Scott, Blake & JPJ's
birthdays, and a lotta terrific piano-playing, at Feb. 2009's OCRS
Scott, Blake & JPJ's birthdays, and
a lotta terrific piano-playing, at Feb. 2009's OCRSSteamers Jazz Club
hosted our first OCRS of 2009 – sparsely attended at first,
it gradually attracted more and more listeners as musicians dribbled
in one or two at a time. A baker's dozen of musicians (12 plus your
MC) provided the music for one of our best performances ever.
Vincent Johnson got things rolling with "Daintiness Rag"
by James P. Johnson, one of three major ragtime composers whose birthdates
we celebrated today – James Scott and Eubie Blake are the other
two. The birthday boys' birthdates are Feb. 1 (Johnson), Feb. 7 (Blake)
and Feb. 12 (Scott). Vincent followed with Arthur Schutt's "Bluin'
the Black Keys," a great score that has become one of the pianist's
signature selections, and closed his set with Zez Confrey's "Romanza"
from the composer's "Three Little Oddities" (1923).
Stan Long delivered two Charles N. Daniels tunes, the composer's perennial
"Hiawatha" and "Indian Summer," a lovely number
that mixes minor tonalities with major and whose trio quotes Foster's
"Swanee River." Marilyn Martin opened with "Ode to
Vince Guaraldi," her own version of the music used by the jazz
pianist in the "A Charlie Brown Christmas" (1966). She followed
with Galen Wilkes' rag- tango "Spanish Moss" (1984) and
Joplin's "Weeping Willow," the latter taken at a pleasantly
Noting the recent inauguration of President Barack Obama, Eric Marchese
offered a ragtime song by Robert B. Joplin, Scott's less-famous younger
brother, who was, among other things, a singer, actor, comedian and
theater manager. The piece, titled "Since Emancipation Day,"
includes lyrics by the composer which essentially predict (or, perhaps,
wish or hope for) the election of a black president. The prescient
piece was issued by John Arnold out of Cincinnati in 1910 –
astonishingly, Eric noted, almost exactly a century ago and exactly
99 years prior to Barack Obama's inauguration. Giving the audience
the gist of the lyrics, Eric played the piano portion, which was arranged
by Sam Patterson, a friend and colleague of the Joplin brothers, Turpin
brothers, Louis Chauvin and Arthur Marshall.
Bob Pinsker offered selections from all three of the February "birthday
boys": "Ophelia Rag" (Scott, 1910); "Loving You
the Way I Do" (Blake) and "Scott Joplin's Dream"; and
"Twilight Rag" (Johnson). "Loving You" is from
the 1930 musical "Hot Rhythm" given pleasing vocals by the
performer. Bob said that "Dream," which Eubie arranged,
was "supposedly by Scott Joplin and Joseph Lamb" but is
actually "mostly sort of Broadway" according to Bob, who
demonstrated with some characteristic Blake phrases from the piece,
which has a lyrical opening theme, a sweet second theme and a more
Bob also gave some historical background on "Scott Joplin's Dream":
Lamb's widow possessed many notebooks containing "scraps of tunes,"
of which this was one; Eubie was hired by Bob Darch to arrange this
and many others. Blake filled out the bass and chose chords that Bob
said are "clearly Broadway" in sound and milieu. Johnson's
"Twilight Rag," meanwhile, was performed by Bob as transcribed
by him from the 1917 piano roll, with a lively main theme and a dense
Robert Wendt made his OCRS debut with two classic Joplin rags: "Easy
Winners" and "Elite Syncopations." He lent the former
a soft volume and restrained tempo, playing the D theme echo phrases
8va and returning to the A theme as the piece's ending, and played
the latter by adding triplets and octave leaps in the treble.
As commentary on these two Joplin rags, Eric Marchese offered "Wall
Street Rag," a Joplin masterpiece that's 100 years old this year
and which ties in with the current concerns regarding the U.S. economy.
Eric noted that the piece is a program rag in which each of the four
sections musically describes four different moods experienced by brokers
on Wall Street.
After a long absence from OCRS, former Disneyland pianist Alan Thompson
– explaining that he was given the nickname "Clueless"
by his colleagues for being "unaware of my surroundings"
– offered a lengthy and intricate medley that includes "Bumble
Boogie", the "Haunted Mansion" theme, "Chim Chim
Cheree", classical, waltz, other Disney film themes and the last
two themes of Joplin's "Solace." His second selection was
an arrangement of a Johnny Hodges boogie, "the only boogie woogie
I've ever learned." Both selections were virtuoso displays of
skill, talent, and command of the piano and of diverse source material
– which, if you consider it, is pretty much the definition of
the great itinerant ragtime pianists of 100 or more years ago.
Nan Bostick, who also hadn't dropped in on OCRS in a long while, played
Harry P. Guy's "Pearl of the Harem," Fred Stone's "Sue"
and Tom Pitts' "Meadow Lark Rag." Her playing of "Pearl"
was soft, gentle and assured. Nan gave the final repeat of the last
theme of "Sue" a slow rideout, followed by a one-step tempo,
and she nicely improvised on the second theme of "Meadow Lark"
while making the trio more forceful.
Frank Sano offered "Louise" and "Doin' the Raccoon,"
two lively pop pieces from the 1920s, followed by Shirley Case, who
delivered two terrific Billy Mayerl pieces, "Marigold" and
"Sleepy Piano," then ended her set with "Sleepy Lou"
by Irene Giblin. "Marigold" shows Mayerl's skill at mixing
pretty melodies with innovative harmonies, rhythms and structure.
"Sleepy Piano" has a funky, bluesy second theme featuring
consecutive right-hand tenths and a more mellow trio and the piece
is, overall, intricate and challenging. "Sleepy Lou" is
an unassuming and pretty folk rag with a gentle second subject and
a semi-tango trio that's dramatic and arresting.
Like Bob, Bill Mitchell served up a set featuring works by Scott,
Johnson and Blake: "Sunburst Rag"; a James P. medley ("The
Charleston," "Runnin' Wild," [though that tune is not
by JPJ] "If I Could Be With You One Hour Tonight," "Old-Fashioned
Love"); and Eubie's "Baltimore Todalo." In all three
selections, Bill served up beautiful variations of tempo and dynamics,
eliciting wild whoops of enthusiasm and applause from the audience.
Randy Johnson opened his set with Confrey's "Yokel Opus,"
continued with a rare James Scott rag, "Dixie Dimples,"
and concluded his set with "the original ragtime version"
of "Johnson Rag." "Yokel" is from the "Wisecracker
Suite." Randy gave "Dimples" a slow tempo and loads
of rubato and expression. For "Johnson Rag," Randy invited
Nan, Marilyn, Robert, Kathryn Ryan and Rob Thomas as his rhythm section,
the quintet offering inspired time-keeping via maracas, washboards
For his set, Rob Thomas performed "Golliwog's Cakewalk,"
a Claude Debussy piece inspired by American ragtime; Joplin's "A
Real Slow Drag" (accompanied by Randy Johnson on the melodica);
and "Matuto," a tango by Nazareth. "Golliwog's"
is from the composer's "Children's Corner Suite" from 1908
and resembles (and precedes) his "General Lavine" and "Minstrels,"
both from 1910. Rob said the Eric Marchese and Sharon Evans' performance
of "Slow Drag" at RagFest '08 "inspired this bit of
mayhem," as Randy soulfully rendered the vocal line, plus countermelodies
and harmonies, on the rare instrument (Randy mentioned it was $29
at Target) known as the melodica. For "Matuto," Rob invited
Randy to stay onstage with the melodica while Nan, Marilyn, Kathryn,
Robert and Vincent made up a full rhythm section. The sextet not only
did that but provided cheerful rhythm and some melody as they ragged
and rolled (and Randy danced!) to Rob's steady hand at the piano.
Lack of time prevented all of the musicians from being invited back
up for encores, so Eric selected the quartet of Vincent, Nan, Bob
and Alan for such honors. Vincent encored with a fast and funky version
of Les Copeland's "French Pastry Rag," complete with creative
embellishments. Nan's encore was George Gould's "Whoa! Nellie!"
– a like "Meadow Lark," a rarely played Bay-area rag.
Bob offered a pair of encores: An "Untitled Eubie Blake Foxtrot"
whose manuscript he discovered among Eubie's manuscripts at the Maryland
Historical Society in Baltimore; and Fats Waller's "Wildcat Blues"
(1923). For the latter, Bob dished up a wicked and wild handling of
the demanding Stride bass.
Alan wrapped up the wonderful afternoon with a "Medley of American
Tunes" ("The Godfather" theme, "As Time Goes By,"
"It Had to be You," "Walking My Baby Back Home,"
"Aloha Oe," "Carolina in the Morning") and "Coney
Island Washboard." Alan invited Kathryn, Marilyn and Stan to
provide rhythmic accompiment to his spectacular pianistics, which
garnered the most enthusiastic reception of any of the day's outstanding
This was really a terrific and wonderful day of fine musicianship
from one and all, so we can only hope that this level of skill is
maintained in the upcoming OCRS sessions.