March 2007 OCRS: Multiple
styles and new performers at Mo’s Music Store
Back to The Cave at Mo's Music Store, the
March 24, 2007 OCRS drew roughly 30 attendees and several high school
and college students who wandered in and out from the weekend-long
Fullerton College Jazz Festival. That 10 of the audience members were
also musicians didn't negate the fact that this was among the most
musically diverse musicales we've had in a long time, with practically
every form and genre of vintage and contemporary ragtime represented
by the core group of stalwarts plus some new performers making their
first appearances at OCRS.
With MC Eric Marchese running late, Vincent Johnson and Stan Long
got things rolling with two-piano versions of "Peacherine"
and "Maple Leaf Rag," Vincent on the Howard (Baldwin) baby
grand, Stan on the Hobart full upright (or "cabinet grand,"
as its logo so grandly proclaims). Vincent then continued with a solo
set of three pieces, beginning with a slow-tempo rendition of Harry
Belding's fine 1913 rag "Good Gravy," lending the piece
nice embellishments and a forceful ending. That only two of Belding's
rags are published, Vincent reminded us, is our loss. He continued
with a piece "related to ragtime": a pleasing, jazzy arrangement
of "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" (Styne-Robin), complete
with walking bass, fill-ins and other ragtime licks. Vincent closed
with "Lime Swallowtail," the second of what will eventually
be three rags of a "butterfly suite." Noting the inspiration
of Billy Mayerl, Vincent said the piece is "progressing,"
offering a different ending than what was heard at OCRS last month.
The first theme features descending triplets; the second, ascending,
but in tighter groupings, and the trio (the newest section) uses a
walking bass plus a nice variant on the echo effect.
Before starting her set, Shirley Case noted how in more than 30 years
as a piano teacher, she has never seen a "new" key system
for piano, until a recent article in the Orange County Register by
Teri Sforza (who did a comprehensive advance feature on RagFest '06
that made the front page) with the headline "Play a high L, please"
dissected a new system in which none of the notes are assigned "sharps"
or "flats," instead each one given a corresponding alphabetic
letter, 'A' through 'L.' The system’s creator? A Fullerton guitarist
whose instruction studio is located inside Mo's. As she was passing
the piece around, Shirley mentioned that she and husband Storm were
headed for South Coast Repertory Theater for the Saturday night performance
of "The Piano Teacher." Of particular interest? Linda Gehringer,
who plays the production's title character, prepared for her role
by conducting an intense interview with Shirley!
Shirley delivered two fine solos to be found on her album "A
Ragtime Feast": "Heliotrope Bouquet" and "Ragtime
Nightingale," making fine use of rubato on both and, on "Nightingale,"
difficult additions to the C-minor bass part and a swingy feel to
the final iteration of the B theme. Shirley then asked Bill Mitchell
to join her for Eubie Blake's "Baltimore Todolo," a jazzy,
swingy, low-down version with Bill on the upright, Shirley on the
Bill and Eric delivered a second duet, Joplin's durable masterpiece
"Pine Apple Rag" of 1908. As commentary on Shirley's selection
of the Chauvin-Joplin collaboration "Heliotrope," Eric delivered
Chauvin's piano part to the 1906 ragtime song "Babe, It's Too
Long Off," sans Elmer Bowman's lyrics. Chauvin, as Eric noted,
also has an earlier (1903) ragtime song in print: "The Moon Is
Shining in the Skies," with lyrics by Sam Patterson (the piece
could have come from the pair's 1903 revue "Dandy Coon,"
of which no published copy remains). Eric noted the harmonic similarities
between "Babe" and "Heliotrope" as well as describing
the content of Bowman's humorous lyrics, a pleasing contrast with
Chauvin's pretty music.
Eric then delivered one of his own originals, and his only entry into
the sub-genre of birdcall ragtime: "The Ragtime Warbler"
(1988), inspired not only by "Nightingale" and Scott’s
"Ragtime Oriole" but also by more contemporary pieces like
Glenn Jenks's "Ragtime Hermit-Thrush." Eric closed his set
with a nod to the state of Oklahoma's centennial this year by playing
his own, souped-up arrangement of John F. Carroll’s music to
"The Oklahoma Oil Field Blues," one of the few ragtime pieces
to come out of the Sooner State (published in 1920 by H.M. Keifer
Music Publishing Company in Pawhuska, Okla.). Again, Eric refrained
from singing the piece's lyrics (by Jack Randolph) but described them
(the singer longs to be back home in the oilfields where he will,
presumably, one day strike it "rich as old John D."). The
cover of the sheet music depicts "the Minnehoma Gusher, the 15,000-barrel
well" in Pawhuska, as a young gent in a suit sits on a park bench
reading a newspaper, the "Oil and Gas News."
Eric then hosted a "cutting contest" between longtime member
Stan Long and his seven-year-old grandson, Kaden. The duo opened with
some banter a la Abbott & Costello’s "Who's On First?"
routine, leading to Kaden’s rendition of "The Entertainer"
– a simplified version, true, but the youngster played all four
themes using both hands, adding oomph to the final D theme plus a
jazzy coda in an impressive OCRS debut. Grandpa Stan followed with
Confrey's rarely heard "Nickel in the Slot," a great Novelty
tune. With "round one" over with, the audience favorite
was Kaden. Round Two began with Kaden playing Stan's arrangement of
the Harold Arlen-Yip Harburg classic "Over the Rainbow,"
with nice bass counterpoint and plenty of feeling overall. His last
shot at victory, Stan tackled Robin Frost’s "Space Shuffle."
"I may go up in flames on this one," he said, then dove
in, taking this tough piece, which requires maximum dexterity, at
a moderate tempo. Declaring things a tie, Eric oversaw a tiebreaker:
A four-handed, one-piano version of the 1917 jazz one-step song "Hong
Kong" (Hans Von Holstein-Alma M. Sanders-Richard W. Pascoe),
with Stan on the bass, Kaden providing a single-note treble. Still
deadlocked, the final tiebreaker was that 1914 classic, "Colonel
Bogey March," written by Lt. F. J. Ricketts under the pen name
of Kenneth Alford. With Stan on bass and Kaden alternating single
notes with chords, this very lively arrangement resembled a piano
roll. It could be said that Kaden won the "cuttin' contest,"
but that it was a moral victory for his proud gramps.
Commenting on Eric's Oklahoma piece, Bill Mitchell joked that he'd
like to write "The Signal Hill Oil Derrick Blues" as a salute
to his fond memories of those hoary devices. Bill then lent his customary
jazzy, swingy touch to three classic rags: Joplin and Hayden's 1901
gem "Sunflower Slow Drag" and two by Scott – "Evergreen"
and "Ragtime Oriole," "the granddaddy of birdcall rags."
Bill also displayed the folio "100 Ragtime Classics" selected
by Max Morath. Bill purchased the volume upon its issue in 1963, noting
it's one of the first, if not the first, folio of classic rags ever
Noting that RagFest 2006 brought two new pianists to his attention,
Eric introduced one of them: Dax King from Valencia, whose repertoire
includes all of Joplin's pieces as well as a broad swath of the classics.
As if to illustrate, Dax delivered Joplin's heavily classic 1909 opus
"Euphonic Sounds," then switched to an earlier Joplin style
with 1904's "The Cascades."
On the west coast from his home in Milwaukee, Doug Haise handed Eric
a stack of scores by Joplin, Lamb and Scott. The audience applauded
each title to signal their desire to hear each piece, with "Champagne,"
"Top Liner" and "Sugar Cane" garnering the most
applause. Doug delivered a crisp rendering of "Champagne"
at a sprightly clip, with great phrasing and dynamics. He gave "Top
Liner" the proper sweep and grandeur, adding delicate rubato,
and nice ebb and flow, to the trio, and a strong, majestic ending.
Switching back to the upright, Doug offered a sprightly, up-tempo
version of "Sugar Cane."
Noting that the audience had now heard two of Joplin’s three
great rags from 1908, Eric delivered what he considered the masterpiece
of the three, "Fig Leaf – A High-Class Rag."
Ron Ross offered three originals – old favorites "Joplinesque"
and "Digital Rag" and one of his newest works, "The
Orange County Rag." With lovely harmonies, "Joplinesque"
is pretty and a bit melancholy, “Digital” more funky and
jazzy, with insistent rhythms. Inspired by RagFest, "Orange County
Rag," Ron said, is a work in progress ("it may never be
finished"), its A theme presenting a teasing pattern in the Classic-rag
mold; a more dramatic, rag-tango second theme; and a minor-key trio
that rings of the trios of Lamb.
Eric then introduced Danny MacLeith of Garden Grove, the second newcomer
to OCRS to be "discovered" at RF06. Dan told of his introduction
to the works of Robin Frost through John Roche’s fine MIDI arrangements
of Frost's works, mostly Novelties that are seemingly impossible for
ten human fingers to perform. As if to disprove this, Danny delivered
"Uncle Herbie's Rag," a very funky-cool piece with tinges
of ragtime, jazz and blues and a distinctive off-meter sound throughout
(including stoptime gaps in which we were encouraged to fill in with
a loud handclap).
Switching to Confrey, Danny exhibited terrific control and command
of the intricacies of "Kitten on the Keys," adding extra
choruses of the trio, replete with glissandoes and extra embellishments.
He wrapped up his stellar set with more Frost: "Occident Express"
which he said, taken at 90 beats per minute instead of the prescribed
120, would be instead "a semi-express." The whimsical piece’s
opening theme features triads and augmented chords and, overall, a
preference for bizarre harmonies, with a more melodic trio and a barrage
of various "train" effects (whistles, crossing sounds, etc.).
Commenting on the Novelty genre and his own preference for the works
of Charley Straight, Eric offered the 1916 Straight piece "S'More"
from the Tom Brier transcription, before bringing each musician back
up for their encores. Bill at the grand and Vincent at the upright
gave us a nicely jazzy "Music Box Rag" by Luckey Roberts.
Eric then joined them on the Wurlitzer spinet for a six-handed "Swipesy."
Shirley gave us a fast, lively version of Irene Giblin's "Chicken
Chowder." The rag's hallmark are its chromatic runs in sections
A and C, but in the contrasting B theme, you can almost hear them
chickens clucking! Eric then joined Shirley for a four-handed rendition
of the 1908 Ted Snyder hit "Wild Cherries" (both pieces
are featured on Shirley's album).
Stan encored with his Brun Campbell-esque original, "Haunting
Accident" and Dax with a second 1904 Joplin masterwork, "The
Sycamore," followed by Ron's jazzy piano version of his 1987
song "Small Town Private Eye." Bill brought down the roof
with a jazzy, peppy version of Morton’s "Grandpa's Spells,"
done with Bill's customary aplomb. Doug followed with an up-tempo
version of "Grace and Beauty," regarded by most as James
Scott's masterpiece, giving this fine rag nice accents, dynamics and
variations in volume.
As his encore, Vincent offered "Painted Lady," a slow, swingy,
gentle piece, his first composition and the opening composition of
the butterfly suite. Danny's encore was one more by Robin Frost: "Eccentric
Formulas," whose subtitle is "Oxymoronic Rag" (and,
in parentheses, "a musical joke"). This piece has it all
– off-meter rhythms, Novelty harmonies, riffs, a catchy second
theme and a jumpy trio that seems inspired by "Kitten on the
Keys." In all, this odd rag, as its title clearly suggests, is
whimsical and charming.
The afternoon ended with Bill, Dax and Eric rendering “The Smiler”;
Danny joining them for "Original Rags"; and Bill, Dax, Eric,
Shirley and Stan delivering the 1906 perennial "Dill Pickles."
In the course of the day's 225 minutes of performance, the audience
heard a total of 47 pieces, which qualifies this as the longest yet
also most diverse OCRS to date, offering early ragtime, Classic, popular,
Tin Pan Alley, vocal, Advanced, Novelty, Stride and Jelly Roll Morton
as well as a pleasing selection of 12 contemporary compositions. We’ll
see everyone back at "The Cave" on May 19th!!