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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 Apple Rag."

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!

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