Whole lotta Fats, and pickles,
for May ’04 OCRS
Musicians and fans converged upon Steamers
Jazz Club and Café in Fullerton for the third 2004 OCRS event,
on Saturday, May 22. Seven performers delivered 45 selections during
the afternoon, which ran from 1 till 4:30 p.m. With the preceding
day, May 21st, being the centennial of the birth of Thomas "Fats"
Waller, we heard no less than eleven Waller tunes – but the
day also somehow evolved into providing a variety of ragtime selections
with the word "pickles" in the title.
Emcee Eric Marchese opened things with an instrumental rendition of
the 1906 Chauvin-Bowman ragtime song "Babe It’s Too Long
Off," then followed up with two vintage Joplins: "Search-Light
Rag" and "The Strenuous Life." He then turned the stage
over to Shirley Case, who started her set with Ed Hudson’s "Moonshine
Rag" from 1916, named for the Moonshine Gardens of St. Louis.
The piece’s occasional walking bass is an unusual feature, combined
in the second theme with parallel motion, while the final theme offers
interesting syncopations. Shirley followed with Irene Cozad’s
popular "Eatin’ Time" (1913), which has a waltz-style
left hand in the trio, and closed her set with Fred Hoeptner’s
award-winning "Dalliance, a Ragtime Frolic," the rag that
won Fred first prize at the Scott Joplin competition in 2000. The
first strain uses counterpoint in the left hand, minor tonalities,
an asymmetrical structure (18 bars), and ideas that are developed
in the second and third strains. The third theme has intriguing harmonic
changes, and the bridges from the B theme to C, and from C back into
A (and B) are well-written – all well-played by Shirley.
Stan Long warmed up with "Black and White Rag" and followed
with a moderate-tempo version of Roberts’ "Junk Man Rag."
Next up was Stan’s latest original, "Haunting Accident,"
composed when he tried improvising a Trebor Tichenor piece and wound
up with something original instead. The piece has a definite Tichenor
sound, right-hand dissonances, and the kind of driving locomotive
train sound as many Tichenor (and Brun Campbell) numbers. He closed
his set with an off-the-cuff version of the immortal "Maple Leaf
Rag," playing repeats of the B strain much like a stoptime tango.
Bob Pinsker presented the first half of a special set on Thomas "Fats"
Waller, the centennial of whose birthday had occurred on the preceding
day (May 21). All of Bob’s selections are rarities, so hearing
them performed live on Steamers’ beautiful Kawai grand was a
true treat. He gave some background and history on Waller (who at
first was known as Tom Waller, before he had begun to put on the pounds),
then launched into "In Harlem’s Araby," a song Waller
wrote at the age of 20 (with lyrics by Jo Trent), and one of 43 Waller
numbers copyrighted in 1924. Next, from 1924, Bob performed the instrumental
"Oriental Tones," later republished under the title of "Waller-ing
Around." This piece’s first section creates a mood of intrigue
before the more swingy B arrives, while the riff-like trio features
upward runs and upward and downward parallel motion. Next up was the
instrumental version of the song "Willow Tree, A Musical Misery,"
a slow, bluesy number with a familiar-sounding chorus. The piece is
one of the songs Waller wrote for the 1928 show "Keep Shufflin'"
with lyricist Andy Razaf. (Other songs for the show were composed
by Waller's mentor James P. Johnson with lyrics by Henry Creamer.)
Bob gave "Willow Tree" a delicate, precise rendition. Finally,
from 1931, was the peppy yet relaxed "Concentratin’,"
with Bob singing Razaf’s humorous lyrics about a guy so in love
he can’t focus on anything else.
Fred Hoeptner launched his set with a lovely rendition of "One
for Amelia," a gorgeous rag by Max Morath dedicated to Joe Lamb’s
widow, Amelia. In the Joplin and, of course, Lamb style, this ragtime
beauty uses asymmetrical phrasing and a secondary rag rhythm in all
three of its themes, and the bridge from the vibrant trio into the
reprise of the softer second theme features inventive harmonies. Fred
then played a peppy rendition of the ever-popular "Pickles and
Peppers." This 1906 rag by Adaline Shepherd was so popular that
it was used by William Jennings Bryan as his campaign song that year.
Fred then ended his set with his own rendition of "Dalliance,"
played more up to speed than Shirley’s version.
Eric returned with two originals, "An Autumn Memory" (from
1989-’90) and "The Dream of Ragtime" (from 1992) written
in the Classic Rag vein, with the latter an homage to Scott Joplin
that’s part of Eric’s three-piece "Rag Suite,"
inspired by the historic Sedalia meeting, in June 1990, of Joplin’s
nieces, Lamb’s daughter and Scott’s grand-nephews. Eric
then honored an audience request for the 1908 Joplin masterwork "Pine
Bill Mitchell picked up on the "pickles" theme with "Dill
Pickles," then offered his snappy, jazzy versions of two early
Joplin pieces, "Original Rags" (1899) and "The Easy
Winners" (1901). He closed with the march-like Charles Hunter
piece, "Queen of Love," emphasizing the upbeat nature of
the trio and adding nice embellishments to the final repeat of the
infectious B theme.
Frank Sano took the stage to deliver one of his many "saloon
songs," "Hard-Hearted Hannah," then invited Bill up
to share the piano with him. That pairing produced a lively four-handed
version of "Waiting for the Robert E. Lee." The guys then
encored with a "sweetheart"-themed medley of "Ain’t
She Sweet," "Five-Foot Two" and "Yes Sir, That’s
My Baby." On both four-handed numbers, Bill handled the treble
licks while Frank doubled the melody while providing the bass part.
Stan encored with his original composition "My Ditty," into
which he has poured everything from the classics ("Fur Elise")
to patriotic tunes ("Stars and Stripes Forever") to light
pop ("Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious"). Whew!
For her encore, Shirley chose yet another pickle-themed piece, "Sweet
Pickles," written by Theron Bennett in 1907 under the pen name
of George Florence. The rag’s opening theme is folksy and jazzy,
its second strain is march-like and its trio uses the minor key; Shirley
provides creative embellishments, especially on the repeats. She then
grabbed the "peppers" part of "Pickles and Peppers"
by doing Imogene Giles’ "Red Peppers: Two-Step," the
Illinois lady ragtimer’s only published rag – the piece
was published by her husband and his brother’s firm, Giles Brothers,
in Quincy, Illinois in 1907. With echoes of the Shepherd hit, this
is a true classic, with a call-and-response A, a great trio intro
and trio, a minor-key interlude and heavily syncopated ending. Once
again, Shirley’s playing was clean and lively while delivering
hot embellishments on the repeats of various strains. Fred encored
with James Scott’s lively "Evergreen Rag."
Bob then returned to the stage to deliver the second part of his Waller
program. He started with an instrumental version of the vocal number
"Snake Hip Dance," included in the 1929 Broadway musical
revue "Connie's Hot Chocolates" and combining cool, jazzy
harmonies with a stride bass. Noting that unlike many of his contemporaries
(e.g. James P. Johnson or Duke Ellington), Waller never entertained
concert aspirations, Bob offered "Bond Street" from Fats’
London Suite, improvised in 1939 and published eight years later.
Bob reported that each of the great stride pianists wrote one great
waltz; Waller’s, from 1942, was "Jitterbug Waltz,"
which Bob performed expertly. He then wound up his set with Fats’
most famous number, also from "Connie's Hot Chocolates":
"Ain’t Misbehavin’," which Bob sung in a gentle
tenor while providing strong keyboard work.
Inspired by all that Fats, Bill came back up and delivered piano renditions
of three great Waller songs. Saying how he first heard Fats Waller
while a high school student listening to 78 rpm records of "Fats
Waller and His Rhythm," Bill opened by giving "I’ve
Got a Feelin’ I’m Fallin’" (from 1929, with
lyrics by Billy Rose) steady tempo and feeling, emphasizing the piece’s
inventive harmonies and bass and its delicate, minor-key mood. Bill
then gave us a medley of "Black and Blue" (also from 1929,
with lyrics by Andy Razaf) and "Keepin’ Out of Mischief
Now" (from 1932, with Razaf lyrics). Bill closed this outstanding
encore set with Scott’s "Ragtime Oriole," nicely articulating
Scott’s chords and single-note runs.
Eric offered two more originals. First was the lively "Winnin’
Time," written in 1991 in honor the world champion Los Angeles
Lakers and whose title was inspired both by "Eatin’ Time"
and by a phrase Magic Johnson used each season when the Lakers reached
the playoffs: "Fellas, it’s winnin’ time!" Next
was the more lyrical "Indian Orchard," a more recent (2000)
composition of Eric’s in the Classic rag vein. He closed with
Joplin’s "Silver Swan Rag," discovered on a piano
roll in 1971 (and later transcribed) but dated by ragtime scholars
at around 1914.
For his final encore, and to close the performance for the day, Bob
played scorching renditions of Luckey Roberts’ "Mo’lasses"
and Eubie’s evergreen ragtime solo "Charleston Rag,"
composed (according to Eubie!) when Eubie was a mere 16 (in 1899)
but far ahead of its time. [Webmaster's note: in fact, Eubie Blake
was actually born Feb. 7, 1887, as recent research has proven beyond
reasonable doubt. That Blake composed "Charleston Rag" at
the age of 12 seems highly unlikely! The first documented existence
of the piece was the copyright deposition in Blake's hand from 1917.]
See you all next OCRS, at Steamers in late July or early August!