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June 2007 OCRS: A bit of Kansas City

At Steamers on June 16th, 2007, nine musicians delivered some 45 pieces, including washboard, ukelele and a few vocals to spice things up. This time around, Kansas City cropped up quite a bit, either in the titles of pieces or as the city where pieces were published.

Stan Long got things underway with his performances of "The Entertainer," "Maple Leaf Rag," "Haunting Accident," his very Trebor Tichenor- and Brun Campbell-esque original, and a measured reading of Joplin's "Solace - A Mexican Serenade."

MC Eric Marchese honored an audience request for "Swipesy," the 1900 Arthur Marshall piece whose trio was written by Scott Joplin. Eric then related the occasion of Booker T. Washington being invited to the White House by President Theodore Roosevelt before performing Joplin's wonderfully march-like 1902 rag "The Strenuous Life," whose title is attributed to a well-known Roosevelt quotation. He closed his set with the rarely-played 1904 Joplin rag "The Favorite," which was actually written in Sedalia around the same time as "Maple Leaf Rag" and "The Ragtime Dance" but whose publication was, for some unknown reason, held up for four years by Sedalia publisher A.W. Perry & Sons' Music Company. All three rags are fine examples of great ragtime from the turn of the century.

Andrew Barrett started his set with George L. Cobb's "Procrastination" from 1927. Next: Fred Hoeptner's "Melancholy Mood" and, finally, from 1905, Steven R. Henry's "Priscilla - A Colonial Intermezzo." Sounding as if it could have been written earlier, Cobb's lively piece offers fine surprise twists and turns. Fred's composition, subtitled "A Raggy Blue," is a lovely, haunting rhapsody full of sadness and waves of delicate emotion, while the Henry piece is a typical ragtime-era march.

Ron Ross gave us three originals: "Mirella," a nicely emotional tango with beautiful dissonances, and two songs: "Small Town Private Eye," with its genuinely funny lyrics, and "The All-Inclusive Tour." Ditto on those lyrics, sung for comedic effect in a hick voice.

Shirley Case did two "Sedalia" rags by Galen Wilkes: "Sedalia Stomp" and "Streets of Sedalia," then switched to "The Hanon Rag," written by "Perfesser" Bill Edwards while working on his music degree in Durango, CO (and now part of "the Edwards library of whimsical classics"). Taken at a measured tempo, the "Stomp" is a fine, contemporary stoptime rag, with the audience enjoying its role of clapping their hands (or stomping their feet) to fill in the tacits, or silences, in the score. Inspired by photo postcards of the early 20th century, "Streets" is a classic-style rag with jazzy-sounding harmonies. Edwards' piece, subtitled "a musical joke," employs deliberate repetition a la classical composer Hanon.

Bill Mitchell got the crowd further warmed up with three outstanding pieces he's been playing for years from a 1949 folio of Jelly Roll Morton piano pieces: "Mister Jelly Lord"; "London Blues"; and "Kansas City Stomp." "Jelly Lord" features breaks, licks and harmonies that are Morton signatures. Also known as "Shoeshiner's Drag," "London Blues," recorded by King Oliver in 1923 and Lionel Hampton in the late '30s, also features Morton's penchant for breaks. Bill played both expertly while adding a jazz feeling to the rollicking "Stomp."

Admiring Steamers' beautiful grand piano, Vincent Johnson delivered Eubie Blake's "Baltimore Todalo," Harry Belding's "Good Gravy Rag," and Roy Bargy's "Omeomy" (from a Tom Brier transcription of the piano roll of this unpublished piece). Vincent added nice touches on all three, literally putting on the kid gloves for "Omeomy," an exciting tune chock-full of typical Bargy touches.

With Andrew on washboard, Frank Sano credibly rendered "Coney Island Washboard" and Percy Wenrich and Edward Madden's "Red Rose Rag" on the piano, then switched to ukelele for "Floating Down the Old Green River" and "Darkness on the Delta," with Bill Mitchell taking over on piano. All three are solidly rhythmic tunes that benefit from being rendered on multiple instruments.

Bob Pinsker played and sang Willie the Lion Smith's "Music on My Mind," then hit the crowd with a "name that tune" in the form of Zez Confrey's beautifully impressionistic "Della Robbia" from 1938. Bob wrapped up his set with a piano rendition of the James P. Johnson song "Lock and Key," which he dedicated to the memory of the recently deceased John Farrell. John transcribed "Lock and Key" from the record sung by Bessie Smith accompanied by the composer of the tune; pulling out the piano part from under Bessie's vocal was a real tour de force, demonstrating Farrell's wonderful ear. Farrell will be sorely missed.

Stan encored with Gil Lieby's "Goldenrod Rag" and two "three-over-four" standards, "Dill Pickles," published in Kansas City in 1906, and "Black and White Rag." Eric's encores also included "Black and White" as well as "Kansas City Blues," a great 1915 blues number by "Twelfth Street Rag" composer Euday Bowman.

Ron's encores were his newest rag, "Orange County Rag," and an old song favorite, "Studio Sensation," again showing the composer's flair for humorous lyrics. Noting that she was born in Kansas City, Missouri, Shirley continued her "Missouri"-theme with two more pieces by Wilkes: "Boone County Rag" and "Creeks of Missouri," the former achieving a poignant sound and the latter, the composer's most famous piece, possessing an authentic Missouri flavor.

Vincent shifted direction, but kept up the Missouri connection, with what is probably the only Novelty piece by composer Charles L. Johnson, who was born and spent his entire career in Kansas City: "Monkey Biz-Nez," a swingy foxtrot issued in 1928, its title, Vincent noted, most likely a commentary on the Scopes "monkey trial" of 1925. Bill Mitchell carried forward the afternoon's coincidental K.C. theme with his encore - "Original Rags," Joplin's first published rag, which was issued by Carl Hoffman of Kansas City in 1899, six months before the belated appearance of "Maple Leaf Rag."

Frank and Andrew delivered "Hard-Hearted Hannah" (Frank on piano, Andrew on washboard), then Bill spelled Frank at the piano for "Waiting for the Robert E. Lee." With Frank on a well-miked uke and Andrew providing the steamboat whistle sounds while pounding the washboard, this turned out to the be one of the most entertaining numbers of the day. Andrew then switched to the piano for his two encores - first, "The Reuben Foxtrot," a 1914 number by Ed Claypoole, better known for "Ragging the Scale," then "You're Too Cranky - A Stride Novelty" which Andrew started writing in 2004 and completed a year or so later. Using triplets, a drop-bass and other devices of both genres, the piece is indeed an ingenious blend of Harlem Stride and Novelty and an exciting addition to the contemporary ragtime repertory.

Bob Pinsker wrapped up the day with Roy Bargy's version of the great Luckey Roberts stride piece "Railroad Blues." Bob learned the piece off of Bargy's piano roll, noting that Bargy himself was heavily influenced by Roberts' version of it. Either way, it's a tremendous Stride number. Next, Bob once again saluted John Farrell by performing James P. Johnson's "Weeping Blues," which Bob re-edited from John Farrell's transcription of the 1923 recording. The piece, in all its glory, contains tangy dissonances, jazzy breaks and more. Bob ended his set and the afternoon with his usual stellar rendering of "Lem Fowler's Hot Strut." From his own transcription of the composer's piano roll, the piece is indeed hot and it does indeed strut (and stride!) - a terrific way to end a wonderful afternoon of music.

About the only thing missing was a performance of James Scott's wonderful "Kansas City Rag" from 1907. Oh, well... perhaps next meeting! We'll see everyone at Mo's on August 18th at our usual starting time of 1 pm.

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