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August 2008 OCRS a broad palette of Novelty, Stride, Classic, Pop & contemporary ragtime

The audience was small but dedicated at Mo's Fullerton Music on August 16, and were rewarded for their dedication by the 12 musicians who graced the stage and delivered a dazzling variety of vintage rags from the Stride, Novelty, Classic and Pop genres, as well as a respectable sampling of contemporary pieces.

Vincent Johnson and Eric Marchese began the official program with Arthur Marshall and Scott Joplin's "Swipesy," followed by Eric honoring the centennial of what is perhaps Percy Wenrich's best rag, "Persian Lamb," whose first theme, Eric noted, was based on the fiddle tune "Whiskers" which Wenrich heard in his hometown of Joplin, Mo.

Stan Long unveiled Pat Aranda's cocktail-room style "Sunday Morning at the Fox's," which offers ear-pleasing alternatives to the standard octave-chord left hand, particularly in its final two themes. Stan also saluted contemporary ragtime with one of Gil Lieby's best, "Goldenrod Rag," a modern classic with a stompin' folk rag sound and a section continuously repeated that requires audience claps on its stoptime beats. In between, Stan performed the perennial "Dill Pickles."

Bill Mitchell offered a peppy, jazzy "Maple Leaf," replete with slurred notes and Jelly Roll Morton licks in the treble and block chords in the bass. J. Bodewalt Lampe's "Glad Rag" has a lively A theme, a second theme with a descending figure in both hands and a lyrical C. The piece, Bill told us, was written under the pseudonym of Ribe Danmark, a clever re-spelling of Lampe's home, the town of Riba in Denmark. Bill's set ended with Morton's "The Pearls," one of the most popular pieces in his repertoire. Bill lent nice dynamics to the piece, with a slow tempo and jazzy, bluesy feel.

Marilyn Martin sight read Theron Bennett's "St. Louis Tickle" and Botsford's rarely heard "Chatterbox Rag," both at slow, measured tempos, then performed "The Bell-Hop" up to speed from memory. The second theme of "Chatterbox" has interesting harmonies, while "Bell-Hop" features nice counterpoint in its interesting trio.

Continuing the afternoon's developing theme of contemporary ragtime, Eric and Vincent duetted on one of Eric's earlier (1994) compositions, "The Grape Vine," inspired, Eric said, by liner notes to a new Joplin CD describing the qualities that distinguish Joplin's 1907-1909 pieces, including rich harmonies, a more complex bass, an increasing grandeur, and an even more pronounced use of the piano rag as a storytelling device.

Vincent then soloed on the first of the afternoon's many Novelty pieces, a clean and precise rendering of Zez Confrey's "Greenwich Witch." He followed with two rarely heard Novelties: Ted Shapiro's "Puttin' on the Dog," which Vincent heard from a Willie Eckstein recording, and Arthur Schutt's "Bitter Sweets." Vincent lent all three, but particularly the last two, a light touch and considerable embellishments which enhance the pieces.

Stan Long's grandson, Kaden, delivered the simplified version of "The Entertainer," then both Longs took to the upright for "Colonel Bogey March," highlighted by Kaden on recorder and the audience whistling the melody line a la "The Bridge on the River Kwai."

Bob Pinsker gave us one of the afternoon's few Classic rags in Lamb's "Cleopatra," then Duke Ellington's piano solo "Black Beauty" from the Andrew Fielding transcription, noting that Ellington is "not usually thought of for solo piano." He closed with a real treat: The Roy Bargy version, from his piano roll, of Luckey Roberts' "Railroad Blues," which Bob transcribed. Bargy, Bob said, heard Roberts in person in Toledo, and the roll is the only version that contains the piece's last theme, lending no doubt to the fact that Bargy learned the piece directly from its composer. The piece's intro. uses a rumbling, rhythmic bass, and the entire arrangement is as full as any great piano roll.

Shirley Case offered a rag, a classical blues piece and a contemporary rag-tango. Eubie's "Tricky Fingers" was composed around 1907 to 1909, Shirley said, but remained unpublished until 1959. Blake borrows from himself in the piece's bridge, which uses the same upward progression as found in the great "Charleston Rag." Polish classical composer Alexander Tansman wrote his "Blues Prelude" in 1937, and it's a fully developed blues work that shows the influence of George Gershwin. Shirley closed her set with "La Mariposa" (1984), on of the pieces from Hal Isbitz's "Blue Gardenia Suite." The opening theme, which also closes the piece, is light and delicate, the second theme develops the tango motif, and the trio is soft and moody.

Randy Johnson's diverse set included Lew Pollack's "That's a Plenty," whose A strain shows up in modified form in another 1914 rag, Ernie Burnett's "Steamboat," as the trio. For the second theme, Pollack puts the melody in the left hand, and gives the piece a big finish with its closing section. Randy got a bit more than halfway through another 1914 piece, the Argentinean tango "Bar El Popular" by Alfredo Bevilacqua, then switched over to "Remembering You," the piano piece written and performed by Roger Kellaway as the closing theme of the hit 1970s TV series "All in the Family."

Eric picked up on the tango thread with Joplin's classic "Solace – A Mexican Serenade," and noted the similarites between the Kellaway piece's opening phrase and the opening of Clarence Woods' "Sleepy Hollow Rag," playing that 1918 masterpiece, with its soft tremolos and other ethereal effects. Eric and Vincent then delivered the 1918 Charley Straight Novelty "Blue Grass Rag."

Andrew Barrett gave us "Pastime Rag" – not one of the Artie Matthews pieces, but the rarely heard 1913 piece by Henry Lodge. Next up was Charles L. Johnson's great 1912 rag "Swanee Rag." Not only does the piece cleverly quote Stephen Foster, but Andrew provided a truly sensational rendering, with the kind of full treatment heard in piano rolls. He closed his set with on of his most ambitious originals, "Humanitaur" (a mythical human with four legs), which garnered second place in the new rag contest of the Old-Time Piano-Playing Championship competition held in Peoria, Ill. earlier this year. This outstanding, modern-sounding, jazzy piece has a busy treble and many harmonic changes in the opening theme and subsequent themes that are all over the keyboard.

The quartet of Frank Sano, Bill Mitchell, Jimmy Green and Andrew Barrett then took to the stage, with Frank on the upright, Bill on the baby grand, Jimmy on banjo and Andrew providing a variety of percussion sounds from his bag of tricks. The opening 1920s medley combined three pop songs, "Breezin' Along with the Breeze," "The Blue Room," and "You Were Meant for Me." The group, whose unique sound was refreshing in an afternoon of solid piano music, closed with two great Fats Waller tunes: "Ain't Misbehavin'" and "I Got a Feelin' I'm Fallin'."

Bill and Jimmy then followed with a medley of ragtime and ragtime-era songs: "Wait Till the Sun Shines Nellie," "Rufus Rastus Johnson Brown," "The Cubanola Glide," and "I Want a Girl Just Like The Girl Who Married Dear Old Dad."

Shirley encored with two William Bolcom greats from his "Eden" suite: "Old Adam" and "Through Eden's Gates." Vincent encored with a most fluid "Kitten on the Keys" and a show-stopping rendition of Arthur Schutt's "Bluin' the Black Keys."

Randy Johnson's encores were Zez Confrey's rarely heard "Yokel Opus" and Nazareth's "Brejeiro." Andrew encored with Johnson's 1909 rag "Silver King," published in Chicago by Thompson Music and offering a catchy A theme and an Old West sound in general, and James P. Johnson's "Keep Off the Grass," with an ending typical of the great composer's other tunes.

Bob Pinsker closed the afternoon with Eubie's "Poor Jimmy Green" (on a day when our own Jimmy Green took to the stage on banjo!), a terrific piece with a stoptime section and fine pianissimos by Bob, who then polled the audience as to which of Matthews' five "Pastimes" they wanted to hear. The majority voiced "No. 4," "No. 3" and a few "No. 2s," with No. 4 being the clear winner, which Bob then played. Bob then offered "the other version" of Railroad Blues: Pete Wendling's piano roll, a dazzling display of bluesy harmonies, treble slurs and other piano-roll licks and tricks, all accurately transcribed by Bob, then brought to life by him on the upright at Mo's.

A gang of keyboard artists – Vincent, Bob, Bill, Eric and Randy – then assaulted three acoustic and one digital piano, accompanied by Marilyn on washboard, for "Swipesy," then closed the day, this time with Andrew on percussion, with Joplin's "Original Rags." In all, it was a most satisfying and varied afternoon of great music, with some 46 selections in all. We'll see everyone at Steamers on September 20 for the last OCRS of 2008.

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