RagFest Home | The Music | Schedule | Performers | Venues | OCRS | About Us

August '06 OCRS reflects on contemporary composers

For the August, 2006, OCRS musicale, ten musicians delivered a program of some 45 rags, ragtime songs and blues tunes, with today’s incredible raft of contemporary composers more than receiving their due with the performance of eight modern-day ragtime compositions.

Stan Long opened with a relaxed version of “The Entertainer,” that ragtime cornerstone “Maple Leaf,” and his own original “Haunting Accident,” which Stan said was “composed by accident” and which has the genuine flavor of Trebor Tichenor’s best. “Haunting Rag” and “Accidental Rag” were, Stan tells us, already taken as titles, so Disneyland pianist Johnny Hodges suggested the title which Stan eventually affixed to the piece.

Emcee Eric Marchese delivered two Chicago publications: “Ashy Africa,” a beautiful and catchy rag by Percy Wenrich and, from 1903, his first published; and James White’s outstanding 1915 blues tune “The Original Chicago Blues.” Eric wrapped up his set with “Get This,” a 1913 slow drag by Walter Blaufuss, a Milwaukee composer and arranger who himself used the services of ragtime composer F. Henri Klickmann for this wonderful, rarely heard rag. Interestingly, Eric noted, the score contains notations such as “Cello” and “Fl. & Cl.” that indicate Blaufuss’ interest in band arrangements.

Ron Ross started with “a sad song,” the minor-key lament “(I’m Just Not) Getting Over You,” and its polar opposite, “The All-Inclusive Tour,” a jocular ditty about a hick’s first visit to Las Vegas. Ron closed his set with “Acrosonic Rag,” named for his piano at home, the name being a brand of Baldwin. All three are original pieces.

Bob Pinsker opened with Jimmy Blythe’s (or possibly Clarence Johnson’s) “Sugar Dew Blues,” filled with funky, bluesy, low-down sounds. Plugging the Heliotrope Ragtime Orchestra’s first CD album, It’s a Bear! Bob played and sang Tony Jackson’s “Some Sweet Day,” then segued into a one-step arrangement by Abe Olman, the latter capturing a true vaudeville flavor. Bob closed his set with James P. Johnson’s “Weepin’ Blues,” transcribed by John Farrell from the 1923 recording. A typical Stride take on the blues genre, the piece is measured and relaxed, yet contains many dynamic melodic and rhythmic devices.

Offering extensive background on Les Copeland, Andrew Barrett proffered descriptions of the eccentric pianist-composer as offered by one Johnny, a bartender in a saloon in France, where Copeland played during his lengthy and checkered career. Andrew explained his approach to playing Copeland’s rags as a synthesis of printed score and the sound of Copeland’s roll performances, which Andrew has in the form of MIDI files. “I like dotting” the scores, Andrew noted, delivering a swing rhythm to pre-1914 pieces. “Copeland was a weird character, and his rags are no less so,” Andrew stated before playing the composer’s “Invitation Rag.”

Andrew then took us to the present day with Eric Marchese’s Classic-style 1994 rag “The Sugar House,” giving the dolce piece a measured, graceful approach, with many nice accents, and “Unexpectation Two-Step,” a 2005 rag by youthful Pennsylvania composer Jeff Dorfman. The title, Andrew explained, appears inspired by 1902’s “Expectation Two-Step.” The piece, he said, “is in a lot of sharp keys, and it sounds good.”

Fred Hoeptner continued the contemporary rag theme with his own haunting “Aura of Indigo” and Max Morath’s modern-day classic, “One for Amelia.” He closed with James Scott’s 1921 rag “Victory,” an outstanding, underplayed Scott Classic with plenty of rhythmic drive.

Joined by banjoist Vic Loring, whom he’s known for 50 years, Bill Mitchell pianicized on Hunter’s “’Possum and Taters,” with a fine folk flavor emphasized by Vic’s chord-strumming. The pair then delivered Ford Dabney’s peppy “Georgia Grind” and two Classic rags: Scott’s only birdcall rag, “The Ragtime Oriole” and Joplin’s “Peacherine.” Both are lively, fun and melodic, and Vic is a skilled banjoist.

Eric continued the Classic-Rag thread with one by each of the “Big Three” of the genre: Scott’s “The Shimmie-Shake,” Joplin’s “Silver Swan” and Lamb’s “The Bee Hive.” All three are rarely heard. The Scott piece is a song from 1920, with lyrics by Cleota Wilson. Joplin’s rag is thought to have been written around 1914 but went undiscovered until 1970, when a piano roll was discovered by a Maple Leaf Club member, the piece authenticated as a Joplin composition and published in 1971 by the Los Angeles-based organization. The Lamb tune is even more “recent”: Written circa 1908-1914, it wasn’t copyrighted until 1959 and remained unpublished until 2005, in the folio “Little Lost Lamb.”

Frank Sano on piano and Vic on banjo delivered two medleys, the first combining “Ain’t She Sweet,” “Five-Foot-Two” and “Mandy,” the second “Hello Ma Baby,” “Louise” and “I Found A Million-Dollar Baby (In A Five and Ten Cent Store).”

Bob encored with Blythe’s “Carolina Stomp,” from Robbie Rhodes’ 1982 transcription, a full rendering replete with piano roll-style breaks, drop bass figurations and more. Next was Willie the Lion Smith’s “Lament of the Lioness,” a pretty, lyrical 1940 piece with many intriguing modulations, and more J.P. Johnson with JPJ’s 1921 piano roll arrangement of W.C. Handy’s “Loveless Love,” the chorus of which is the folk tune “Careless Love.” Bob closed his set with Smith’s 1939 opus “Passionette” which, he noted, contains not even a single measure of the ragtime standard “oom-pah” bass.

Ron encored with his comedic song “Small-Town Private Eye” and his beautiful waltz “Cloudy.” Stan’s encore set: Wenrich’s “Snow Deer” which, he enlightened us, began its life in the early teens as an Indian intermezzo but became known as a rag during the 1950s, with its frequent performance by Joe “Fingers” Carr; and Isham Jones’ classic song “It Had To Be You.” Glen Perelman, a self-confessed non-ragtimer, offered the South American folktune (popularized by Paul Simon with a new lyric) “El Condor Pasa.”

Offering biographical background on Gil Lieby, Andrew played the 1966 rag “Goldenrod,” which remained unpublished until 1989, and Dave Ringle’s 1921 waltz ballad “After All Is Said and Done.” He then gave a slow, measured reading to Joplin’s 1907 masterpiece “The Nonpareil,” and a peppy rendering of Charley Straight’s “Blue Grass Rag” which, Andrew explained, is the published, 1918 version of a previous Straight piano roll, “Mitinice,” except for its new opening theme.

Bob delivered an old favorite, the very hot “Fowler’s Hot Strut” by Lem Fowler, again transcribed from piano roll. Bill and Vic, joined by Andrew on washboard, closed out the afternoon with three Classic rags: Lamb’s “Bohemia,” Marshall and Joplin’s “Swipesy,” and Joplin’s “Weeping Willow.” All were given a solidly rhythmic treatment that enhanced each piece and made for a nice ending to the day.

We’ll see everyone back at Steamers on Saturday, September 16, our final OCRS of 2006!

This website ©2012 by RagFest, created and administered by Aeromark