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May 2007 OCRS: Springtime fun at The Cave at Mo's Music

At Mo's Music Store's The Cave on May 19, 2007, and with a later start time (1:30), OCRS drew a few newcomers unaware of both the organization and the venue. Six of the club's regular pianists and one guest banjoist offered three-dozen tunes while a young guest pianist made his club debut.

MC Eric Marchese got things rolling with Scott Joplin's first published piece, a sentimental ballad in waltz tempo called "Please Say You Will," which Joplin had published in Syracuse in 1895 while touring with his Texas Medley Quartette. After explaining the probable plotline of Joplin's lost 1903 opera "A Guest of Honor" – the occasion of Booker T. Washington being invited to the White House by President Theodore Roosevelt – Eric played Joplin's 1902 rag "The Strenuous Life," whose title is attributed to a well-known Roosevelt quotation. Eric then played "Lovin' Babe," the 1911 Al R. Turner song arranged by Joplin. He ended his set with "You'd Be Surprised," one of the many song hits of Irving Berlin – this one cranked out in just a few days in 1919 by request of Florenz Ziegfeld for use in his Follies production of that year, popularized by Follies star Eddie Cantor.

Eric introduced Vincent Johnson, who invited him to duet on the 1900 Arthur Marshall-Scott Joplin rag "Swipesy." Describing the ragtime music of Les Copeland, Vincent explained how four of his rags – "Bees & Honey," "Racetrack Blues," "Rocky Mountain Fox" and "Twist and Twirl" – were only issued on piano roll. Vincent's pal in Italy, Luigi Ranalli, sent him a transcription of "Bees & Honey." The piece leans heavily on the three-over-four device but has Novelty-style triplets (in its second theme) and a jazzy trio. Aptly, the stage at The Cave had recently been redecorated to herald the arrival of spring, with large honeybees visible around the top of the proscenium. Vincent wrapped up his set with a fine, jazzy and often exciting rendition of "Kitten on the Keys," with jazzy A and C themes and a slower B theme that accentuates that section's prettiness.

For husband Storm's 76th birthday, Shirley Case performed Denes Agay's "Variations on 'Happy Birthday' in various styles from Bach to Boogie." Agay takes the popular standard, then reimagines it as performed by a wide variety of composers. After each section, Shirley let us determine which composer was being emulated. Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, Liszt, Strauss, Sousa, Debussy and Gershwin are included in this outstanding non-ragtime piece.

Shirley followed with Alexander Tansman's "Blues Prelude," then another piece for Storm, the melodious, haunting, bluesy yet jazzy "Birthday Blues." She ended her set with Galen Wilkes' "Puppy on the Piano," a contemporary piece filled with Novelty-style triplets, augmented chords and more, with a riff A section, swingy foxtrot B theme, jazzy C and a minor-key interlude.

Will Hinckley, a youngster from Chino Hills, made his OCRS debut, performing a simplified arrangement of "The Entertainer," doing a creditable job on this 1902 masterpiece.

Ron Ross opened his set with "the May version" of his ever-changing "O.C. Rag," whose opening section offers a pleasing, teasing riff pattern, second theme is a minor-key tango and third subject sounds strongly influenced by the classic rags of Joe Lamb. Aptly, Ron followed with "Joplinesque," a syncopated tango whose subtitle is "a gringo tango," and closed his set with "Digital Rag." "Joplinesque" is a quiet piece, much of it in the minor mode, with a pronounced habañera bass; "Digital" is a jazzy piece with a lazy charm.

Andrew Barrett came on to dazzle us with a real find, the very rare piano piece "Switchback Rag" by Harry Auracher. Andrew noted how amazingly modern the piece is, considering it was penned in 1911. The piece features varying rhythms, including tango and waltz, and a D theme with daring harmonic shifts. Andrew then delivered a new original which he started two years ago and completed this year: "Cantoring Along," which he announced will be the opening rag of a three-rag "horse" suite, to include "Carousel Horse Rag" and "Hobby Horse Rag." The bluesy yet upbeat "Cantoring Along" emulates the great advanced rags of the late teens, striding into a great trio with walking bass figures, rich harmonies and surprising key changes. Andrew closed his set with Joe Jordan's masterful "Pekin Rag" from 1904, written while Jordan was manager of the Pekin Theater in Chicago.

Eric offered two rags published in his hometown of Boston: "Koonville Koonlets" (A.J. Weidt, 1899) and "Rose Leaf Rag" (Scott Joplin, 1907). "Koonville" is a great early rag that mirrors the cakewalk craze yet breaks away with an especially lively main theme (B and D) and a lovely, quiet trio. "Rose Leaf" is, of course, one of several great Joplin pieces enjoying their centennial this year, with an opening section that's a study in parallel and contrary motion and a rousing, honky-tonk-style closing section.

Phil Cannon took the stage with his six-string banjo and picked his way through Charles L. Johnson's "Porcupine Rag" and "Southern Beauties," combined into a medley, then invited Shirley to take the piano and join him on "Heliotrope Bouquet." Phil closed his set with "Sunflower Slow Drag," as Shirley, Andrew and Eric joined in on pianos.

Glen Perlman, a non-ragtimer who syncopates 1960s pop songs to sound like rags, delivered "I Can See Clearly Now" and "As Tears Go By" in fine, raggedy style.

For his encore set, Vincent offered Blake's signature tune, "Baltimore Todalo"; Vincent's own original Novelty "Dancing Daffodils"; and Bargy and Straight's "Omeomy" from a Tom Brier transcript. With its great harmonies, breaks and foxtrot rhythms, "Daffodils" sounds like a distillation of Bargy, Straight and the works of Billy Mayerl.

As her encore set, Shirley offered two birdcall rags: "Meadow Lark Rag" by Tom Pitts and Glenn Jenks' "The Ragtime Hermit-Thrush." The former is one of the few California (Bay Area) rags of the vintage area, while the Jenks piece is a contemporary masterpiece by the great New England composer, who wrote ragtime prolifically from the 1970s to the 1990s (and who still writes the occasional new ragtime piece). Both pieces are pretty, combining the rhythmic with the melodic.

Andrew encored with Joe Jordan's "Double Fudge," the composer's first rag (1902), which has echoes of Tom Turpin's style. He closed with two Bargys: "Sweet & Tender" and "Behave Yourself." The former is pretty with changing harmonies and a few triplets; the latter is a bluesy piece with the expected Bargy-style breaks, a minor-key second theme and a trio that includes drop-bass figurations and complex rhythms.

Eric encored with Abe Olman's charming and unusual "Cheerful Blues," then was joined by Andrew and Phil for "Pine Apple Rag." Vincent took to a third piano as the quartet delivered "Maple Leaf Rag," and Shirley took to the last piano as all five – four pianists, one banjoist – conquered the 1906 standard "Dill Pickles."

We'll see everyone at Steamers on June 16th at our usual starting time of 1 pm.

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