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June 2008 OCRS: 48 selections, Novelties galore, and plenty o' Stride!

Can you say "four-dozen selections"? That's how many were cranked out at Steamers on June 21 by an OCRS total of 13 performers. The pieces ranged from contemporary vocals to classic rags, but once again the Novelty and Stride genres dominated, with a total of some 18 such pieces. Classic ragtime was also well represented by nine selections.

Having set up his ever-reliable "Bozodoerfer" digital piano adjacent to Steamers' Yamaha, Stan Long got the audience in the mood for great ragtime with his bluesy rendition of one of the all- time audience favorites, "The Entertainer." He followed with the rollicking "Goldenrod Rag," one of more than 100 rags composed by Gil Lieby, who passed away earlier this year. Stan ended his set with his outstanding original "Haunting Accident," a lively folk rag which could be best described as Brun Campbell meets Trebor Tichenor.

Eric Marchese opened with Joplin's poignant, expressive "Weeping Willow," which he said was one of the earliest rags (1903) to use the form as a vehicle for serious musical expression. He then offered one of the earliest published blues numbers, "Original Chicago Blues," a great blues rag published by Frank K. Root in Chicago in 1915 that contains several quite original themes. The piece was composed by James White, whose nickname was "Slap."

Ron Ross delivered three originals: "West Coast Tango," "Orange County Rag" and "Midnight Jam." Written on the west coast of Florida, "West Coast Tango" has a lyrical opening section and a minor-key second theme sparked with triplets. From 2007, "Orange County Rag" has a catchy opening theme and a moody tango that uses counterpoint as the second theme. "Midnight Jam," one of Ron's newest, has humorous lyrics about late-night ragtime festival improv sessions.

Bob Pinsker offered Eubie Blake's "Dictys on Seventh Avenue," a 1942 opus using startlingly modern harmonies and use of the whole-tone scale – syncopated, of course. Copyrighted by Blake in 1962, the piece remained unpublished until 1971. Bob related that Joe Jordan was quoted as saying "I never wrote a blues 'cause I was always happy!" and, indeed, his "Morocco Blues" is actually a rag tango with some lovely, moody-sounding harmonies. The rarely played piece was a fine addition to Bob's set. He wrapped things up with more Eubie: "Memories of You," from the stage show "Blackbirds of 1930." This was a lovely, ornate arrangement whose middle reprises have the sound of a piano-roll arrangement. It's Blake's own standard concert version of probably his most famous tune, as transcribed by Eubie's protege Terry Waldo.

Making his Steamers debut, Jared DiBartolomeo stuck with Blake, offering the composer's seminal "Charleston Rag," complete with pleasing embellishments. Willie the Lion Smith's "Echo of Spring" (1935) is lyrical and pastoral, while Bix Beiderbecke's "In a Mist," from 1928, is a challenging, rarely-heard composition that's perhaps Bix's most well-known.

Vincent Johnson launched into Jesse Greer's novelette "Flapperette" from 1926, which Vincent said was one of the first published tunes to use the word "flapper." Like Jared, Vincent showed nice dexterity on the number. From 1922, Phil Ohman's "Try and Play It" showcases tricky, difficult stutter-step rhythms. Another 1920s Novelty, "Bluin' the Black Keys," is an intricate piece with shifting harmonies - it's certainly one of the most technically difficult of all of the published Novelties. Published by Robbins in 1926, its composer, Arthur Schutt, was an arranger who worked with many an orchestra, and one of the finest solo pianists of the Novelty era.

For her first appearance at Steamers, Marilyn Martin made Frederick Bryan's 1914 "Bell Hop Rag" her first tune, then offered an original, "Midnight Reflux," a pop-style raggy blues number.

Eric Marchese delivered another rarely heard advanced rag from 1914, Ernie Burnett's "Steamboat Rag." Making his Steamers debut, Randy Johnson warmed up the Yamaha grand with Lamb's magnificent, intricate "American Beauty" and Scott's rarely heard "Dixie Dimples," taken at a measured tempo. He closed with a very rare Zez Confrey tune, "Yokel Opus," a jazzy, impressionistic work from the composer's "Wise Cracker Suite."

Non-ragtimer Glen Pearlman offered a syncopated, raggy version of the hymn "I Am a Child of God." Frank Sano took to the Yamaha and Andrew Barrett his washboard for "Doin' the Raccoon," "Coney Island Washboard" and a lively medley of pop songs from the '20s. Andrew got creative in his rhythm accompaniments, tapping a tambourine as well as the mike stands and a set of drums situated nearby.

Having just returned from the 34th annual World Championship Old-Time Piano Playing Contest in Peoria, Ill., Andrew Barrett reported that he just missed out on being in the top five, placing sixth of the 14 adults (age 19 or older) who entered. The judges told the entrants this was the closest contest in 20 years, meaning in most other years Andrew would have placed much higher. He opened with one of the numbers he competed with, his clever, creative, "high-maintenance" arrangement of Turpin's 1897 "Harlem Rag," replete with walking bass and delightful bursts of energy. He continued with a rare Feist rag from 1924, "String Beans," a foxtrot-rag by Vincent Rose and Harry Owens, then closed with Bob Pinsker's transcription of "Farm House Blues." This lowdown, jazzy, bluesy piece by Jimmy Blythe certainly sounds like a piano roll, a testament to Bob's transcription work and Andrew's pianistics.

Accompanied by Ron Ross, vocalist Jim Lutz sang Ron's "Good Thing Going." Vincent Johnson and Eric Marchese duetted on Charley Straight's "S'More," a lively, driving 1916 Novelty issued on piano roll only and later transcribed by Tom Brier.

Jared encored with Confrey's ever-popular "Dizzy Fingers," giving it a light touch, and James P. Johnson's "Snowy Morning Blues." Andrew then joined him on the Bozodoerfer for "Frog Legs Rag" and "Pine Apple Rag," the latter a particularly socko duet.

Vincent encored with Ted Shapiro's "Puttin' on the Dog" and Roy Bargy's "Omeomy," giving the latter, a challenging Novelty, an effectively light touch. Stan's encore was a medley of "America" and "Amazing Grace," while Randy encored with "Solace – A Mexican Serenade."

Bob's final set was comprised of the formidable trio of Willie "the Lion" Smith, Luckey Roberts and Jimmy Blythe. He started with Smith's "Lament of the Lioness," then gave the audience the rare chance to hear "Pork and Beans" in its original key of C-sharp minor (the published version is in C minor). Bob closed with Blythe's romping 1924 "Chicago Stomp" – the first recording completely in what would later be called 'boogie woogie' style.

Andrew encored with "Chicken Pie," a 1929 Novelty by Clement Doucet, best described as the French Billy Mayerl. He followed with an original Novelty, "Flying Rhino," which is included in the "Modern Folio of Novelty Piano Solos," a new folio hot off the presses featuring eight Novelties by Andrew, Vincent, Eric, and Tom Brier.

Six musicians wrapped up the afternoon: Eric, Bob, Vincent took to the Yamaha, Stan and Randy the Bozodoerfer and Andrew and Frank on washboard and percussion for lively versions of "Maple Leaf Rag" and "Swipesy." Considering the talent level and breadth of the selections, this was one of the most professional musicales to date, and all of the musicians are to be commended for their selections and performances. We'll see everyone back again at Mo's on August 16!

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