'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
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.