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Palm Sunday '06 OCRS an April shower of unusual pieces

With Steamers Jazz Club hosting a Dixieland band (the Golden Eagles) at 2 p.m., the April 2006 OCRS musicale - held on Palm Sunday, April 9 - got underway earlier than usual - around 11:45 a.m. - and was limited to roughly two hours. The six musicians present, though, delivered a thoroughly eclectic April shower of some 29 pieces ranging from Classic and Popular ragtime to '20s pop tunes to Novelty piano and even a few contemporary ragtime compositions for a crowd of some three-dozen current and a few new fans of ragtime music.

Frank Sano introduced a brand-new, as-yet unnamed combo featuring himself on piano and Jerry Schnitzer on guitar (uke player Art Yanes, we can hope, will be present next time around!), with Andrew Barrett sitting in on washboard. With a repertoire comprised of Tin Pan Alley standards kept alive for decades by jazz bands, the trio delivered wonderful, tuneful renditions of "I Can't Believe You're in Love With Me," "The Blue Room" and "Ain't Misbehavin'."

Emcee Eric Marchese took to Steamers' new Yamaha grand for two James Scott masterpieces, the rhythmic "Great Scott" from 1909 and the flowing "Quality" from 1911, then another 1911 rag - "Uncle Tom's Cabin" by Harry Austin Tierney (one of nine Tierney rags issued that year). The piece, Eric said, is considered by most of those familiar with Tierney's output as among the best of his 15 rags, and the first phrase of its trio has lyrics ("plunk, plunk, hear all dem banjos ringing"), pointing forward to Tierney's eventual career as a prolific songwriter and Broadway composer.

With Andrew on washboard, Nan Bostick performed three pieces off her brand-new CD "Missing You at the McCoy's," starting with "Bean Whistle Rag," her earliest ragtime composition. The CD, Nan noted, contains not one but two cuts of the piece: One recorded this year, the other an "original" recording from 1974, its year of composition. She then offered a "slow, meaningful" rendition of Giblin's "Chicken Chowder," meaning at a sprightly, measured clip - not draggy but also not rushed - before breaking into the more typical allegro tempo by the time the third reprise of the A strain appeared. Nan then closed an outstanding set with her soulful 2002 piece "That Missing You Rag." Those who wish to order Nan's CD can contact her at rtnan@earthlink.net or via the cdbaby.com website.

Andrew soloed on Albert Gumble's "Bolo Rag" from 1908, adding wonderful embellishments. One of Bill Mitchell's favorites, the piece has an innocent opening theme, a pleasing call-and-response second theme and a lively trio. Andrew's rendition of Joplin's "The Nonpareil" was soft, ultra-slow and expressive, eliciting the piece's inherent lyricism. Andrew closed his set with the piece that garnered him first-prize in a recent youth talent competition in Corona del Mar: Bargy's "Omeomy." It's easy to see why he won: He masters the piece's intricacies while adding his own inventive touches.

Nancy Kleier offered a "theme" set encompassing Mardi Gras, springtime and the constant storms we've weathered in recent weeks: Lyons & Yosco's "Mardi Gras Rag" (a cute pop rag from 1914), Martin Jaeger's "Baroque Rag" (a pretty syncopated handling of a J.S. Bach chorale in anticipation of Easter season) and a delightful tune from 1902, Kathryn Athol Morton's "Ragtime Showers."

Continuing with the idea of a "theme" set, Eric delivered Joplin's graceful 1903 gem "Palm Leaf" (in honor of Palm Sunday); Harry deCosta's clever, tuneful "Bunny Hug Rag" from 1912 (looking ahead to Easter Sunday next weekend); and, also from 1912, "Worlds Fair Rag" by San Francisco composer Harvey M. Babcock (in recognition of the centennial of the San Francisco earthquake). Alluding to its title, "Bunny Hug" has inventive "leaping" and "hopping" figurations throughout, while "Worlds Fair," the only known published piece by its composer, is a solid piece of ragtime with an insistent main theme (its B theme) given a kick-start by Eric via a walking bass and other performance devices.

Frank (on piano) and Andrew (on washboard) returned for a medley of "Hello Ma Baby" and "Louise" before welcoming Jerry to the stage. The trio gave us a gorgeous rendition of Gershwin's "Embraceable You," opening with Jerry soloing on guitar before being joined by Frank and Andrew. They closed with Spencer Williams' 1926 "Somebody Loves Me," a lively, swingy standard, and "Sweet Sue," whose sound fits its title.

Nan encored with two more selections from her new album: a lively handling of Louise V. Gustin's fine "X-N-Tric Two-Step Characteristic" (joined by Andrew on washboard) and Tom Pitts' "The Meadow Lark" (as a solo). On these and her other selections, Nan displayed her usual showmanship and impressively deft pianistics.

With her impending birthday, Nancy encored with another fine 1911 Harry Tierney rag, "Rubies and Pearls," with an exceptionally pretty trio section that echoes the third theme of "Pickles and Peppers," and Harry Lincoln's 1905 rag "False Alarm" - the theme of her set being what Nancy was expecting for her birthday (fine jewelry) and the realization that she had guessed wrong ("false alarm").

Andrew put a nice capper on the afternoon with Joseph Meyer's "I Wish I Were Twins," adding that his subtitle for the piece is "(So I Could Play Like Two People)" and announcing that he would first play the 1932 song as written, then rag it up on the repeat. He did so, with an added, final go-round in double-time. He then closed out the performance with the 1913 Joplin-Hayden rag "Kismet," which most experts attribute almost entirely to Hayden. This was a far cry from the standard, Classic-rag treatment, with jazz and blues harmonies and augmented chords and, after two choruses of the closing strain, a one-step rendition of the theme featuring more blue notes.

The abbreviated musicale was a fun, and fine, way to welcome Spring. We look forward to seeing everyone back at Steamers for the next OCRS, Saturday, May 20, from 1 to 4:30 p.m. Pass the word along to your friends and family that ragtime is here to stay in Orange County!

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