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March 2008 OCRS features St. Patty’s, Easter, Cobb and Marshall

A light turnout on Easter weekend didn't hinder nine pianists from delivering a fine afternoon of music with a wide range in terms of genre and era but with a particular focus on St. Patrick's Day and Easter. When all was said and done, some 43 selections were performed and one-third of these tied in with St. Patrick's or Easter or were composed by George Cobb or Arthur Marshall.

The music of Cobb and Marshall, Classic rags, Novelties and Stride tunes received their due at the Cave at Mo's Music, always a generous host for OCRS and RagFest events. To get the dual pianos warmed up, Frank Sano and Vincent Johnson ran through several duets of old standards, then Vincent and Eric Marchese tried their hands at two outstanding Charley Straight tunes, "S'More" and "Blue Grass Rag," the Marshall-Joplin collaboration "Swipesy," and Jentes' "Bantam Step."

The official program began with Andrew Barrett's nod to the week's two holidays, St. Patrick's Day and Easter. He delivered Harry DeCosta's "Bunny Hug" rag (1912), the Tin Pan Alley song composer's only known rag and a fine example of advanced ragtime, then Cobb's "Irish Confetti," a great, inventive rag with fine "Irish" touches. His set concluded with a second "Bunny Hug," this one by Cobb, a year later than the DeCosta piece, and with a completely different feel and flavor.

Doug Haise gave us "Swipesy"; "Lily Queen," by the same two composers; and "Kinklets," a solo Marshall effort from 1906. All three were up-tempo, forceful, clean renderings of one of the great Classic ragtimers.

Frank took the stage again to duet, this time with Bill Mitchell. They created a medley from two "cousins of ragtime," "I'm Breezin' Along with the Breeze" and "You Were Meant for Me," then followed with Fats Waller's tune "Keeping Out of Mischief Now" and "Chicago."

Bob Pinsker treated us to his "eBay item of the month": "The Original Blues – A Real Southern Rag," by Ted S. Barron. This wonderful, short piece, from 1914 is, in Bob's words, "remarkably polished" and, he noted, clearly influenced by Handy's works, "Memphis Blues" and "Yellow Dog Blues" in particular. He followed with Wendling's jazz song standard, "Take Me to the Land of Jazz," using Wendling's own roll arrangement to craft a terrific instrumental solo verse and coda to the now-familiar piece. Noting that Heliotrope Ragtime Orchestra is now wrapping up recording its second album, to be entitled "That's Goin' Some!," he performed Joplin's "Palm Leaf Rag," having transposed the piece up a whole-step to the keys of C and F to make it more workable for the orchestra. Unlike the original 1903 published arrangement, Bob's score uses pretty much the entire keyboard, making it fun to watch.

Newcomer Marilyn Martin, who just began playing ragtime last year, gave us her own heavily syncopated arrangement of John Sebastian's "Daydream."

Eric noted that he had photocopies of several rags and ragtime-oriented piano pieces honoring St. Patty's (Theron Bennett's "Paddy"; Jack Murfree's "Green Rag"; "McAlheeney's Cakewalk" etc.). He chose "Blarney Kisses," a 1911 Chicago piece by Holmes Travis, a wonderful rag with clever Irish-sounding touches. Eric and Bill then duetted on "The Smiler," with Andrew on washboard. Andrew took his place at the digital piano on stage and the three gave us a six-handed version of "Pine Apple Rag," now in its centennial as of this year.

Vincent's encores were Wilkes' pretty "Whippoorwill Hollow"; his eBay item of the month, Ted Shapiro's "Dog on the Piano"; and Copeland's "Rocky Mountain Fox." "Dog" has a nice, jumpin' Stride feel and great licks and tricks, while "Fox" features blues touches and funky dissonances. Both selections were well augmented by Vincent's improvisations.

Fred Hoeptner gave us Lamb's monumental "American Beauty," hitting his stride on the powerful third theme and closing section; his own sweet, lyrical and intricate "Marching Through Sedalia"; and Lodge's "Red Pepper," one of the great vintage rags, coming out right on the heels of the Lodge mega-hit "Temptation."

Bill related how at roughly Vincent's age (15 or so), he first heard the Lu Watters band's record of the cakewalk "Smokey Mokes," which was a huge hit in 1899, one of the biggest cakewalk hits of the early ragtime era. This was in 1942 when, Bill said, ragtime sheet music was hard to find. The Watters album was also Bill's first hearing of "Maple Leaf Rag." Bill then delivered the Abe Holzmann cakewalk, with Andrew on second piano. Next was Jelly Roll Morton's "Grandpa's Spells," with Andrew on washboard, using the tambourine as a drum and also helping on the "crash bass" sections by crashing the second piano's bass. Finally, the two duetted on "The Easy Winners" for a pleasing sound.

Eric provided a reprise of DeCosta's "Bunny Hug," pointing out the many hopping and leaping rhythmic figurations cleverly built into the piece. He apprised the audience of a third "Bunny Hug" in addition to DeCosta's and Cobb's: a 1913 piece by Keith Abandana, published in New York by Globe Music (probably the composer himself) a few months before the Cobb piece was issued. Eric then told of having seen a staging of "Harvey" in which the sound designer utilized George Gershwin's piano roll performance of "Kangaroo Hop" (to subtly provide a link between kangaroos and six-foot-tall rabbit friends) before performing Melville Morris' delightful 1915 foxtrot.

Vincent ably handled Jesse Greer's 1926 novelette "Flapperette," then more Cobb – the composer's 1923 Novelty "Piano Salad," issued by Walter Jacobs of Boston, given a wonderfully full sound with Vincent and Andrew on the dual pianos. Bill gave us a rarity – Jean Schwartz's "Bedelia," subtitled "An Irish Coon Song Serenade." From 1903, its lyrics were by frequent Schwartz lyricist William Jerome (who wrote lyrics to such standards as "Chinatown, My Chinatown") and, as Bill related, the piece has become popular with Dixieland bands in recent years. Bill followed with the Scott Classic "The Ragtime Oriole," one of the earliest rags of the "birdcall" genre, then invited Eric up to duet on Doc Cooke's "Blame It on the Blues." The duo really got the two pianos cookin' on this one.

Andrew offered terrific playing on the driving, bluesy "Fast Stuff Blues," off a piano roll transcription of the 1927 Jimmy Blythe tune. He then presented his own arrangement of the 1905 Paul Dresser song "My Gal Sal," which he'll be entering in the World Piano-Playing Championship in Peoria, Ill., in May. With his many variations on this standard ragtime-era pop tune, including tempo changes and numerous rhythmic, harmonic and melodic licks and tricks, Andrew has a great chance of capturing the title.

Doug continued with Marshall, offering all three of Marshall's solo 1908 rags, "The Peach," "The Pippin" and "Ham And!." All three are first-rate rags, but the latter is of considerable intricacy that could easily qualify it as the composer's all-time masterpiece.

Bob offered three widely different pieces further illustrating the process of arranging (or rearranging) of scores composed by others: Lew Pollack's "Harry Fox Trot," named for vaudevillian Harry Fox; the 1915 Harms arrangement of "The Robin and the Red, Red Rose," and his own piano arrangement, working from a bare-bones score, of contemporary composer Stephen Charles Parker's "The Hyacinth Rag." "Harry Fox Trot" has a deeply bluesy sound, while Bob played "name that tune and composer" with "Robin," and despite providing us with numerous hints as to the composer, no one was able to come up with the name of Luckey Roberts – nor did anyone have any clue as to the name of the song.

With Bob, Eric and Bill on the three pianos, Andrew on washboard and Doug and Vincent as the rhythm section, the audience got a very full performance of Joplin's "Original Rags." Andrew and Eric then switched places for the finale, "Maple Leaf Rag," a fitting end to a fine afternoon.

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