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Ringing in 2004 – and celebrating two years of OCRS

OCRS members rang in the New Year on January 17, 2004 – and, while they were at it, celebrate the organization’s second anniversary at Steamers Jazz Club and Café in downtown Fullerton.

Over roughly three hours, a crop of 10 performers delivered a total of 42 pieces. Technical difficulties caused a late start, after which Eric Marchese got things rolling with Wenrich’s "The Smiler," followed by "Texas Tommy Swing," a number written by Val Harris and Sid Brown for the Ziegfeld Follies of 1911. Eric concluded his set with the 1916 Charley Straight novelty "S’More" (an unpublished piano roll tune which he learned from Tom Brier’s transcription) and Woods’ 1918 masterpiece "Sleepy Hollow Rag."

Brad Kay warmed up with a jazzy version of Morton’s ever-popular "Grandpa’s Spells," then gave us the piano version of Walter Donaldson’s "Lonely Melody," which Brad created by transcribing it from the Bill Challis arrangement. Next up was the 1926 Kalmar and Ruby song "You Flew Away From the Nest," which has become one of Brad’s specialty numbers. Brad said the tune was recorded only once – but by the great Al Jolson, and in synch with that, Brad sang the number Jolson-style. He then closed his set with the Fats Waller tune "I’m More Than Satisfied."

Ron Ross delivered three of his own compositions: "Sutter Creek Rag" (written in honor of that town’s annual ragtime festival), "Nostalgia Rag" and a song, "The Midnight Jam." "Sutter Creek" has a nice, easygoing tempo, a tango-style ending and, like Ron’s other tunes, features single-note melody lines and intriguing harmonies. After a dark, bass-heavy opening, "Nostalgia" offers contemporary harmonies in a meditative framework and nice countermelodies in the left hand, while "Midnight Jam" has lyrics sure to induce a chuckle or a laugh.

Bill Mitchell got us revved up for one of his own compositions, "Nothing Doing," which he said he wrote as a follow-up to Hayden and Joplin’s "Something Doing." Bill got situated at the piano and played… nothing. Psyche! He then gave us his "real" set: A reprise of "Grandpa’s Spells," followed by a crisp, swingy rendering of Belding’s "Good Gravy" and Scott’s Classic masterpiece, "Grace and Beauty," which Bill labeled "one of my all-time favorites."

Webmaster extraordinaire Bob Pinsker opened with Blake’s "Baltimore Todalo," giving the piece a funky sound and emphasizing the trademark Blake walking bass, then followed with a performance of his own transcription of Spencer Williams’ "Hock Shop Blues." Bob transcribed the piece from Cliff Jackson’s 1926 QRS roll, and his performance contains numerous and vastly entertaining piano roll licks. Bob then played and sung Lem Fowler’s "You’ve Got Everything a Sweet Mama Needs But Me," singing the comical lyrics in a character voice, and closed his set with a crisp, dynamic reading of Lamb’s lively and lyrical "Bird-Brain Rag," a typical late Lamb piece with Novelty-style breaks and harmonies.

Having just celebrated his 39th birthday, Carl Sonny Leyland opened his set with Yancey’s "Eternal Blues," then followed with the driving blues number "Love Me or Leave Me." Carl then wrapped up his set with an improvised boogie with an incredibly active treble part, injecting the piece with bounce and vitality.

Explaining how he "accidentally composed a rag" by trying to improvise a Trebor Tichenor rag by ear, Stan Long delivered his original, minor key-oriented piece. Since it has a haunting sound to it, a friend suggested he name it "Haunting Accident"; Stan’s rendition reflects the influences of Brun Campbell music and more contemporaneous country-Western. He then gave us his standard medley, titled "My Ditty" – but this time, it had "Fuer Elise" interpolated at the opening because someone had complained that no piano medley is complete with a classical selection. Stan’s handling of standard material now reflects a variety of techniques (boogie, for example) and styles (performing the melody in the left hand, or playing both hands above middle C).

Brad then played accompanist, backing singer Marea Boylan’s vocals on Abner Silver and Roy Turk’s "The Blues Have Got Me" and singer (and OCRS newcomer) David Barlia on "I’m Gonna Give It to Mary." "The Blues" offers such creative lyrics as "I’m a syncopatriotic baby," while "Mary," recorded by Cliff Edwards, offers suggestive lyrics where the "It" of the title is eventually revealed to be a necklace. David not only sings; during the "breaks" in the song, he worked up a little dance as well.

Marea then returned to the stage for the Irving Kahal and William Raskin song "If I Give Up the Saxophone, Will You Come Back to Me?" She introduced it as a "plaintive love ballad," of which the serious verse is highly suggestive. Then the chorus blasts us with waves of humor. David and Brad then followed with the comic song "Pasta Fazoola," with David singing the comical lyrics in a falsetto (the woman character) and Brad a deeper voice (the male) – both in Italian dialect. Tom Marion made an appearance and he and Brad launched into "Electric Light Quadrille" (first recorded in 1889!) only to forget it halfway through, so they ended their set with Kerry Mills’ "Impecunious Davis."

Eric took the piano and, in honor of the centennial of Scott Joplin’s 1904 rags, performed two of the most beloved: "The Cascades" and "The Chrysanthemum," briefly explaining the history and probable origins of each piece – "Cascades" was written to honor the spectacular watercourse of the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, while "Chrysanthemum" was written in honor of Joplin’s new bride, 19-year-old Freddie Alexander of Little Rock, Ark. With "Cascades," Eric added embellishments to the rather thin second theme and to the final strain while ably handling the trio’s often-treacherous left hand part.

"The Chrysanthemum" made a pleasing contrast with the brassier "The Cascades," and Eric played the piece lyrically, bringing out the left-hand countermelodies of the A and C themes. He also offered interesting tempo contrasts between the trio’s main theme and the trio section’s minor-key interlude, playing the interlude with a distinctively snappier feel, then giving the final reprise of C a softer, almost dreamlike feel.

Bill Mitchell encored with the lively "Glad Rag" by "Ribe Danmark," the pseudonym of J. Bodewalt Lampe (who hailed from the town of Ribe, Denmark), and Hunter’s marchlike rag, "Queen of Love." Glenn Perlman then took the stage and delivered a jazzy, syncopated version of "El Condor Pasa." Stan Long chose "Dill Pickles" as his encore.

Bob Pinsker’s encore set consisted of Willie the Lion Smith's 1935 piece entitled "Passionette" and another player piano roll transcription, this one Fats Waller's arrangement of "Do It Mr. So-and-So." "Passionette" reflects The Lion's distinctive and usual harmonic sense and, as Bob said, almost a total lack of stride (or "oom-pah") bass. Explaining how Fats Waller never did literal repeats when he played, Bob said his transcription of "Mr. So-and-So" runs eight pages. Bob’s playing not only sounded like a piano roll; it also reflected the arrangement’s very active left hand part, which often plays in counterpoint with the treble.

Carl Sonny Leyland encored with Cripple Clarence Lofton’s "Brown Skin Girls." Lofton, Carl told us, used to brag that he could "cut Art Tatum" (outplay him at the piano, which most assuredly wasn’t true!). Unlike Lofton’s own recordings of "Girls," Carl’s rendition of it was perfectly clean and 100% free of errors or missed fingerings! Next up was Joe Sullivan’s ever-popular "Little Rock Getaway." Popularized by pianist Bob Zurke, the tune’s main theme incorporates a floating folk strain that can be heard in Snyder’s "Wild Cherries," Jelly Roll Morton’s "Perfect Rag," Charley Straight’s "Buddy’s Habits" and James P. Johnson’s "Carolina Shout." Carl then played and sang "Crazy with the Blues," by the St. Louis blues pianist/guitarist Peetie Wheatstraw. Carl’s singing is inimitable, and he gave the piece’s piano part a slow, steady downbeat and, in the treble part, a strong bluesy feel.

Carl then invited Bill and Brad to join him on a six-handed, improvised boogie – quite a sight to see three guys trying to share one piano, and making it sound so good. Made up on the spot or not, this was one high-energy, super-peppy piece! Carl Sonny then did a solo vocals encore on "Here Comes the Hot Tamale Man."

Brad Kay wound up the afternoon – and brought down the house – with his original, Durante-style comic song, "What Can We Do in Five Minutes (That We Couldn’t Do All Year?)," after which everyone – musicians and audience – reluctantly called it a day. We’ll see everyone back at Steamers on Saturday, February 28, at 1 p.m.!

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