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April 2008 OCRS: Big hits and rarities help to supplement a fairly light turnout at The Cave at Mo's

Like last month, the turnout at The Cave at Mo's Music was light, only this time it was not only audience who refrained from showing, but most of the usual slate of musicians as well. Just the same, the six pianists on hand ran through a program that featured Novelty numbers, Advanced rags and a few popular rags from Tin Pan Alley. All in all, the audience not only heard familiar standards like "Maple Leaf Rag," "Black and White Rag" and "Red Pepper," but also a considerable number of rarities, most of which have never before been played at an OCRS.

While waiting for more audience members and musicians to filter in, Vincent Johnson and Eric Marchese ran through several duets, including "S'More," "Blue Grass Rag," "Bantam Step" and "Maple Leaf Rag."

Eric then got the formal program rolling with an outstanding rag from 1908, Joplin's masterful "Fig Leaf Rag." Noting that he's been asked to perform as a ragtime pianist at a recreation of the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, Eric then performed "Ashy Africa," the first piece Percy Wenrich had published after setting off for Chicago from his home of Joplin, Missouri.

Doug Haise, who splits his time between the upper Midwest (Wisconsin) and Southern California, spoke of The Lilly Library in Bloomington, Indiana and its Starr Sheet Music Collection of more than 100,000 pieces of vintage sheet music. Doug said he has obtained many rare pieces via this collection, and he offered three such rags, all of whose titles begin with the letter "M": "Monkey Doodle Two-Step," "Mississippi Smilax" and "Merry Widow Rag."

All three pieces are rarely heard – except, of course, by anyone who knows Doug. The marchlike "Monkey Doodle" has a lively A theme and a quiet trio. From 1905, it's composer is listed as "G. Selig," which Doug notes could have been a woman. (It was common for women to use their first initial only to hide their gender from the general public.) "Smilax" (a type of flower) is a dandy number written by H. Harry Landrum and issued by Jenkins of Kansas City in 1907. "Merry Widow" was published by its composer, E. Clinton Keithley, in Louisville in 1908. It has a call-and-response B theme and a minor-key trio that uses a riff pattern. This was one of the best OCRS sets in a while, offering outstanding renditions of three great, rarely heard compositions from the vintage era.

Stan Long served up two of the most famous examples of the "three-over-four" device – "Black and White Rag" and "Dill Pickles" – then ended his set with "My Ditty," a collection of classical and pop music licks that include "a Disney ride theme and a Southern California car commercial icon."

Vincent then returned to the stage to deliver Ted Shapiro's "Putting on the Dog" as a follow-up to last month's meeting, when he performed the same composer's "Dog on the Piano." He followed with Luckey Roberts' "Music Box Rag" and Les Copeland's "French Pastry." The obscure "Dog," from 1923, is a taxing, dazzling piece with many a creative device. From 1914, "Music Box" offers a foxtrot A theme and a jazzy trio. Remick also issued Copeland's piece in 1914. Vincent added flair and his own touches to all three pieces in an outstanding set.

Marilyn Martin, a non-ragtime performer, gave us "Bonnie and Clyde" (by Georgie Fame), "Red Sails in the Sunset" (for which she provided a cowboy bass) and a medley of "Darktown Strutters' Ball" and "Walking My Baby Back Home."

Adding to this afternoon of ragtime rarities, Eric continued his "Chicago" theme with "Such Is Life," a terrific 1915 rag by Charles "Doc" Cooke, who made a name for himself in the Windy City, and "Saratoga Glide," a wonderfully evocative 1909 number by Harry L. Newman, who managed Chicago's Grand Opera House and who dedicated this, presumably his only rag, to the city's Saratoga Hotel. Both pieces are outstanding and neither is heard much on the ragtime circuit.

Fred Hoeptner had Lamb's 1913 masterpiece "American Beauty" on hand for us – of course, one of Joe Lamb's great, majestic, thickly textured rags of the teens – as well as one of his own complex, absorbing originals, "Marching Through Sedalia," and the 1910 Henry Lodge hit "Red Pepper." All three are terrific pieces that deserve to be heard more frequently.

Vincent had two of the best Novelties for us. Having done George Cobb's "Piano Salad" last month in a duet with Andrew Barrett, here he soloed with the piece, then gave us Bargy's "Omeomy." The bass of the second theme of "Salad" is unusual and the piece's trio has a Stride feeling to it. "Omeomy" is one of Bargy's best. Vincent and Eric then formally offered two more Novelties, both by Bargy's predecessor, Charley Straight: "S'More" and "Blue Grass." All four pieces feature rhythmic and harmonic twists and turns and none of this quartet are commonly performed at OCRS.

Doug continued with his "M"-titled rags with "Moon Face," "The Minstrel Band" and "Me- Ow." Abe Olman was only 19 when he wrote "Moon Face" (in 1907), giving it the sound and flavor of American Indian music. "Minstrel Band" is a 1909 Albert Gumble rag with a flashy, extroverted mood and a trio full of tricks and surprises. "Me-Ow," by the wonderful yet underrated Mel B. Kaufman, is a showy, march-like one-step with an opening theme that sounds like a Broadway overture and a minor-key B section. Again, for his set, Doug chose three terrific pieces, none of which are performed too frequently by Doug's fellow ragtimers.

Picking up on one of Doug's comments about lady ragtime composers, Eric offered "Affinity Rag," a 1910 piece by Irene Cozad, issued by Kansas City publisher Jenkins. Eric said that Cozad came from Iowa, settled in Kansas City, performed with the Kansas City Symphony orchestra, wrote this fine rag and "Eatin' Time" (1913), then more or less retired from ragtime. Eric then commented on the current success of the Los Angeles Lakers, Magic Johnson's habit of terming the playoffs "Winnin' Time," and how Eric came up with the idea for a rag in 1990 by playing off of Magic's name for the playoff part of the team's schedule and the existence of the vintage piece "Eatin' Time," delivering his "Winnin' Time" for the audience. Both "Affinity" and Eric's tribute to the Lakers are just not played or heard too often.

Stan played, sang and kazooed his way through "Coney Island Washboard" and completed his encore with "Maple Leaf." Vincent and Eric then joined him on stage for the afternoon's finale, a six-handed version of "Maple Leaf." Considering how short-handed the club was in terms of musicians, the half-dozen pianists on hand were able to provide a respectable slate of entertainment for the audience. We'll see you all again at Mo's on May 17th – hopefully with a healthier supply of performers and audience members!

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