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Sept. ’05 meet: Straight, Blake, Blythe, boogie and blues – and a raft of first-timers at OCRS

The OCRS meet on September 17, 2005 at Steamers opened with a small but loyal contingent of pianists and fans and, by 2 p.m., had grown to a sizable fan base, nine pianists and one banjo player.

Eric Marchese opened things with a spirited “Humpty Dumpty,” one of Charley Straight’s first rags; Joplin’s soulful “Bethena,” issued one hundred years ago this year; and Charles “Doc” Cooke’s spunky “Such Is Life.”

Ron Ross offered “Patricia,” one of the 12 Lamb rags Stark issued in the vintage era (1916), one of the more intricate Lamb pieces and certainly among the most intricate Ron has ever played. He then served up two originals: his moody waltz “Cloudy” and his “Digital Rag.”

With so few pianists on hand, Eric proceeded with Joplin’s 1909 masterpiece “Wall Street,” then offered up two songs (sans vocals), one vintage – “Grizzly Bear” – and one contemporary, “The Fullerton Glide,” an original composed in 2003, with lyrics added a year later to commemorate the city’s centennial.

Making his first appearance at OCRS was Joel Hill, from Lancaster. Joel warmed up with the venerable “Maple Leaf Rag,” then served up an original boogie he said was “some Pete Johnson, some ‘In the Mood,’” providing a good mastery of the genre.

Frank Sano, on piano, and Jimmy Green, on banjo, delivered a medley of standards, including “Toot-Toot-Tootsie” and “Ain’t She Sweet,” and a duet version of “My Honey’s Lovin’ Arms.” It was Jimmy’s first OCRS performance, and his banjo-playing was featured in many of the breaks built into their renditions.

Marc Sachnoff opened with his original stride piece, “Striding After Fats,” then offered his own “Blues for Dixie” in tribute to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. He ended up with his rendition of “St. Louis Blues,” patterned after J. Lawrence Cooke’s 1940 swung piano roll version.

Glenn Pearlman created an enjoyable syncopated version of “As Tears Go By” and a second, untitled syncopated piece.

Andrew Barrett warmed up with Scott’s 1917 masterpiece “Efficiency Rag,” adding swingy, jazzy embellishments. Next up: Jean Schwartz’s 1910 work “The Popcorn Man,” a moving rag of quiet introspection. Andrew wound up his set with Charley Straight’s “Blue Grass Rag.” Like his playing of “Efficiency,” Andrew took an already challenging number and made it even more so with his carefully worked out improvisations.

Bob Pinsker delivered a New Orleans set, dedicated to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. He opened with W.C. Simon’s “Sponge,” a dark, haunting piece from the Crescent City in 1911 that isn’t performed nearly enough. Next, Bob offered a couple of Morton tunes that are also sadly underplayed: “Mamie’s Blues,” credited by Morton to Mamie Desdume but perhaps largely a creation of his own, and “Superior (Rag),” a livelier piece with intriguing stoptime effects in its second and third themes.

Joel encored with the jazz standard “The Lady is a Tramp,” his “own version” of “St. Louis Blues,” and “Cruella de Ville,” a well-known song from Disney’s “101 Dalmatians.”

Continuing with his survey of Joplin’s 1905 (centennial this year) pieces, Eric offered “Binks’ Waltz,” recounting the story of how Joplin wrote the piece, either on commission or in tribute, for prominent St. Louis businessman William A. Morgens; how Morgens’ infant son James Allen had been nicknamed “Bing” by his older sister; and how a careless typesetting job altered the name to “Binks’” instead of “Bing’s.”

Eric followed with the lively “The Crimson Rambler,” an outstanding popular-style rag by Harry A. Tierney and one of his nine rags issued in 1911. He closed his set with “An Autumn Memory,” a lyrical, classic-style rag written in 1989 as an homage to his New England roots.

Paying a surprise visit to Steamers, and his first appearance at an OCRS, Robbie Rhodes launched into Blythe’s “Carolina Stomp,” then wowed the by-now sizable crowd with the jazzy foxtrot “She’s Crying for Me.”

For his encore set, Andrew began with “Royal Flush,” an outstanding, underexposed Botsford rag that exhibits far less reliance on the “three-over-four” cliche so frequently utilized by the composer. We heard yet another scarcely performed piece in “The Midnight Trot,” a 1916 piece by George Cobb dedicated to vaudeville dancer Maisie King and with a strong minor-key flavor. Andrew capped his set with “You’re So Cranky,” his newest original. Begun in 2004, it combines devices found in both the stride and novelty approaches to piano-playing.

Marc delivered two more originals, “Waldo’s Wobbles” (named for the family dog) and “Steamers Boogie,” a new piece he improvised earlier this year in tribute to the OCRS’s regular home. He closed his set with his rendition of “Little Rock Getaway,” which he said is patterned after Bob Zurke’s performance, as transcribed to piano roll by J. Lawrence Cooke piano roll in the early ’40s.

Frank encored with a medley of tunes, mostly from the ’20s, including “Louise” and one of the first ragtime songs ever, the 1899 hit “Hello! Ma Baby.”

Bob offered background information on Eubie Blake’s penchant for penning waltzes named for various lady friends, all similarly titled “Valse (fill in woman’s name).” He then proceeded to play Blake’s “Valse Aves[sic],” which he learned from a xerox of Blake’s unpublished circa 1914 manuscript, the piece being dedicated to Blake’s first wife, Avis. He closed with Blythe’s self-styled “Jimmie Blues.”

Robbie took the stage to wind things up with a bouncy, swingy-styled version of “Deep Henderson,” complete with piano roll-like countermelodies in the left hand, at one point responding to a missing low G string on the piano by “simply” shifting the key of the piece up from G to A flat! Robbie concluded with the pop song “Egyptland,” as played by Zez Confrey on a QRS piano roll.

The 10 musicians wound up performing 43 selections in all, paving the way for RagFest next month.

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