The afternoon ended with numerous encores — first, Les Soper,
with a measured "Grace & Beauty"; Ron Ross with another
fine original, "Acrosonic Rag" (featuring many melodic breaks)
and Andrew Barrett with George Cobb’s "Chromatic Capers."
He described this 1925 piece as "half Stride, half Novelty,"
but its winding treble and wild harmonies categorize it as primarily
in the Novelty vein. It’s an intricate and quite challenging
piece, and another fine job by this young musician!
Bob Pinsker joined Master Barrett on the second piano and the duo
delivered a four-handed version of that ragtime perennial "Dill
Pickles," then Bob closed out the afternoon with three outstanding,
and quite diverse, solos: Bolcom’s jazz-influenced 1970 piece
"Graceful Ghost," with its many dissonances, haunting main
theme and romantic trio; Blake’s immortal "Charleston Rag";
and Blythe’s "Jimmie Blues."
Our next gathering is Saturday, Aug. 23, right back at Rockin’
Taco. We’ll get underway at 1 p.m. and keep on rockin’
till roughly 4:30, so come one, come all!