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Mo's rings with variety of ragtime styles at the March 2009 OCRS

A small but enthusiastic audience enjoyed performances by 10 pianists of a total of 45 selections. Not all of it was pure ragtime, but that which was represented a pleasing variety of folk, Classic, pop, advanced, Stride and Novelty as well as a nice sampling of contemporary compositions.

Shirley Case got things rolling with two contemporary pieces: Galen Wilkes' "Queen of Diamonds" (1998) and Eric Marchese's "The Dream of Ragtime." The former is a sublime and lovely tango; the latter, one-third of a suite of rags dedicated to the "big three" of Classic ragtime and to their surviving progeny – in this case, Scott Joplin's nieces, Donita Fowler, Lillian MacDonald and LaIrma White, two of whom Eric had met in Sedalia, MO, the event which inspired him to write the ethereal piece. Shirley added nice triplets to the piece's ascending and descending passages, then closed her set with "Sleepy Sidney" by Archie Scheu (pronounced "shoe"). Published in Cincinnati, this 1907 rag has a lively opening theme and a busy trio of mostly single 16th notes.

Marilyn Martin opened with, as she put it, "not a medley but a weaving" of various familiar tunes that included Beethoven's "Fur Elise," Gershwin's "Summertime" and the 1960s soft rock tune "Moon Dance." She followed with her "Ode to Vince Guaraldi," a habañera-style treatment of the music the jazz pianist composed for the 1966 King Features Syndicate animated special "A Charlie Brown Christmas." She closed her set with "a work in progress": the traditional song "Frankie and Johnny," credited in 1904 to Hughie Cannon, given a walking bass and block chords that replace the standard ragtime bass pattern.

Ron Ross delivered two originals, "Moscow Rag" and "Orange County Rag," with Joplin's 1908 masterpiece "Fig Leaf Rag" sandwiched in-between. "Moscow" flirts continuously with the minor mode, giving it a vaguely Eastern-European flavor, and Ron played the majestic, expansive "Fig Leaf" a nice, steady tempo.

Stan Long performed his original "Haunting Accident," followed by W.R. McKanless' "Bag O' Rags" from 1913, a tune he learned by listening to Sue Keller's MIDI arrangement, and Gil Lieby's terrific 1989 piece "Goldenrod Rag," which gives audiences a chance to fill in the breaks with handclaps.
Eric Marchese delivered two James Scott pieces he had prepared for the February meeting but which he refrained from performing because of the tight time frame: the 1910 rag "Ophelia" and, from 1919, "Troubadour," which he recorded in 1992 and which he referred to, in his liner notes, as "one of the neglected masterpieces of classic ragtime." For his third piece, Eric invited Vincent Johnson onto the stage for a four-handed arrangement of Charley Straight's "S'More" from 1916.

Vincent's solo set featured the works of Arthur Schutt, one of the great yet peculiarly overlooked composers of the Novelty genre. Vincent noted that composers tend to be grouped in threes – for ragtime examples, classic ragtime (Joplin, Scott, Lamb); Harlem stride (Johnson, Smith, Waller); and Novelty (Confrey, Bargy, Bloom). The most plausible reason, Vincent said, that Schutt isn't included as a great Novelty composer is that his pieces were heavily simplified for publication.

Vincent opened with "Bluin' the Black Keys," a wonderful piece expertly played. Heavily impressionistic, it's one of the only Schutt pieces not to be simplified, with a terrific trio and, from Vincent's performance, all kinds of licks and tricks. His next Schutt pieces was "Rambling in Rhythm," whose original published version (1927) is, Vincent says, "just awful." To perform it, Vincent used Tom Brier's transcription of Schutt's own 1928 recording; soft and pretty but also innovative, Vincent treated us to what he said is the piece's "first public performance." He closed his all-Schutt set with "Piano Puzzle" (1929). Transcribed in 1994 by Andrew Fielding, it's only been recorded once and, according to Vincent, unperformed at any ragtime festivals. His performance captures the piece's many interesting elements.

Alan Thompson's opener was a medley that included "Stormy Weather," "Someone to Watch Over Me" and "The Tennessee Waltz." An expert pianist, Alan plays with perfect expression, touch and rhythm, lending the medley a solid rhythm-and-blues feel and including all of the repeats of every section. His second selection was a heavy, lowdown boogie, given a driving, exciting rhythm. Alan and Stan then delivered four-handed versions, on the Howard baby grand, of "The Colonel Bogey March" and "It's a Small World," with Alan on the treble and Stan on the bass. The pieces have the heavy-duty sound of complex piano rolls, embellished by Alan's numerous rolls, trills, broken chords, runs and tremolos.

Accompanied by Andrew Barrett on washboard, Bill Mitchell performed W.C. Handy's "Memphis Blues," putting the piece's strong blues qualities on display. He followed with Scott's "Quality Rag" and McKanless' "Bag O' Rags." As always, there were no frivolous aspects to Bill's playing.

Andrew's set opened with the contemporary "Texas Country Rag" (2008) by Jaime Cardenas, a wonderful folk-style rag Andrew said he had "never played at any of the club meetings before." He followed with Jimmy Blythe's "Armour Avenue Struggle," a piece from Chicago's South Side, and "my own arrangement" of Charles L. Johnson's "Crazy Bone Rag." The Blythe piece is quiet but exciting, with many licks and tricks and a great trio and final theme, and Andrew's version of the Johnson piece is played in many styles (blues, boogie, tango) and is heavy with embellishments.

Vincent encored with the great Novelty pianist Frank Banta's "Upright and Grand," which features interesting harmonies and chord progressions, then invited Andrew up for a two-piano version of Charley Straight's "Hot Hands." Vincent then soloed on a jazzy/raggy arrangement of "Has Anybody Seen My Gal?," with Andrew providing the rhythm section on washboard and tambourine.

Ron's encore was the 1907 Joplin masterpiece "Rose Leaf Rag," played at a slow, steady tempo (as written) and a soft volume, with a few pleasing rhythm shifts added in by the performer. Stan's encore was "my version of 'Maple Leaf Rag'," followed by he and Alan delivering a wildly exciting, piano roll-style version of "I Got Rhythm."

For his encore set, Eric chose three terrific pieces all in their centennial this year: Charlotte Blake's "That Poker Rag"; Joplin's ragtime waltz "Pleasant Moments"; and Charles L. Johnson's exciting "Apple Jack," which is subtitled "Some Rag."

Bill Mitchell, with Andrew providing the rhythm section, encored with two Jelly Roll Mortons: "The Pearls," which is one of Bill's excellent standard selections, and the rarely-heard "Milenberg Joys" (1925).
Glen Pearlman offered to syncopate a church hymn right before our eyes, improvising all the way on "Abide With Me," which came off like a soft-rock tune. Marilyn encored with Galen Wilkes' rag-tango "Spanish Moss" (1984) and an up- tempo version of Joplin's "Weeping Willow" (1903).

Andrew's diverse encore set included "Apple Blossoms Waltzes," a Chicago piece by Charles B. Brown (1911); Percy Wenrich's hit 1907 rag "The Smiler" (with Bill on second piano); and his original composition, the advanced, bluesy "Humanitaur Rag." After the applause died down from Andrew's set, Eric commented that if you want a look at the future of this genre we all love, pay close attention to the compositions being written by Andrew Barrett and Vincent Johnson.

Alan Thompson chose "Maple Leaf Rag" as his first encore, inviting Vincent to take second piano. Closing the afternoon was his second selection, a medley of "Blue Skies," "Spanish Eyes," "Cheek to Cheek," the "Newlywed Game" theme music, and "The Old Piano Roll Blues." It was an exciting collection of old favorites given Alan's characteristic pianistic, piano-roll-style technique, with plenty of flash and verve to spare.

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