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Variety dominates the July 2004 OCRS

Steamers Jazz Club and Café in Fullerton hosted the fourth OCRS of 2004 on Saturday, July 31. Despite the modest turnout, three-dozen pieces were performed by the 10 performers on hand for an afternoon of fun and an unusual degree of variety – vintage Classic rags and contemporary showpieces; Popular, Novelty and Morton rags; classical music, “saloon songs” and rock-and-roll!

Normally an audience member only, Jeff Hartman warmed up the piano pre-show with “Weeping Willow” and parts of other Joplin tunes.

Eric Marchese then opened the official program, obliging a request for Joplin and Hayden’s “Sunflower Slow Drag.” Eric then offered one of Joplin’s four 1904 rags, “The Favorite” – the only one of the four, he noted, not to have been written that year, but five years earlier. Purchased by A.W. Perry & Sons of Sedalia, the rag wasn’t published until 1904.

Ron Ross took the stage and offered his original “Joplinesque,” then invited Phil Cannon to join him in a piano-banjo duet of Lamb’s “Patricia,” played at a pleasingly slow tempo with Ron’s playing assured, Phil filling in the “break” on the second theme, and good balance between banjo and piano. Ron closed the set with his lovely rag-tango “Mirella.”

Shirley Case treated us to three tunes off “A Ragtime Feast,” her brand-new piano solo CD. She opened with “Marigold,” Billy Mayerl’s signature tune, a slow-tempo Novelty. Shirley’s playing accentuated the Gershwinesque touches in the B theme and the coda, the intricacies of the third theme, the piece’s many Novelty devices and the romantic-poetic mood of the whole.

Next up was Sydney K. Russell’s “Too Much Raspberry,” a 1916 Bay Area piece that crosses older ragtime styles with foxtrot devices and unusual harmonies (notably in the trio). Shirley’s performance was rendered with pep and skill. She closed her set with Les Copeland’s “Cabbage Leaf,” improvising what is essentially a simplistic opening strain and stressing the composer’s idiosyncratic style in the carefully notated second theme.

Noting that it’s been one of his favorites to play of late, Eric delivered “The Strenuous Life,” the 1902 piece Joplin presumably titled in tribute to President Teddy Roosevelt (for his inviting of Booker T. Washington to the White House). He then offered the premiere performance of “Oneida,” a slow-tempo, program-style rag he composed in 2002 as musical accompaniment to a new original play of the same title.

Bill Mitchell took the stage and took everyone by storm with phenomenal renditions of two outstanding Jelly Roll Morton tunes – “New Orleans Blues” and the rarely heard “Mr. Jelly Lord” before offering “Cotton Bolls,” a 1901 Charles Hunter march/two-step with tangy dissonances so characteristic of the composer. Bill then invited Phil Cannon to join him on “The Entertainer” and “The Smiler,” with Phil providing a lilting swing and ear-pleasing contrapuntal harmonies to each tune.

Ron returned to the stage with three originals: “Digital Rag,” “Acrosonic Rag” and “Ragtime Song.” All three are good examples of Ron’s compositional skills. “Digital” has plenty of pep, while “Acrosonic” is mellow, its minor-key second theme creating a delicate mood; with its trio in the minor key, “Ragtime Song” creates a Joplin-like mood.

Eric played a 2001 original, the upbeat “Jumpin’ Jupiter,” before inviting guest vocalist Erika Ceporius Miller onto the Steamers stage. In recognition of Fullerton Civic Light Opera’s successful staging of “Tin Pan Alley Rag,” which features the music of Joplin and Berlin, Erika sang two numbers featured in the show: Berlin’s “You’d Be Surprised” and Joplin’s “A Real Slow Drag.” Celebrating her husband’s birthday that day, Erika serenaded him (as well as three other audience members with birthdays in the final week of July) with “The Birthday Song.”

Glenn Perlman treated us with two pieces combining the ragtime style with that of rock-and-roll: “Ev’ry Day” and “Summertime,” adding Harlem Stride touches to the latter. Next up was Frank Sano, Phil Cannon and, on washboard, Bill Ray, with the standards “Hard-Hearted Hannah” and “Goofus.” With Bill Mitchell joining Frank on the piano, the foursome knocked us over with their lively, exciting, improvised versions of “Waiting for the Robert E. Lee” and “Stumbling.”

As her encore, Shirley presented “two butterfly pieces.” The first was Grieg’s “The Butterfly”; the second, Hal Isbitz’ “Mariposa” (the Spanish word for butterfly). The short Grieg piece allowed Shirley to demonstrate her amazing technical skill. The Isbitz piece showcased the composer’s typical ingenuity and difficult fingerwork, handled with virtuosity by Shirley – including the sudden shift at the trio to a somber, misterioso rag-tango.

Known primarily as a composer, Fred Hoeptner treated us to a spicy version of Henry Lodge’s 1910 hit “Red Pepper,” making it obvious why the piece was so popular in its day. Next up was one of James Scott’s virtuoso rags, “Efficiency.” Fred then shifted into contemporary rag mode with the now-classic Max Morath essay “One for Amelia,” a subtle piece of ’60s ragtime with many time signature changes, a stormy trio and a tranquil, haunting second subject that returns to close the rag on a gentle note.

Lastly came Fred’s own wonderful composition “Melancholy Mood,” a pretty and haunting piece of writing with striking harmonies. The second theme contains several dramatic flourishes, the trio has delicate and haunting harmonies, and the entire piece combines the feeling of a film score, classical music and cocktail lounge piano.

Eric took the opportunity to spring one more original on the crowd: “The Sugar House,” a 1994 essay inspired by the great Classic rags of Joplin and, at the local level, by the Holly Sugar factory, an Orange County landmark that was built, and which thrived, during the original ragtime era but gave way to pressure by developers and was demolished in the late 1970s.

Bill encored with “Winter Garden,” a rarely heard 1912 rag by Abe Olman. With such a catchy melody in its opening theme, a second strain mixing minor-key sounds and tremolos with the major tonality, and its unique-sounding trio, it’s a shame this piece isn’t more widely performed. Bill followed the piece with Joplin’s ever-popular “Pine Apple,” lending the rocking closing theme with a mildly jazzy feel.

Eric took a request from the audience for another late-model Joplin, “Wall Street Rag,” before announcing that the next OCRS would convene at Steamers on Sat. Sept. 25, followed by the fifth annual RagFest event roughly a month later.

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