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Feb. 2008 OCRS: February birthdates, Black History Month and much more

The OCRS chose Feb. 16, 2008, to commemorate the club's informal sixth year (Nov. 2007 being the actual anniversary), Black History Month, and the February birthdates of various composers. Club member Stan Long brought along his full-size digital keyboard, setting up on stage alongside the Yamaha grand at Steamers and dubbing it the "Bozo-doerfer." Having this second piano afforded club members the chance to entertain the audience with duets, an opportunity several of the pianists took full advantage of.

Eric Marchese led off with Turpin's "A Ragtime Nightmare," then invited Vincent Johnson to join him for Jentes' "Bantam Step." Vincent followed, solo, with another Jentes number, "The Cat's Pajamas," then launched into "Sweet and Tender," which he said was Roy Bargy's first Novelty, composed in 1919 but unpublished until 1923. Both jazzy numbers, Vincent did them smoothly and with ease. He wound up with "Flapperette," a 1926 Novelty by Jesse Greer, giving it nice embellishments.

Shirley Case opened her set with Billy Mayerl's 1926 tune "Sleepy Piano," a bluesy (American-style, that is) number also known as "Piano Exaggerations No. 4." Mayerl was Britain's answer to Zez Confrey, and his work has been pursued with ardent interest by many a contemporary pianist. She followed with a contemporary masterpiece, Glenn Jenks' "The Ragtime Hermit-Thrush," celebrating Jenks' February birthdate, and the Galen Wilkes tango "Queen of Diamonds."

Andrew Barrett promised us all of Albert Gumble's rags today, and he started off with "Bolo Rag," an entertaining rag with a pleasing call-and-response pattern in its second theme. About as different as you could imagine is Andrew's own "Flying Rhino." From 2007, this piece features conceptually daring harmonies within a ragtime framework that stretch the genre's boundaries. He finished by giving a light touch to "The Scintillator," a Fred Hoeptner work (1999) also modern but a bit more traditional.

Vincent essayed James P. Johnson's "Daintiness." Johnson's birthday is Feb. 1, so Vincent's selection honored both Black History Month and composers born in February.

Stan Long then took the stage for his set, opting to try out the Bozo-doerfer and opening with "My Ditty," an original amalgam of various familiar tunes. Next up was Irene Giblin's "Dixie Rag." Issued in Boston in February, 1913, the piece cleverly works in bits of the turkey trot, "Yankee Doodle" and "Dixie." Stan's set ended with Joplin's "Solace."

In honor of Black History Month, Eric offered Arthur Marshall's "The Pippin" and James Scott's "Troubadour Rag." The former is a wonderful classic rag from 1908 that bears many of Marshall's stylistic hallmarks; the latter is from 1919 and in a lovely, lyrical vein that is quite uncharacteristic of its composer. Eric deems the piece one of the overlooked masterpieces of the Classic rag genre, and his performance of it was aimed at giving the piece the exposure and recognition it deserves. Scott's birthdate (Feb. 12) was earlier in the week, so Eric welcomed any of the day's pianists to unfurl whichever Scott pieces they had at the ready.

Eubie Blake was black and his birthdate February 7, so Bob Pinsker addressed two of the day's themes by essaying two outstanding Blake pieces that are rarely heard: "Poor Jimmy Green" and "Blue Thoughts." Many of Blake's titles, Bob noted wryly, are the word "poor" plus a person's name ("Poor Katie Redd," etc.). "Jimmy Green" is wild, fun and low-down, with a scintillating stoptime section. The piece, Bob said, is a crossover of ragtime and classical music. From 1936, "Blue Thoughts" contains numerous echoes of "Rhapsody in Blue" of a dozen years earlier, but with many of Blake's compositional hallmarks.

Fred Hoeptner delivered what is considered James Scott's all-time masterpiece, "Grace and Beauty," then gave us "Red Pepper," the piece that, next to "Temptation," is probably Henry Lodge's most well-known rag. From 1910, it's a terrific rag that's rarely played at our meetings, so it was nice to hear it, and it was a welcome salute to the prolific Lodge, born February 9. Fred wrapped up his set with his own "Dalliance" which, like many a Hoeptner ragtime essay, is intricate and contains gorgeous and haunting harmonies.

Shirley's guest and friend, Bob Srigley, took the stage and offered two non-ragtime standards, dedicating the first, "The Lady is a Tramp," "to all the ladies here for Valentine's Day," with "Bei Mir Bist Du Shein" as his second tune.

Shirley encored with Wilkes' beautiful "Wisteria," the 1927 George Cobb tune "Procrastination" and, entering the James Scott derby, "Frog Legs," the 1906 rag that put Scott on the map. Vincent chose one of Scott's least-heard rags, 1918's "Dixie Dimples," which uses the dotted-note (foxtrot) rhythm nearly throughout, then delivered one of Eubie's greatest and most well-known, "Baltimore Todolo."

Stan offered his own "Haunting Accident" and "Coney Island Washboard," the latter, aptly, with Andrew on washboard. Andrew then soloed on another Gumble number, "Chanticleer." Bob chose two great James P. Johnson tunes for his encores: "April in Harlem" and "Don't Cry Baby." The impressionistic "April in Harlem" is, Bob announced, the second movement of the composer's Harlem Symphony, while the second tune, a song for which Bob also provided the vocals, is Johnson's most covered piece, having been recorded by more than 100 vocalists.

Recognizing his own February birthdate, Eric encored with a 1993 original, "The Grape Vine," a Classic-style rag, and "Kansas City Blues," one of Euday Bowman's finest blues numbers. Vincent gave us one last Bargy tune, the fabulous "Omeomy," unpublished but long since transcribed from the original Bargy piano roll.

For his encores, Andrew delivered the as-promised remaining Albert Gumble pieces: "The Kentucky Beauty," which Gumble co-wrote with newspaper journalist and composer Monroe Rosenfeld, and "Minstrel Band Rag." For the lively and pretty "Beauty," Andrew selected the Bozo-doerfer for an "electronically interpreted" version of the 1904 rag. "Minstrel Band," from 1909, is wonderfully creative, featuring a beautiful, quiet trio.

To end the day, Bob gave us more Blake and James P., starting with the song "I'd Give a Dollar for a Dime" from the 1940 show "Tan Manhattan" (lyrics by Andy Razaf). Blakes' "Dictys on Seventh Avenue" was subtitled "A Modern Rag," and that it is - strikingly so. Johnson's immortal "Carolina Shout" ended a terrific afternoon of great ragtime music featuring 42 selections - 15 by composers born in February.

Next meeting is Saturday, March 22, at Mo's Music, where we're sure to hear plenty of tunes dedicated to springtime, St. Patrick's Day and Easter. See you there!

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