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Remodeled Steamers hosts September ’03 OCRS

OCRS returned to Steamers for its September meet, finding that the club has remodeled its stage area, added a brand-new logo and unveiled a new name: Steamers Jazz Club and Cafe. The audience turnout wasn’t sizable, but dedicated, and some 10 performers were on hand to deliver a total of 41 pieces.

Warming up at the Kawai grand prior to the performance were old-timer Les Soper and newcomer Jeff Bryan. Emcee Eric Marchese then officially got things rolling with Joplin’s "Weeping Willow," a moving study in moods from 1903 now in its 100th year.

Shirley Case offered somewhat of a theme set tying in with butterflies, cats and dogs, noting that most of the pieces are new to her repertoire. She opened with Hal Isbitz’ "Mariposa" (Spanish for "butterfly"), in which much of the bass is played near or above middle C during the opening themes. At the trio, the mood abruptly changes and the piece becomes slower and more introspective, with the left hand providing a tango rhythm. Overall, the piece is infused with Isbitz’ typical lyricism.

Next up: "Black Cat Rag," a 1905 composition by Wooster and Smith the combines many elements of Classic ragtime with a good folk flavor. Shirley’s second "cat" rag was "Glad Cat," also from 1905. Written by Will Nash and issued by Pioneer Music in Chicago, the piece has a haunting lyricism and many of harmonic changes often heard in Classic rags and a very peppy closing theme.

Switching to canines, Shirley delivered Galen Wilkes’ 1982 Novelty rag "Puppy on the Piano," which manages to be lyrical even in such an upbeat frame, with many Novelty-style breaks and some exciting surprises in the trio. As an answer to "Puppy," Shirley ended her set with "Kitten on the Keys," the Novelty rag of the 1920s.

Dhiren Panikker, a newcomer to OCRS, opened with Joplin’s "The Easy Winners," offering a heavily jazz-oriented rendering complete with foxtrot rhythms, blues licks and a high degree of improvisation. He repeated these stylistic leanings in his performance of "Basin Street Blues," "Carolina Shout" and "Nocturnal Rag," an original composition fusing jazz and classical piano, heavily influenced by the likes of Debussy, Chopin, Satie and Poulenc and rich in avant-garde harmonies and mood changes, from stormy to serene.

Sonny Leyland opened his set with a fantastic "no name" blues improvisation, with a lazy bass and smooth blues and jazz licks in the treble, which featured much single-note activity. For something completely off-the-cuff, this piece was as polished as anything in print or recorded.

Sonny then gave an upbeat treatment to the Davis/Burke pop song "Yearning for You," giving the piece’s chorus driving force with his numerous pianistic techniques. Next was an improvised boogie that opened well below middle C for its first minute or two. The treble part then broadened and flourished all up and down the keyboard, from middle C to the highest registers. Providing a long instrumental opening, Sonny then played the vocal number "Blackhearted Woman," complete with soulful blues vocals. From 1928-’29, the piece was composed and performed by guitarist Tampa Red and recorded with Red on guitar and vocals, accompanied by pianist Bill O’Bryant – the only time O’Bryant’s playing has ever been recorded. Sonny then ended his set with an original composition, "Witches Kitchen," with a spooky, minor-key intro and an opening boogie strain mostly in the minor as well. The piece has a driving treble part that lurks in the minor and is rich in augmented chords, and overall the piece is swirly and dark.

For his set, Bob Pinsker chose to feature the works of Joseph F. Lamb, whom he referred to as "a musical chameleon" who wrote ragtime pieces in styles as diverse as Folk, Classic, foxtrot, Popular and even Novelty. Demonstrating the influence of classical piano music on Lamb’s treatment of ragtime, Bob played the richly scored "Ragtime Bobolink," unpublished until it appeared in 1964 (in "Ragtime Treasures," a collection of 13 newly revised and previously unpublished early Lamb rags) but clearly composed at a much earlier date. The rarely-played piece is a lyrical one laden with Lamb’s exquisite harmonic concepts.

Next up: a spirited "Sensation," Lamb’s first published rag (but not his first published piece – he had gotten some of his earlier non-rag works into print prior to this). Joplin publisher John Stark issued the rag in 1908 with Joplin listed as arranger (to assist in publication and sales). Bob’s followup was Lamb’s "Rapid Transit" which, like "Bobolink," was composed in the same general period as Lamb’s Stark rags (1908 to 1919) – Bob specified the years 1907 to 1914 as the probable time frame for "Transit." Bob gave the piece, which mixes Popular and Classic rag ideas, a sprightly feel.

Bob concluded his all-Lamb set with one of the last handful of rags Lamb composed in the 1950s just prior to his death. The piece, recorded by the composer in his home in 1959 by Mike Montgomery, has come to be known as "Brown Derby Rag No. 2," so titled by Lamb’s daughter Patricia (from a suggestion by Dick Zimmerman). Full of typical Lamb devices, the piece – edited and published in 1993 by Joe Scotti – adds Novelty licks to the Classic rag style, with a gorgeous, expansive opening theme and a closing theme that uses the same essential devices as the closing strain of "Ragtime Bobolink."

Ron Ross offered one of his wryly humorous songs, "Studio Sensation," complete with lyrics (and even some "boop-boop" nonsense lyrics), followed by another original, "Small Town Private Eye," which Ron composed in 1987 for a short film being shot at USC. He closed with his own "Acrosonic Rag," a lyrical piece with plenty of counterpoint in the bass.

Les Soper delivered Joplin’s "The Cascades" at a pleasing moderate tempo, then dove into his favorite contemporary composer, Glenn Jenks, offering his 1988 masterpiece "Sosua." Les expressively brought out the piece’s luscious harmonies, moods of yearning and move into darker territory (in its third and closing sections) before resolving these stormy sections with a wistful ending and gentle coda. He closed his set with one Scott piece and one Lamb: "Grace and Beauty," played at a measured tempo and with good dynamics, and "Cottontail," a slow, meditative piece with a sad, wistful trio section and most of Lamb’s typical compositional devices.

Fred Hoeptner offered the beautiful original "Dalliance," which won first prize in the 2000 Scott Joplin Foundation competition. The lyrical, intricate piece uses syncopation in strikingly original ways. Fred followed with "Aura of Indigo," with a mysterious sounding introduction, a gentle opening theme and, throughout, a haunting sound and more intricate figurations. Fred then closed his set with a great vintage piece that resembles his own compositions: David Guion’s 1915 masterwork "Texas Fox Trot."

Glenn Perlman gave us a bluesy-jazzy syncopated version of Mick Jagger’s "As Tears Go By," before turning the piano over to newcomer Jeff Bryan. Primarily a classical pianist, Jeff offered an original called "Pepper Dance," which alternated loud and speedy passages with softer, slower ones. He followed this with a jazzy rendering of Charley Straight’s "Humpty Dumpty" and another original called "An Evening at the Saloon," a rather classically-oriented yet syncopated piece with contemporary-sounding harmonies that again alternated fast passages with slow, forte with piano.

Eric Marchese returned to the piano for a 1993 original, "The Grape Vine," a Classic-style rag he said was essentially in the same vein as "Fig Leaf Rag." He followed with a 1903 piece enjoying its centennial this year, the Louise Armstrong Bristol piece "Little Black Baby," on which Joplin essentially acted as arranger, then concluded his set with another original, the lyrical, meditative "Out of Time" composed earlier this year.

Shirley Case encored with Terry Waldo’s whimsical, jazzy and pianistic "Proctology," adding many nice flourishes and embellishments," and "Old Adam" from Bolcom’s "Garden of Eden" suite. Like "Proctology," the piece mixes a modern musical sensibility with more traditional ragtime elements.

Bob Pinsker encored with the Fats Waller’s piano roll arrangement of Benny Moten’s "18th Street Strut," as transcribed by Bob from the 1926 QRS piano roll. Bob’s performance captured both the piano roll dynamics and the sound of Moten's original band version. He followed with James P. Johnson’s "Something’s Gonna Happen to You and Me," a lyrical song with rich harmonies and a romantic mood, then closed out the afternoon with Eubie Blake’s "Poor Jimmy Green," which aptly captures the jumpy sound of authentic Harlem Stride piano. The piece remained unpublished for decades until 1975, when Blake himself, at nearly 90, issued it out of New York.

After the meeting officially ended, Bob returned to the piano and dashed off a piano roll-sounding version of one of James P. Johnson's stride masterpieces, sending the last few stragglers out of the club with the sounds of Harlem in the teens and ’20s jangling in their heads. We'll see you back at Steamers in a couple of weeks for the 2003 RagFest!

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