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More musical mirth at Mo's for May 2009 OCRS

A roster of nine musicians entertained an eventually full house at Mo's for the May 2009 musicale, which offered a pleasing variety of ragtime styles among the 40 pieces performed.

Marilyn Martin started things off with George Gershwin’s "Summertime," followed by a nice arrangement of Galen Wilkes' modern ragtime classic "Creeks of Missouri" and Marilyn's own "Ode to Vince Guaraldi." Thanks to her persistence and her love of the genre, Marilyn's ragtime performing chops continue to develop.

Ron Ross offered a pair of original compositions, “Cloudy – A Ragtime Waltz” and “Sunday Serendipity,” with Joplin’s 1907 classic “Rose Leaf Rag” sandwiched between them. “Cloudy” is indeed a syncopated version of the venerated genre, a gentle piece with unusual harmonies, while for the last theme of “Rose Leaf,” Ron used a steady streem of sixteenth notes in the treble, an effective device he picked up from Phil Cannon.

Vincent Johnson opened his set by analyzing the various faces of Novelty piano, calling Billy Mayerl “the king of romantic syncopated” Novelties, his pieces inspired by Confrey. Vincent opened with the composer’s signature piano solo, “Marigold,” followed by Arthur Schutt’s “Rambling in Rhythm” (1928) and a second helping of Mayerl with “Sleepy Piano” (1926). “Marigold” is a great composition and a true classic, given delicacy and expressiveness by Vincent. From the Tom Brier transcription, the Schutt piece featured some bass tango rhythms and a “chimes” effect with chords in both hands. The second Mayerl piece is indeed sleepy, but Vincent said it “wakes up in the middle” with its bluesy harmonies.

Eric Marchese offered the rarely heard “Little Black Baby,” which Joplin composed in 1903 to lyrics furnished by poet Louise Armstrong Bristol. Eric rarely sings, and Bristol’s words are nothing special, so he offered the piano part only.

Andrew Barrett gave us a preview of his as-yet untitled newest composition: The intro. and first two themes of a Pop/Tin Pan Alley-style rag that he wrote in one sitting. Next up was “Marionette” by Felix Arndt (“Nola”) and one of Charles L. Johnson’s earliest (1902) and most rarely performed ragtime pieces, “A Black Smoke.” Of his original, Andrew said he typically takes a long time for each piece to evolve; this time, he spent several hours to develop this piece’s first half, and with its lively first theme and a second theme with minor and diminished chords, the piece has a distinctively Brieresque feel to it. Arndt’s piece has a minor-key second theme with much rubato and a waltz-like trio, and Johnson’s rarely played early rag employs a dramatic use of stoptime; Andrew also said that “Lamb was influenced a great deal by this one rag.”

Continuing his 2009 performances of Scott Joplin’s 1909 compositions, Eric performed the lively “Paragon” rag, which has a down-home plantation sound and a trio whose block-chord bass and single-note treble ape the sound of two banjos: one being strummed, the other “picking” out the melody.
Bill Mitchell and Frank Sano manned the two pianos and, with Jimmy Green on banjo and Andrew as the rhythm section, performed the New Orleans gospel tune “Just a Little While to Stay Here,” a real foot-stomper. They followed with the 1920s Kalmar and Ruby standard “Who’s Sorry Now?” and a couple more standards: “Angry” and “Chicago.”

Glen Pearlman gave us a slow, soulful, syncopated version of the Rolling Stones hit “As Tears Go By” – not really ragtime but certainly well worth hearing for its variety of jazz and rock-and-roll elements.
Eric and Vincent duetted on the Charley Straight hit “Hot Hands,” then Vincent continued on in the Novelty vein with more Arthur Schutt – this time, “Piano Puzzle,” a piece enjoying its 80th anniversary this year. Vincent said the slow-tempo piece is “relatively unplayed and unrecorded,” and he approached the piece in expert fashion, providing many creative touches while noting that the piece is “broken up, like puzzle pieces.”

Bill Mitchell soloed on two of James Scott’s finest pieces: His masterpiece “Grace & Beauty” and his first big hit, “Frog Legs Rag.” Bill then followed with a contemporary ragtime classic: Frank French’s “Belle of Louisville.” “Grace and Beauty” is a true masterpiece, in its centennial this year and given a fine, Dixieland-style interpretation by Bill. French’s piece, considered “the ‘Maple Leaf Rag’ of the 1990s,” is an idiosyncratic rag that uses many familiar Frank French compositional devices, with a bluesy/R&B trio and a motif featured in the A, C and D themes.

Eric picked up the classic ragtime theme with his second 1909 Joplin rag: “Country Club,” whose themes, Eric noted, are alternately dance-oriented (the rhythmic A and D) and song-oriented (the melodic B and C), both milieus being preoccupations of the composer. For the afternoon’s second 1907 Joplin, Eric chose “Gladiolus Rag.”

Marilyn encored with Frederick Bryan’s “Bell Hop Rag,” an outstanding teens rag given a very strong performance by Marilyn – especially the trio, with its continuously rising phrases.
Ron’s two encores are both originals: “Patricia,” a (non-ragtime) waltz from the ‘80s that has some pretty dissonances, and “Orange County Rag,” a very fine original ragtime piece.

Vincent delivered another strong shot of Novelty piano, a very brisk, up-tempo “Kitten on the Keys,” a piece much-referred to earlier in the day. He then invited Andrew to the second piano so that the duo could deliver a wildly yet expertly improvised rendition of “Maple Leaf Rag.”

Andrew then continued with a ragtime rarity from 1911, “That Tuneful Rag” by Beul Risinger, and an obscure 1906 rag, “Doll Rags” by Homer A. Hall. He said both pieces are on a list drawn up by Rudi Blesh of rags he disliked – but judging from the musical quality of these rags, Andrew said it was likely Blesh had never actually heard or played them and was simply reacting to their titles. “Tuneful,” which is both melodic and rhythmic, was “probably a one-hit rag” issued by Sunlight Music Co., which was run by Harry Newman, director of the Chicago grand opera company, while “Doll Rags” is an enjoyable piece that was published by Harold Rossiter, also of Chicago.

Bill’s encores were two of his all-time favorites: “Bolo Rag” by Albert Gumble and “Georgia Grind” by Ford Dabney. Bill said the instructions on “Bolo” read “Tempo di Rago” and “Slowly but surely.” Dabney wasn’t prolific, but all of his rags are great: “Porto Rico,” “Anoma,” “Haytian Rag,” “Oh You Angel” and “Oh You Devil.” Bill and Eric then duetted on “The Smiler” and “Original Rags,” accompanied by Jimmy and Andrew.

Vincent then took to the piano, with Andrew on washboard/rhythm, for Ted Shapiro’s “Putting on the Dog,” the outstanding Novelty that preceded the composer’s “Dog on the Piano.” The two then gave us a four-handed, heavily improvised version of “Swipesy,” followed by Les Copeland’s “French Pastry Rag.” Both pieces were embellished with a generous helping of Novelty licks and tricks.

The afternoon came to a close with Lewis Muir’s “Waiting for the Robert E. Lee” performed by Andrew (piano), Bill (piano) and Jimmy (banjo) in a solid rendition with piano-roll licks and whoops of acclaim from the audience. We’ll see everyone next month at our other favorite OCRS hangout, Steamers Jazz Club!

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