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June ’05 OCRS meet comes in like a Lamb

The OCRS meet on June 25, 2005 at Steamers turned out as one of the more exciting the ragtime society has yet seen, with out-of-town guests Tom Brier and Nan Bostick on hand and a full complement of local performers. In an unplanned confluence, a Joseph Lamb theme emerged during the early part of the afternoon, kicked off by a Lamb-style contemporary rag and followed by five Lamb rags from four of the day’s pianists.

Emcee Eric Marchese started things off by honoring a request for “Peacherine Rag,” then delivered one of Joplin’s finest waltzes, the syncopated “Bethena,” a haunting composition enjoying its centennial this year. Next up: Randolph and Carroll’s “Oklahoma Oilfield Blues,” an authentic blues-foxtrot song published in Pawhuskah, OK, in 1920, by the H.M. Keifer Music Publishing Co. Eric then wrapped up his set with a Lamb-style original he and Neil Blaze co-composed three years ago – “Top-Notch Rag,” dedicated to their mutual friend and fellow ragtimer Brier.

Shirley Case continued the “Lamb” theme with three of his so-called “bird” rags: the rich, elegant, classic “Ragtime Nightingale”; impressionistic “Ragtime Bobolink”; and the folksy “Bird-Brain Rag.” Shirley added extra trills and frills to the haunting 1915 masterpiece “Nightingale,” swinging the final repeat of the B theme.

“Bobolink” and “Bird-Brain” are two of the 13 Lamb works that presumably originated during the ragtime era proper but which remained uncompleted until the late 1950s, when Lamb was encouraged (by Rudi Blesh) to finish them and get them published, so that the newer lovers of ragtime could enjoy them – a fact Lamb found incredible. These 13 old-new pieces finally saw the light of day in 1964, when Mills Music published them in a folio titled “Ragtime Treasures.”

The most impressive section of “Bobolink” is its opening theme. When playing the repeat of this theme, Shirley doubled the note values of the treble, adding to the difficulty level, and she gave the third and final rendition of A a jazzy feel. “Bird-Brain” has a lazy, endearing-sounding A theme; a second section that uses the echo effect, just right for this part of the rag; an advanced C section with Novelty touches, given great expression by Shirley; and a final theme with pleasing discords and countermelodies.

Andrew Barrett kept up the Lamb with the composer’s first major hit rag, “Sensation,” giving the piece nice pep, emphasizing its many Lamb-isms and giving the repeats a swingy, jazzy feel. He gave a sensitive reading to “Impromptu,” the first of Zez Confrey’s “Three Little Oddities,” a soft, gentle piece with a left-hand in constant motion, then ended his set with “one of my favorites” – Paul Pratt’s “Hot House Rag” (published by Stark in 1914), giving the piece many creative stylings.

After giving a quick analysis of some of the many classical music inspirations of the Lamb numbers Shirley performed, Bob Pinsker opened with an untitled Blake foxtrot from roughly 1913 that Bob discovered in the Blake archives in Baltimore, giving verve to the opening theme, a playful feel to the second theme and tremolos to the theatrical trio. He followed with James P. Johnson’s “Eccentricity” waltz, capturing the kinds of flourishes and embellishments you’d hear on piano roll, and the intricate rag-tango “The Dream”, the composition variously attributed to Jesse Pickett or to "Jack the Bear" (John Wilson).

Tom Brier used Scott’s 1917 masterpiece “Efficiency” as a “warmup,” adding rolling chords and pep to the bass, before delivering two outstanding originals: “Camellia Foxtrot” (from 1999) and one of his newest (2004), “Elephant Tracks.” “Camellia” has a relaxed tempo and gentle harmonies, while “Elephant,” befitting its name, has a loud, rambunctious A theme, a wild second section and an energetic, lively trio leading to a wildly syncopated closing theme.

Bill Mitchell started his set with a swung rendition of the perennial Marshall-Joplin favorite “Swipesy” and delivered a swingy version, with creative improvisations, of Chris Smith’s “Ballin’ the Jack,” relating the tale of how John “Knocky” Parker met Smith when he (Parker) knocked on the front door of Lottie Joplin’s home (and boardinghouse) in New York City – and Smith answered the door. Bill then pitched in yet another Lamb number, “Bohemia” – a nice bookend to “Sensation” (the two rags being the first and last of Lamb’s rags to be published by John Stark during the original ragtime era), played with swingy embellishments and an infectious sound to the last repeat of the third theme that closes the rag.

Nan Bostick opened with L.V. Gustin’s “X-N-Tric Rag,” which has a minor-key flavor to all three of its themes; delivered her great-uncle’s lively, classic Indian Intermezzo “Silver Heels,” in its centennial this year, and one of Daniels’ best compositions; and ended with her original “That Missing You Rag,” written in honor of the passing of Old Town Music Hall owner Bill Coffman, and really more of a syncopated contemporary instrumental than a rag.

Ron Ross offered three originals: “Moscow Rag,” “Mirella” and “Sweet is the Sound”; Stan Long gave the crowd a pastiche of boogie tunes, providing a credible turn in the genre, Daniels’ “Hiawatha,” and his original “Haunting Accident,” which has the authentic flavor of Brun Campbell and Trebor Tichenor; and Fred Hoeptner worked his way through one of his most intricate, harmonically complex compositions, “Ragging Through Town.”

Eric Marchese encored with Joplin’s “Euphonic Sounds,” also known for its wandering harmonies; Harry Austin Tierney’s outstanding 1912 composition “Variety Rag”; and Eric’s newest completed original rag, “Clambake Capers” – named, he said, in part because of the fact that many of those who live near the shore in his native New England hold clambakes in summertime.

Bill Mitchell encored with “Bag of Rags,” a great 1912 rag by W.R. McKanlass (issued by Boston publisher Joseph M. Daly) with a final strain of incessant syncopation, and delivered a fine rendition of Morton’s “New Orleans Joys.” Noting that Roy Bargy’s widow, “the last surviving ragtime widow,” had passed away since the April OCRS, Bob Pinsker encored with Bargy’s “A Blue Streak,” adding jazzy licks to the funky, lowdown A, cool B and combination Novelty- and Gershwin-sounding C; and Jimmy Blythe’s “Chicago Stomps,” a 1924 piece with a decidedly southwestern flavor. Nan Bostick’s encores were a nicely lilting rendition of Joplin’s first published rag, “Original Rags” (selected for publication by her great-uncle), with an inventive arrangement of the final strain; and “Bean Whistle Rag,” one of three Bostick originals.

Andrew Barrett encored with a wistful, rarely performed David Thomas Roberts composition from 1982, “The Girl Who Moved Away.” Similar to “Roberto Clemente,” the piece incorporates the Spanish tinge and, in Andrew’s capable hands, expresses deep wellsprings of emotionality.

Tom Brier encored with Joplin’s “Cleopha” and two originals: “Skunk Hollow,” a sophisticated folk rag with a trio that uses stoptime rhythm and changing harmonies; and “Blue Lampshade,” one of Tom’s many outstanding Novelties – a real barnburner and, of course, a terrific way to wind up the afternoon. The 10 pianists on hand performed a total of 42 pieces over a 3-and-a-quarter-hour span. You won’t want to miss the upcoming OCRS meets, so mark your calendars: July 23 and September 17, at Steamers!

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