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January 2007 OCRS sees the January effect

The January 2007 OCRS saw several milestones, including the unofficial fifth anniversary of the club (technically, in November, 2006) and the first time for the use of Mo's Fullerton Music as a venue. Unlike Steamers, Mo's has several pianos, which nicely lent itself to multiple-performer renditions of several crowd favorites. The venue, known as "The Cave," can seat up to 100, is filled with musical memorabilia, photos, posters, stuffed animals and more. Two pianos grace the stage, a Howard (Baldwin) baby grand and a Hobart "cabinet grand" (full upright), with a Wurlitzer spinet off to one side.

The crowd of roughly 45 included 10 musicians who delivered a total of 40 numbers. As requested by MC Eric Marchese, many of these were either tunes written by composers born in January or tunes whose copyright dates occurred in that month. There were also a fair share of “centennial” rags – pieces published in 1907, a theme likely to resurface throughout the rest of the coming year.

Eric opened things up with one of Scott Joplin’s several gems from 1907, his magnificent “Searchlight Rag.” He then turned to Joplin’s outstanding 1901 waltz, “Augustan Club Waltzes,” which has two busy opening themes, a subdued trio and a grandly dignified closing strain. Eric capped his set with his 2004 piece “The Fullerton Glide” as a tip of the hat to the city of Fullerton for hosting the OCRS for five years (and counting) as well hosting seven RagFests. Eric composed the music as an untitled song in 2003, then a year later wrote lyrics describing Fullerton’s founding as a town in 1904 as a tribute to the city’s 2004 centennial, with a new second verse being added in 2005.

Traveling all the way from Sierra Madre was teenager Vincent Johnson who, at 14, is beginning to really hit his stride as an up-and-coming ragtime pianist. He opened with Luckey Roberts's tuneful and melodic "Music Box Rag," played with a nice lilt, then followed it with Copeland’s "Cabbage Leaf," alluding to the way it foreshadows Novelty piano (that it does, with a funky B theme loaded with slurs and triplets). Introducing his next selection as "the first million-seller" of any instrumental piece of sheet music and, next to "Twelfth Street Rag," the most famous rag ever written, Vincent invited Eric to join him for an off-the-cuff duet of "Maple Leaf Rag."

Shirley Case offered three of Joseph F. Lamb’s sparkling rags published posthumously in the 1964 Mills folio "Ragtime Treasures," opening with "Ragtime Bobolink," a rag so clearly influenced by classical music. Shirley’s wonderful rendition, including creative improvisations and counterpoint, is preserved on her CD, “A Ragtime Feast.” Continuing with the 'bird' motif, Shirley offered "Bird Brain Rag." She closed her set with one of the great "heavy" Lamb scores, the grand, elegant and often soaring "Cottontail Rag," again with many nice touches by the performer.

After a host of upcoming concert announcements, Bob Pinsker took the stage with C. Frederick Clark’s composition “Midnight,” noting the difficulty of categorizing the piece by musical genre. Published by Walter Jacobs in Boston in 1925, the piece was reprinted in Melody magazine, where Bob was able to procure it. Its trio offers a kaleidoscope of changing harmonies, and the entire piece is an amalgam of Novelty piano, European and American classical and contemporary popular music.

Relating a tale of his recent visit to the Library of Congress, Bob noted that he found a total of 58 songs composed by George W. Thomas between 1916 and 1928, many of which were either self-published or unpublished. [Quick math shows that’s more than four pieces per year.] Bob proceeded to display the cover artwork, then to perform, Thomas's "That Bull Frog Rag," published by Clarence Williams in 1917 with this boast on the cover following the title: “In Class by Itself!” Bob joked that Thomas must have considered the obscure piece "a big hit," because Thomas copyrighted an exactly identical piece a few years later as "Hog's Grunt." The piece’s busy opening theme is followed by a second strain that leans on the three-over-four pattern and a lyrical yet lively trio.

Hersal Thomas, one of George Thomas’ many younger siblings (there were at least a dozen) made his first recording at age 14 and composed many a piece before his death at age 16 (possibly as 'old' as 19 - census records differ slightly). Bob displayed the manuscript to “They Needed a Piano Player in Heaven, So They Sent for Hersal.” The piece was copyrighted on June 16, 1926, two weeks *before* the date given universally for Hersal's death! (July 3, 1926). However, after finding this piece at the Library, Bob was able to find an item in The Chicago Defender from 12 June 1926 that proves that the correct date of Hersal's death was 2 June 1926. A melodic ballad with shades of the blues and torch songs, the piece was rendered with plenty of appropriate schmaltz by Mr. Pinsker.

On her way to south Orange County for a house concert solo performance, Nan Bostick took to the baby grand, inviting Shirley (on the Hobart) and Eric (on the spinet) to join her on "That Poker Rag." Bill Mitchell replaced Shirley on the upright for Joplin’s "Original Rags." Finally, Shirley returned to the stage with Bob, Bill Mitchell, Andrew Barrett and Frank Sano for a 14-handed arrangement of the 1906 Charles L. Johnson hit "Dill Pickles."

Andrew’s solo set started with Adeline Shepherd’s "Live Wires" from 1909, a piece he said is "Dedicated to the real live wire, Maurice H. Richmond." The first section is melodic, B is lively, with much good improv work by Andrew, and the trio, like Shepherd’s hit "Pickles and Peppers," is quiet and dignified. Andrew followed with a 1912 obscurity, "That Dixie Dip," a piece credited to "Dippy Dip." A fairly standard piece, as Andrew noted, the last four bars of the second theme do indeed quote "Dixie." Andrew closed with a 1907 tune, Johnson's "Southern Beauties," with its upbeat second strain and a lyrical and pretty trio that alternates twice with an interlude, given wonderfully raggy improvisations by the pianist.

Bill and Eric duetted on "The Smiler," which is not only a centennial piece but which was copyrighted in January (1/2/1907) and whose composer, Percy Wenrich, was born in January. Bill then soloed on two more rags copyrighted in January: Belding's "Good Gravy Rag" (1/18/1913) and Scott’s "Kansas City Rag" (like "The Smiler," copyrighted Jan. 2, 1907). Bill gives the lively "Good Gravy" a great rendition and neatly features the creative left hand of the trio of "Kansas City," certainly one of the more underplayed Classic rags.

Bill and Frank duetted on "The Blue Room" and "Cakewalkin' Babies from Home" and Frank and Eric on "Hard-Hearted Hannah." Stan Long delivered his impressions, all based on playing by ear, of Confrey’s "Dizzy Fingers," then invited Vincent to take the upper half of the baby grand. With Stan covering the keyboard’s lower half, the duo delivered a four-handed, one-piano version of Joplin's "Peacherine." Stan closed with "My Ditty," an original medley that includes "Fur Elise" and "Stars and Stripes Forever."

Noticing the many stuffed animals, Vincent placed a small gray tiger on the baby grand before delivering more Confrey with – what else? – "Kitten on the Keys." He exhibited nice technique on what is considered James Scott’s masterpiece, "Grace and Beauty."

Fred Hoeptner offered more great Scott with an exciting rendition of the underperformed "Victory Rag." He then switched to contemporary mode with his lovely, melancholy "Aura of Indigo," whose trio offers certain hints of Gershwin. Fred then performed most of his one of his newest compositions, "Marching Through Sedalia" (from 2005), whose opening section has the flavor of the old American frontier.

Eric encored with "Get This!," a wonderful Walter Blaufus slow drag from 1913, and his 1991 original "Winnin' Time," dedicated to the Magic Johnson-era Los Angeles Lakers teams which won several championships during the 1980s.

Shirley encored with two beautiful Trebor Tichenor rags: "Cape Rose" and "Glen Arbor," both with some bluesy licks and a Classic rag-style call-and-response. Trebor, as Eric noted, is one of several outstanding contemporary ragtime composers born in January.

Bill encored with Joplin's "Easy Winners" and Scott's "Sunburst," both bright, vital Classic rags. Bob’s encores were Lew Pollack's "Harry Fox Trot" from 1918, with its dynamic opening theme, an energetic B section with a Novelty-style break and a trio with more break-like figures. He closed with "Out of Time," an unpublished slow drag of Eric’s from 2003. Andrew’s encore was "my own version" of Jimmy Blythe's "Society Blues," which he learned by ear from "a recording of a piano roll." The piece uses a drop-bass and other sophisticated techniques to terrific effect.

The highly entertaining and diverse afternoon closed with Andrew on the grand and Eric on the upright for "Humpty Dumpty," Charley Straight's first published rag, copyrighted January 13, 1914 and its composer born in January of 1891. Bob then joined Andrew and Eric for the grand finale, Euday Bowman’s "Twelfth Street Rag." By no small coincidence, the piece had been referred to earlier in the day by Vincent, and it was first copyrighted 1/30/14 and a second time on 1/2/15.

All in all it was a fine afternoon. We’ll see everyone back next month, on Feb. 17th, at Steamers!

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