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
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
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
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
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
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.