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Springtime, flowers and blues for April ’05

An initially small turnout gradually blossomed as OCRS met on April 17, 2005 at Steamers. By 1:30, performers Shirley Case, Ron Ross, Fred Hoeptner and emcee Eric Marchese were on hand and ready to play, with Rose Leaf regular Nancy Kleier on the way from Pasadena and Marc Sachnoff due in from Santa Monica.

These six pianists delivered 39 pieces over a three-hour span to what could be described as a respectable showing, with blues tunes (and those with “blues” in their titles), tunes with “flower” titles and those referring to spring and springtime dominating the afternoon.

Eric opened with Joplin’s venerable “Gladiolus,” following with two tunes from his “Silver Lining” album: “Texas Tommy Swing,” written by Sid Brown and Val Harris for the 1911 Ziegfeld Follies, and Abe Olman’s 1917 blues-style rag “Cheerful Blues.” He wound up his set with Euday Bowman’s outstanding blues tune “Kansas City Blues,” published 1915, before turning things over to Ron.

Ron’s set consisted of three originals: “Cloudy,” “Sutter Creek Rag” and “Acrosonic Rag.” Like all of Ron’s pieces, all have a contemporary sound. Much of the wistful-sounding “Cloudy” uses the minor key; using a block-chord bass, the trio develops a key motif, which adds to the piece’s power. On balance, it’s one of Ron’s best works. “Sutter Creek” features a single-note melody line and simple syncopations, wavering between major and minor and, in the trio, switching to a tango rhythm. “Acrosonic,” named for a type of Baldwin piano, uses breaks and interesting left-hand figurations.

Fred offered one of his newest originals, “Marching Through Town,” a wonderful contemporary rag with a jaunty opening section filled with adventurous harmonies, a complementary second strain using call-and-response, and a reflective trio with even more daring harmonic work. Fred’s ever-popular “Dalliance” is a sweet, lively piece with minor key undercurrents and several rhythmic motifs. Fred ended his set with David Guion’s haunting 1915 piano masterpiece “Texas Fox-Trot” – not really a foxtrot at all, but rather a sophisticated handling of Southwestern folk materials for which Guion was best known.

Shirley offered two outstanding rags by Trebor Tichenor: “Cape Rose Rag” and “Glen Arbor Rag,” then ended her set with “Heliotrope Bouquet.” “Cape Rose” combines jazzy ideas with those found in blues music. “Glen Arbor” opens with a mellow, bluesy theme, then moves through sections more folksy and tango-like before a strong concluding section featuring call-and-response. As always, Shirley’s playing is delicate yet assured, and always offers surprising flourishes and embellishments of her own devising.

Eric offered “Babe, It’s Too Long Off,” the later of Louis Chauvin’s two published ragtime songs – this one from 1906 (Elmer Bowman wrote the lyrics). Then, Harry Austin Tierney’s “Fleur De Lis” – the last of nine Tierney rags published in 1911 – and “Zephyrs of Yesteryear,” one of six originals Eric composed in 2000.

Nancy was in a springtime mood, so she delivered the sweet, lively “Dixie Blossoms”; “A Summer Breeze,” James Scott’s first published rag (from 1903), clearly influenced by Joplin’s works (dig that final strain, a direct copy of the second theme of “Elite Syncopations”!); and Bennett’s ever-popular “St. Louis Tickle.”

Marc started us off with Fats’ “Keepin’ Out of Mischief Now,” in a loose, relaxed, light foxtrot style with nice improvisations and embellishments. Noting that while in his hometown of Chicago, he studied music with Eurreal “Little Brother” Montgomery, Marc offered an original blues piece titled “Blues for Little Brother,” an authentic, Chicago-style blues number – slow-tempo, with plenty of slurs in the melody line and a two-beat left-hand that often incorporates the walking bass. He ended his set with a twisting, winding version of “Maple Leaf Rag” inspired by J. Lawrence Cooke’s intricate, masterful piano roll of the Joplin classic. This version features looser syncopations than found in Joplin’s score, a freer approach to the structured melody line and even some jazz stylings, with the opening theme used to close out the performance.

Commenting on Joplin’s use of the “Maple Leaf” structure in many other rags, including the aforementioned (and performed) “Gladiolus,” Eric offered yet another such piece, the Joplin masterpiece “Leola,” a rarely heard lyrical rag now in its centennial year.

Fred wowed us with Adeline Sheperd’s foot-stomping “Pickles and Peppers,” a great rag that gives us a written example of how a theme (in this case, the third strain) can be notated as lightly syncopated, then, in the repeats, notated using increasingly frenzied syncopations. Noting that this piece was, of course, used by William Jennings Bryan as his campaign song, Fred gave the piece a lively, high-energy rendering.

Ron gave us a recent piece, “Midnight Jam,” which has an enjoyably loose feel, much use of the minor key, and some jazz touches; and one of his earlier songs, “Small Town Private Eye.”

Shirley delivered Copeland’s “Cabbage Leaf” and Roberts’ “Pork and Beans,” lending an entirely improvisatory feel to both renderings – especially the whimsical “Cabbage Leaf.”

Telling us she had just celebrated “the anniversary of my 39th birthday,” Nancy gave us the lyrical “Daffodil” and two classics by Charles N. Daniels: “Dark Eyes” and “Ladybug’s Revue.” By Galen Wilkes, “Daffodil” is a light, lyrical foxtrot with a pretty trio. “Dark Eyes” is a beautifully soft, pretty, melodic tango, and “Ladybug’s Revue” a jaunty, endearing little march.

Marc gave us a whimsical, swung version of “Dill Pickles,” complete with triplets, trills and other devices found in Stride. He then gave us the world premiere of a new original, “Waldo’s Wanderings,” a tribute to the family dog, a Novelty piece with loose, jazzy foxtrot rhythms and an endearingly whimsical tone.

Noting the many blues tunes performed so far, Eric offered Cooke’s “Blame It on the Blues,” then “Jumpin’ Jupiter!,” an original from 2001 inspired by the intricate yet optimistic-sounding works of James Scott.

Shirley gave us one of Alexander Tansmann’s Blues Preludes and a lovely tango by Hal Isbitz titled “La Mariposa” (the Spanish word for butterfly). From 1937, the Tansmann piece has a wholly American flavor, what with its bluesy, augmented chords and Gershwinesque harmonies. Isbitz’s tango, from 1984, has a slow-tempo, melancholy trio that creates a feeling of mystery before returning to the lighter moods of the opening themes.

Marc capped the afternoon off with an original improvised boogie he decided to call the “Steamers Boogie,” and Louis Armstrong’s, “I’m a Big Butter and Egg Man,” one of the greatest Dixieland tunes.

In all, it was an intimate, enjoyable afternoon with many a wonderful tune and some genuinely creative performances. Mark your calendars for the upcoming OCRS meets: June 25 and August 13 at Steamers!

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