September 2008 OCRS: Plenty
o' Zez, lotta Cobb, too much Johnson?
Steamers Jazz Club hosted our final OCRS
of the year on September 20, 2008. It was a terrific show and a terrific
lead-in to RagFest '08, which arrives at the end of next month, and
the presence of Stan Long's "Bozodoerfer" allowed the musicians
to deliver duets.
A dozen musicians – 11 pianists, one banjoist – made it
a memorable afternoon, with a total of 45 selections. Precious little
Classic ragtime was heard this time around, but quite a bit of Novelty
was heard. Composer-wise, the emphasis was on Charles L. Johnson and
Zez Confrey – a total of 10 pieces written by the two, or nearly
one-fourth of the day's output – and there were two compositions
apiece by George L. Cobb, James Scott, Arthur Schutt, Pete Wendling,
Spencer Williams and Ernesto Nazareth. A total of nine contemporary
pieces were also featured, meaning all but 14 of the selections were
by Confrey, Johnson, Cobb, Scott, Schutt, Wendling, Williams, Nazareth
or OCRS pianist-composers Ross, Long, Barrett, Hoeptner and Marchese.
Ron Ross launched things with his "Digital Rag" and his
lovely ragtime waltz "Cloudy." Vincent Johnson followed
with two great Zez Confrey tunes – "Greenwich Witch"
and "Sunshine from the Fingers," the latter a light, parlor-style
Confrey tune from 1937 that's rarely performed or heard. Exhibiting
his light, fluid style, Vincent closed his set with the 1926 piece
"Bluin' the Black Keys" by Arthur Schutt, which is developing
into one of Vincent's specialty numbers.
Eric Marchese offered one of the earliest great rags to come out of
Nashville, Thomas Broady's "Whittling Remus" from 1900.
Eric notes that after two semi-, cakewalk-style rags in 1898 and 1899,
Broady followed with this, a full-fledged rag full of terrific harmonies
and syncopations, only to disappear from the ragtime scene.
Marilyn Martin introduced the first of the day's many Charles L. Johnson
rags, the venerable "Crazy Bone" from 1911. Stan Long offered
a Cobb, a Confrey and an original: "Feedin' the Kitty,"
"Dizzy Fingers" and "Short Boogie."
Bill Mitchell aimed for an all-Johnson set but wound up doing two
out of three: "Porcupine Rag" and "Beedle-Um-Bo."
The former is one of Johnson's liveliest and happiest, from 1909;
the latter, subtitled "A Slow Drag," was written under the
pen name of Raymond Birch, with a sweet, unassuming main theme and
a second strain with unusual rhythms and a trio with unusual harmonies.
Bill wrapped up his set with James Scott's lovely waltz "Suffragette"
(1914), which Bill said "could have easily been written by a
Jumping on the Johnson bandwagon, Eric offered the composer's 1911
rag "Cum-Bac." Eric noted that the rag was named for a popular
child's toy which, when rolled away, swerved around and rolled back.
Bob Pinsker delivered an eclectic set featuring Clarence Williams'
only published rag; a rare piece that goes back to the late 19th century
and which was preserved thanks to Eubie Blake; and a popular syncopated
song about jazz written by a great ragtime composer-performer-piano
The Williams rag was "Wild Flower." From 1916, its opening
section has a funky sound and uses the three-over-four device, the
second theme has a strong Jelly Roll Morton flavor and the trio employs
more funky harmonies and a break. Bob's repeat of the trio showed
his skill at improvising. "The Dream" (or "The Dream
Rag") is a rag tango attributed variously to John Wilson –
aka "Jack the Bear" – and to Jesse Pickett. No one
really knows. The piece, however, is first rate, as was Bob's rendition
of it. He closed with the Pete Wendling song "Take Me to the
Land of Jazz," which is featured on the Heliotrope Ragtime Orchestra's
brand-new, hot-off-the-shelf CD "That's Going Some." Bob
explained what that phrase meant in the vernacular of 1910 (something
like "That's putting it mildly!" or "Ain't it the truth!"),
then played, and sang, the popular piece, offering an outstanding
interlude on the piano.
Randy Johnson delivered "Atrevedinha," an 1889 polka by
Nazareth, followed by Lew Pollack's "That's a Plenty" from
1914 and another Nazareth, "Brejeiro." Rob Thomas followed
with "Mississippi Shivers," which is one-third of Confrey's
1924 "African Suite," then Artie Matthews' "Pastime
Rag No. 4" – minus the repeats – and Nazareth's tango
Frank Sano soloed on Wenrich and Madden's "Red Rose Rag,"
showing a decidedly light touch on the piano, then duetted with Bill
Mitchell on Fred Fisher's ever-popular "Chicago" and Jimmy
McHugh's "I Can't Believe That You're In Love with Me."
Andrew Barrett offered a 1916 Novelette by Cobb titled "Drift-Wood"
which he said was issued in a silent movie folio published by Walter
Jacobs. The piece has a gentle mood and, as Andrew noted, quite modern-sounding
harmonies, especially for its time. Speaking of advanced harmonies,
Andrew then followed with Fred Hoeptner's gorgeous, and harmonically
advanced, "Audacious Harmonies."
Andrew and Vincent duetted on Bargy's "Sweet and Tender,"
the composer's first piece but among the last to be published. Eric
then offered one of Pete Wendling's solo piano pieces, "Honky
Tonk," a sweet foxtrot from 1916, followed by an original, "An
Autumn Memory," among his earliest rags (1989). Deciding to play
"name that tune," Vincent gave us two solos, giving only
the years as 1921 and 1922. Stan and Eric guessed Zez Confrey on the
1921 piece but not the title (it was "You Tell 'Em Ivories").
No one came up with the second piece – Arthur Schutt's "Syncopating'
the Scale" – or its composer, despite the piece's repeated
use of the scale for its melody lines. Vincent and Andrew wound up
this mini-set duetting on Max Kortlander's "Red Clover,"
with Andrew switching the Bozodoerfer to bells, electric organ, etc.,
for special effects.
Stan encored with his "Long Boogie," complementing his earlier
"Short Boogie" and also incorporating his name in the process.
The trio of Bill Mitchell (piano), Jimmy Green (banjo) and Andrew
Barrett (washboard) delivered "Dill Pickles" and a medley
of the great songs of Albert Von Tilzer – "Take Me Out
to the Ballgame," "Put Your Arms Around Me, Honey,"
"Oh, By Jingo" and "I'll Be With You in Apple Blossom
Ron encored with two original songs, "Studio Sensation"
and "All-Inclusive Tour." Eric and Vincent duetted on Charley
Straight's "Hot Hands," with Andrew on washboard. Noting
that it was exactly six years ago this month that he met bride-to-be
Lisa Richardson at Steamers at one of the earliest OCRSs, Bob encored
with two of the pieces he played on that Saturday afternoon in September,
2002, both by Spencer Williams: "My Little Moonlight Maid"
and "Shimmie-She-Wobble," the latter having an intro. identical
to Roberts' "Pork and Beans." Bob closed his set with Willie
the Lion Smith's "Music on my Mind," copyrighted in 1940
and later used as the title of Smith's autobiography.
Andrew brought the glorious afternoon to a close with Scott's immortal
yet rarely played "Troubadour Rag" and his own recent masterpiece,
"Humanitaur – A Remarkable Drag." The former, from
1919, is pretty and lyrical; the latter, from 2008, is harmonically
daring. Everyone is now primed for RagFest '08, and ready for 2009's
six scheduled OCRS musicales at Steamers Jazz Club and Mo's Fullerton