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'Hot,' obscure and Rossiter tunes rule Sept. '06

With a rather small turnout both musician- and crowd-wise, the last OCRS of the 2006 year got underway. At least three tunes with the word “hot” in the title were offered, several pieces published by Will Rossiter and a handful of obscurities made their way into a program featuring seven pianists and 34 selections.

As the stage lights and sound system were being set, MC Eric Marchese tossed off a measured, expressive version of "Weeping Willow," one of the earliest (1903) Joplin rags to define the composer’s vision of ragtime music as a vehicle for serious musical expression.

Andrew Barrett got things rolling with Abe Olman’s 1910 "Candlestick Rag," a good pop rag with a lively opening section, nice left-hand movement and, from Andrew, neat embellishments. Andrew imbued "Top Liner Rag," Joe Lamb’s quintessential masterpiece, with aching emotion, approaching the piece slowly and tenderly. He wound up with Scott’s "Efficiency," adding numerous pianistic flourishes – walking bass, jazzy slurs, 32nd-note figures and more – to one of the composer’s livelier scores.

Eric noted that, only four tunes into the performance, the audience had already heard rags by each of Classic ragtime’s "Big Three," Joplin, Lamb and Scott. He then introduced Doug Haise, who splits his time between southern California and his home in Bloomington, Indiana, yet rarely seems to be here whenever an OCRS is on the calendar.

Doug decided to treat us to nothing but rarely heard rags and, to tantalize us, announced that he would play each tune, then see who could identify it. First up: Arthur Manlowe’s "Hallowe'en Rag," a lively pop rag issued by Rossiter in 1911. Next was "High Jinks" by Whidden & Conrad. Published by Feist in 1910, it has a chromatic opening theme, a songlike trio and a minor-key interlude that leads back into the main theme, section B. Doug ended his set with Thomas S. Allen’s "Home Spun Rag," issued by Daly out of Boston in 1913. Before playing it, Doug noted how Allen neatly tweaked some of the standard ragtime figures ("I hate to call them cliches," Doug said). All three sections feature very busy, single-note melody lines, with the main theme (B) offering a nice snap. Incidentally, no one was able to identify any of the rags.

Eric offered two more tunes issued by Will Rossiter: Joplin’s 1906 masterwork "Eugenia," featured on his piano album "The Silver Lining," and "Meet Me To-Night in Dreamland," a great, non-ragtime pop song from 1909 by Beth Slater Whitson and Leo Friedman that bore a striking similarity to one of the duo’s greatest songs, "Let Me Call You Sweetheart" from the following year. Taking the stage, Bill noted how dreamy and romantic was Eric’s interpretation of the tune.

Bill delivered one of Charles "Doc" Cooke’s biggest hits, "Blame It On the Blues," a 1914 rag that well outlived the teens, and two great Scott rags: "Evergreen" from 1915 and "Frog Legs," the latter being Scott’s first big hit and, like "Eugenia," enjoying its centennial this year.

Eric offered Clarence Woods' "Sleepy Hollow," a tune off his CD and one of only two published Woods rags. He then turned the stage over to Andrew, who offered two "hot" tunes: "Hot Hands" and "Hot House Rag." The former was one of Charley Straight's few sheet-music hits, issued by Remick in 1916 and with a pleasingly pianissimo trio; the latter is the only Paul Pratt rag to be published by John Stark, in 1914. Andrew noted that the piece is "a bit tricky" (referring to the Novelty-like main theme), that it contains "interesting minor-key stuff" and that the trio is "very beautiful." He took the piece at a measured tempo, adding his own improvisations. As if to “cool” things down, he ended his set with an enjoyable arrangement of George L. Cobb's "Cracked Ice" from 1918.

Frank Sano delivered a medley of "Louise," "Sunday" and "I Can’t Believe That You’re in Love with Me" and a neat piano arrangement of the ragtime-like "Doin' the Raccoon" from 1928. Ron Ross delivered an even-tempoed rendering of the 1908 Joplin masterpiece "Fig Leaf Rag," sandwiched by two originals: piano rag "Obediah’s Jumpsuit" and the vocal number "Good Thing Going," a rather lighthearted lament.

Noting that he’s been covering local theater for the O.C. Register since the '70s, Eric related the tale of being invited, in 1997, to perform in a staged reading of a Christmas-themed, radio play written in the late 1930s by famed radio scenarist Norman Corwin. So inspired was Eric that over the 1997 holidays, he composed "At the Footlights," dedicated to the many actors, directors and other talented stage types he has known over the years. He followed that up with Harry A. Tierney’s "Variety Rag," whose cover uses the logo of the show-biz newspaper "Daily Variety" and whose subtitle of "Something Different" is certainly borne out by the music of this 1912 piece.

Fred Hoeptner launched into David Guion’s pretty, moody "Texas Fox-Trot," a notoriously tough piece to tackle (especially its second strain). Fred followed up his own pretty, delicate yet no less challenging "Dalliance," with an amazing trio containing constantly shifting harmonies.

Doug offered more "name that tune" selections with "Hustling Rag," a 1914 Cincinnati rag by Stevenson and Kidwell and Lenzberg’s "Haunting Rag," both upbeat Popular rags utilizing the "three-over-four" pattern. He ended with a piece he said was "a good typical example of ragtime" that's "both typical and very good." The only hint Doug provided was the subtitle, "Ragtime Essence." With its lively first two sections and a resoundingly quiet trio, the 1913 piece, Richard Grant Grady’s "Happy Rag," lived up to its title. Like many of the afternoon’s other selections, it was issued by Rossiter. Andrew pegged the final piece by name and composer, but the first two were surprises.

Taking a cue from Doug, Bill offered a medley of Fats Waller tunes, keeping us in the dark as to which pieces until he’d finished playing – playing nice and slow, with verve, expression and a jazzy tone. The titles? "Ain’t Misbehavin'," "Squeeze Me," "Blue Turning Gray Over You," "How Can You Face Me?," "Keepin' Out of Mischief Now" and "I Can’t Give You Anything But Love." Bill noted that while the last piece is typically credited to Jimmy McHugh, it was rumored to have been penned by Waller (perhaps one of his notorious "hamburger" pieces, wherein the composer would compose and sell a new piece in exchange for dinner).

Andrew then joined Bill at the Yamaha grand, with Bill handling the treble and Andrew the bass on "Dill Pickles Rag" and "Pine Apple Rag," the combination of all four hands producing a piano roll-like sound. Ron encored with his loose, swingy "Digital Rag"; Doug offered the final "hot" tune – "Hot Cinders," Lamb’s only Novelty tune that survived to be published. Probably written in the early twenties, it remained unpublished until 1964. Doug nicely varied the tempo on the tune, a great Lamb creation and certainly a technical challenge. Andrew wound up the afternoon with his own intricate arrangement of Turpin’s monumental, and historic, "Harlem Rag," the first ragtime piece (1897) by a black composer to appear in print.

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