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May 2006 OCRS short but sweet

Steamers Jazz Club hosted a jazz band at 3 p.m. on the same day as OCRS, so our May 2006 musicale was reduced to under two hours. Just the same, nine musicians appeared and gave the crowd of roughly 35 a great selection of ragtime, trad jazz and even some classical.

Emcee Eric Marchese got things rolling with “Texas Tommy Swing,” a wonderfully catchy Tin Pan Alley tune written for (and performed in) the 1911 Ziegfeld Follies by Harris and Brown. He followed with the Scott Hayden-Scott Joplin rag “Kismet” from 1913, then two pieces by Charley Straight: his 1913 song “Everything is Ragtime Now,” written for vaudevillian Gene Greene; and “Humpty Dumpty” (1914), his first published rag.

Ron Ross gave us his beautifully wistful “Cloudy,” then “something old and something new”: the “old” being the masterful Joplin classic “Fig Leaf”; the “new,” an original Ross song, “The All-Inclusive Tour,” about the hilarious doings of a weekend in Las Vegas. Ron’s measured handling of “Fig Leaf” was particularly impressive, considering the piece’s difficulty level.

Bob Pinsker, alluding to the preceding weekend’s major holiday (Mother’s Day) gave us Clarence Williams, Willie the Lion Smith and Tausha Hammed’s “Let Every Day Be Mother’s Day” from 1935. Honoring last spring’s formation of the Heliotrope Ragtime Orchestra, of which he’s a co-founder, Bob followed with the lovely “Heliotrope Bouquet,” then wrapped up his set with Spencer Williams’ “Shimme-Sha-Wobble,” a good hot dance tune, with generous jazz influences, from 1917. As usual, Bob’s playing was rhythmic and smoothly professional.

Shirley Case honored her husband Storm’s 75th birthday that day with Denes Agay’s variations on “The Birthday Song” (more commonly known as “Happy Birthday”), a creative, inventive handling that imagines what that standard would have sounded like had it been performed by Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, Liszt, Strauss and a few others (including Sousa and Gershwin!). Though not ragtime, the piece is a real find and a joy to hear. Noting that she’s been focusing on “pretty” ragtime of late, Shirley concluded her set with two such pieces: Lamb’s lovely and intricate “Cottontail” (published 1964 but dating back, compositionally, to the teens) and “The Dream of Ragtime,” the concluding rag from Eric Marchese’s 1993 “Rag Suite: To the Classicists” (three rags, one each in the styles of Lamb, Scott and Joplin, “Dream” being the Joplin-style composition). Among the more creative sets, Shirley’s was a highlight of the afternoon.

Eric delivered the 1909 hit song (and rag) “The Cubanola Glide” by prolific composer Harry Von Tilzer (who wrote more than 3,000 tunes) before turning the stage over to pianist Frank Sano and uke player Art Yanes. In an impromptu performance including Bob Pinsker on violin, the trio delivered “I’m Confessin’ That I Love You” and a medley of “I Want to Be Happy” and “ ’Deed I Do.” With Bob on piano and Frank and Art on ukeleles, the guys gave us a socko version of the vintage ragtime hit song “Waiting for the Robert E. Lee.”

With fine and noticeably raggy rhythm, Stan Long hit a couple of tunes out of the park: the 1901 standard “Margery” and Gil Lieby’s 1992 “Golden Rod.” Fred Hoeptner offered two of the dozens of his own intricate, imaginative and haunting compositions: “Dalliance,” which manages to be both pretty and complex, and “Aura of Indigo,” which is likewise pretty, haunting and tricky. Like the works of William Bolcom, it weaves unusual harmonies into an involved structure to elicit strange, melancholy-tinged moods.

Phil Cannon transcribes piano scores for banjo, which is no mean feat, then performs them, which is all the more challenging – and makes it look easy. He wound things up for the day with an impressively intricate banjo version of Roberts’ “Junk Man Rag.” He and Eric (on piano) then wrapped up the afternoon with Joplin’s “Rose Leaf Rag.”

We’ll see everyone back at Steamers for the next OCRS on Saturday, August 12, with our more typical 3-hour format (1 to 4:30 p.m.) and a raft of new performers! A Happy Summer to all...

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