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September '04 OCRS: From classical to Stride

The turnout was light for the September 2004 meet of the OCRS, but the performers – who made up nearly half the audience – delivered some of the best music so far to an appreciative audience at Steamers Jazz Club and Café in Fullerton. The eight musicians delivered some 40 selections, with a generous sampling of original contemporary rags and vintage masterpieces.

Eric Marchese opened the proceedings with “Solace – A Mexican Serenade” and a tune now in its centennial, Theron C. Bennett's “St. Louis Tickle,” sharing the fact that the rag’s second theme was based on a floating folk melody whose lyrics were notoriously blue.

Ron Ross played “Sensation” at a slowed tempo that brought out its intriguing harmonies, following with his own pleasing “Digital Rag” and “Mirella,” an original habanera named for Ron’s god-daughter. It’s an expressive piece of writing with interesting countermelodies in the left hand.

Fred Hoeptner opened with Henry Lodge’s “Red Peppers, A Spicy Rag,” then launched into “Aura of Indigo,” a complex essay of his own with a delicate, pretty, expressive opening theme, intricate harmonies in its second section and a Gershwinesque trio.

Andrew Barrett brought us a very measured rendition of Paul Pratt’s “Spring Time Rag,” which brought out the rich harmonies of the rag’s opening theme. The second section is a bit livelier, and the trio has a more whimsical mood, emphasized by Andrew’s upper-register embellishments.

Andrew then treated us to his new composition, “Elastic March/Two-Step,” which he explained was actually his first-written rag but that his father Dan had assisted him on a couple of the themes and that Andrew had made several revisions since. “Elastic” has a stately tempo and its first strain has the feel of Classic, Pop and Folk ragtime combined. The second theme is more lively, yet with touches of the minor tonality. The trio combines Folk ragtime ideas with those of Popular ragtime, and the ending has the feel of a spiritual. Andrew closed his set with “Great Scott,” taking the final repeat of the B theme into exotic improvisations that wandered far from the land of Classic ragtime.

Frank Sano brought us a refreshing medley of “saloon songs” that included “Hello Ma Baby,” “Five-foot Two,” “Piano Roll Blues” and “Toot-Toot-Tootsie,” adding many a pleasing improvisation. He followed with “In a Shanty in Old Shantytown” and “Louise.”

Marc Sachnoff, a long-ago member of the Maple Leaf Club, made his first appearance at OCRS. Noting the once common practice of “ragging the classics,” he did same with Schubert’s “Valse,” first playing it “straight,” then giving us a ragged-up version. Noting his Chicago origins, he gave us “Evanston Express,” an original composition of the South Side Chicago/barrelhouse/early boogie genre, complete with nice dissonances and walking bass figures. Marc ended his set with an elaborate take on the old standard “My Gal Sal” – at first as a moderate tempo song, then a jazzy improv, then a Stride-style bass and Stride figures in the treble, and finally a full-on cutting-contest Stride approach, with forceful playing, triplets in the melody and a galloping bass.

Bill Mitchell opened his set with the 1904 song “Blue Bell,” explaining how Bunk Johnson had mistakenly called the tune “Blue Bell’s Goodbye” during his 1941 comeback out of retirement. Describing it as “a rather pretty tune,” and saying his dad remembered hearing it from his own boyhood, Bill played it as a jazz standard. Next up: a slow-tempo rendition of “Mr. Jelly Lord,” a pretty, melodic Morton tune but with Jelly’s signature licks, and “Tia Juana,” a tune often attributed to Morton (since he recorded it as a solo) but, Bill said, actually a collaboration of Gene Rodemich, a St. Louis dance band leader of the ’20s, and one of his sidemen, Larry Conley. Bill gave the piece a good, lively feel, mixing the standard Morton sound with those of a jazz band and a pop song.

Bill noted that “Tia Juana” seems to be revived about once every generation or so: In 1940, Bud Freeman’s Summa Cum Laude Orchestra recorded it; in 1951, it was Ralph Sutton as a solo, in the ’70s or early ’80s it was Ry Cooder, and in 2002, the Devil Mountain Jazz Band. Bill closed a strong set with “Music Box Rag,” Luckey Roberts’ melodic take on Harlem harmonies.

Eric offered a varied set, beginning with “Calico Rag,” an upbeat number published in Chicago in 1914 by Nat Johnson, composer of “Gold Dust Twins” and “Frisco Frazzle.” Next was Joplin’s 1909 essay “Country Club” and, in a nod to the beginning of the fall season, “An Autumn Memory,” a 1990 original of Eric’s.

Stan Long treated us to an original medley that includes “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows,” “New York New York” and “Someone to Watch Over Me.” He launched into Joplin’s “Peacherine Rag” and finished his set with a pop/jazz-oriented version of “My Ditty,” his signature combination of numerous familiar tunes popular, classical and commercial.

Ron encored with two more originals: “Obadiah’s Jumpsuit” and “Sutter Creek Rag,” the latter his tribute to the annual Sutter Creek Ragtime Festival. Stylistically like many of Ron’s other tunes, it features pretty melodies, countermelodies in the bass line and marked dissonances, a dramatic, moody trio and an ending that marks the piece as a most personal essay.

Frank and Bill duetted on “Chicago,” emulating the sound of a piano roll with a lively, swingy feel and much counterpoint, and Frank soloed on “Million Dollar Baby,” creating many a pleasing embellishment.

Andrew encored with three very different pieces. Noting that “Harlem Rag” is the first rag he learned, he took it at an easy tempo, giving lilt and crispness to the melody line and adding a rolling, walking bass here and there. Next up: “Romanza,” from Zez Confrey’s 1923 suite “Three Little Oddities.” In Andrew’s hands, the piece was soft, slow, lyrical and delicate, a performance that brought out the aching, wistful mood of its harmonies. “Hot Hands” was an early (1916) hit for Charley Straight, well-played by Andrew, who added octave embellishments to the repeats of the first two themes.

Fred encored with a partial performance of one of his recent gems, the dramatic, turbulent “Melancholy Mood,” then gave an entertaining, crisp version of Dabney’s “Georgia Grind.”

Marc encored with a Stride version of Waller’s “Honeysuckle Rose,” a steady, swingy rendition, ramping up the tempo to double-time briefly before taking the piece home. Noting that J. Lawrence Cook’s piano roll of the immortal “St. Louis Blues” has always been one of his all-time favorites, Marc proceeded to offer a live version of that arrangement that included striking tempo changes and a slow walking bass.

Bill encored with two of his favorite Classic rags – a steady, jazzy rendering of “The Easy Winners” (reputed Joplin’s own favorite too), and a swingy, jazzy version of Scott’s “Grace and Beauty.” Eric wrapped things up with Euday Bowman’s “Kansas City Blues,” published in the title city in 1915, and “The Silver Lining,” a 2002 original in the Classic Rag mode. Everyone’s reminded to come back to Steamers on Oct. 23-24 for RagFest 2004, and for the last OCRS of the year, which will take place in late November or sometime in December, date to be announced.

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