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OCRS’s first Ragtime Ice Cream Social, and a batch of rarities, are hits at Mo’s Fullerton Music

Our last OCRS at Mo’s for 2010 was also our club’s first Ragtime Ice Cream Social, a hit with our fans and something we’ll definitely want to revive again next year.


Otherwise, we had a fine contingent of eight pianists and two guests, vocalist Erika C. Miller and tuba player Dave Wright. Among us, we cranked out some 39 selections, a pleasing variety of vintage ragtime. Rare pieces were the focus of the afternoon – nearly half the selections are seldom performed or heard at ragtime gatherings.


MC Eric Marchese and Marilyn Martin got things rolling with a duet of Harry Jentes’s “Bantam Step” (1916).


Vincent Johnson opened with Zez Confrey’s first published novelty, “My Pet,” and said he’d be playing six of Confrey’s first seven novelties. From 1921-’22, these pieces form the cornerstone of Confrey’s ragtime piano works. Though an outstanding piece, “My Pet” is seemingly overlooked by today’s ragtimers. Vincent then delivered “Kitten on the Keys” and “Greenwich Witch,” the latter, as he put it, “sort of an inversion of ‘Kitten’.” All three were played smoothly, loose and jazzy, with wonderful embellishments.


Ron Ross gave us two of his ragtime originals from 1998, the year he began composing ragtime songs and piano pieces: the song “Sweet is the Sound” and “Rickety Rag.” Ron concluded his set with his “Orange County Rag,” written in 2007 to honor RagFest and OCRS. Ron’s pieces are always strikingly original; like Henry Lodge, he has a preference for the minor tonality.


Eric then invited Shirley Case to join him in a duet of Julia Lee Niebergall’s beautiful and lyrical “Hoosier Rag” from 1907. Marilyn Martin followed with solos of Chauvin and Joplin’s “Heliotrope Bouquet” and Harry Puck’s “The Foot Warmer.”


Referencing “Heliotrope Bouquet,” Eric noted that Louis Chauvin had a total of three published ragtime pieces: the 1903 ragtime song “The Moon Is Shining in the Skies,” 1906’s “Babe, It’s Too Long Off” and, of course, “Heliotrope” from 1907. Eric concluded that though a prolific composer, Chauvin was loathe to set his pieces down on paper, and that the only time he did was when urged and encouraged by his peers in the form of collaborations – hence the two ragtime songs above, with lyrics by, respectively, Sam Patterson and Elmer Bowman, and “Heliotrope,” whose introduction and second half are by Joplin. Eric then proceeded to play his piano arrangement of “Babe, It’s Too Long Off,” noting the many similarities to “Heliotrope” (same home key, similar harmonies, etc.). A typically beautiful piece of Chauvin ragtime, the song was published by M. Witmark and Sons and dedicated to Dave Young (presumably a friend of Chauvin and Bowman).


Bill Mitchell delivered another 1906 piece, the longtime standard “Dill Pickles.” Next up was Jelly Roll Morton’s “Chicago Breakdown. A great Morton rag that’s rarely played by today’s ragtimers, it was copyrighted in 1926 but composed earlier. Bill ended his set with one of his longtime favorites – W. R. McKanlass’s “Bag of Rags.” Published in Boston in 1912, it’s a lively piece with a mobile left hand and a rousing closing theme neatly embellished by Bill.


Noting that earlier this year she found an original of Nat Johnson’s non-ragtime waltz “Sun-Kissed Roses,” Shirley delivered a set of three waltzes by Joplin and Joe Lamb: Joplin’s “Augustan Club Waltzes,” Lamb’s “Mignon” and Joplin’s “Bethena.” The Augustain Club was a Sedalia social club for whites which hired Joplin to write a waltz for a ball held there in February of 1900. The piece is a classical style waltz, and Shirley reports that though its composer, Joplin was not invited to perform it at the ball. From 1901, “Mignon” is referred to by Lamb as a “Valse Lente” and dedicated to his mother. From 1905, “Bethena” is a ragtime waltz brimming with the melancholy felt by Joplin after the recent deaths of his baby daughter and of his second wife, 19-year-old Freddie Alexander.


Noting the fact that much ragtime was originally written and played to be danced to, Eric Marchese offered the rarely heard “Saratoga Glide.” From 1909, it was written by Harry L. Newman, manager of Chicago’s Grand Opera House, dedicated to the city’s Saratoga Hotel and published in Chicago by Sunlight Music Co., which Eric surmised was a self-publishing venture for Newman, as so few rags by Sunlight seem to exist. The pieces A and B themes hover in the minor tonality, giving the piece a torrid sound. By contrast, the trio is broad, graceful and inviting, with lyrics by Newman along the lines of “When you do the Saratoga Glide...”


Excluding only “Stumbling (Paraphrase),” Vincent Johnson continued with Confrey’s 1921-1922 novelties – “You Tell ’Em Ivories” and “Poor Buttermilk” from 1921 and “Coaxing the Piano” from 1922. “Ivories” is yet another great underperformed work, its second theme ablaze with the same kind of twisting rhythms heard in the B themes of “Witch” and “Buttermilk.” For the latter, Vincent now includes the D theme excluded when first published but recently transcribed (by Tom Brier) from an audio recording. “Coaxing” is one of Confrey’s best, given a particularly crisp, snappy interpretation by Vincent.


Andrew Barrett delivered a mini-set featuring works by Albert Gumble and/or from the year 1910. He started with George Botsford’s 1910 rag “Chatterbox,” then Lamb’s “Champagne” from the same year. Noting that Gumble was a close friend of Botsford who wrote many one-steps, Andrew delivered Gumble’s “Circus Day in Dixie,” a hit song from 1915 with lyrics by Jack Yellen (which Andrew sang without benefit of a microphone). This one was a terrific, wonderfully exciting piece and a great find.


During a brief break, patrons and musicians alike enjoyed the many treats from the ice cream bar. Several ragtime CDs were raffled off as well as several more non-ragtime prizes and two pairs of All-Events tickets to RagFest 2010.


Bob Pinsker kicked off the second half with a “guess the composer” set. He opened with “Helter Skelter,” a peppy, march-like piano piece Bob said was referred to in the score as a polka; played and sang “Teasin’ Tessie Brown” from the later ’30s (along with the clue that it was co-composed by a famous bandleader); and concluded with “Blue Fever.”


Even with the distinctive style of all three pieces and the many clues offered, Bob stumped everyone but Andrew, who correctly identified the composer as Luckey Roberts. Bob closed his Roberts set with the composer’s biggest hit: “Moonlight Cocktail.” Lifted from the opening theme of Luckey’s own, unpublished “Ripples of the Nile,” the song, with lyrics by Kim Gannon, became a huge hit in 1942, giving Luckey, at age 55, his first genuine hit.


Shirley encored with two more non-ragtime waltzes by Scott Joplin: “Binks’ Waltz,” from 1905, and one of Joplin’s earliest published pieces, “Harmony Club Waltzes” from 1896. The latter is an especially interesting example of Joplin’s early style.


Beckoning Erika Miller to the stage, Eric accompanied her on another great George Botsford number from 1910: “Grizzly Bear Rag,” which was a hit rag, hit ragtime song and a ragtime dance craze all in the same year. Erika has mastered Irving Berlin’s tongue-twisting lyrics, with Eric sailing along at the piano, transposing the verse, the rag’s A theme, to C-major and the chorus, the rag’s trio, to F-major while using the rag’s B theme as an instrumental break.


Bill Mitchell’s encores were with Dave Wright on tuba. For years, Dave was with the Albany Nightboat Ragtimers, with Frank Sano on percussion and Hal Groody on banjo. The quartet headlined at the first RagFest in October of 2000 and has anchored the festival every year since. Dave said he is now retired from music, having moved to the desert, but his performances of “Maple Leaf” and “Bohemia” say otherwise.


Bob Pinsker wrapped up his all-Luckey program with a piano arrangement of Roberts’ second-biggest hit, the song “Massachusetts” and followed with Luckey’s best ragtime piano solo, “Pork and Beans.” Bob made this choice an even greater challenge by choosing to play it in the original key of C-minor, which he referred to as “Luckey’s key” (for playing “Pork and Beans,” that is).


Vincent offered “Pianogram,” a gentle 1929 novelty by Ralph Rainger (the pseudonym of Ralph Reichenthal), then invited Andrew to join him on a spectacular four-handed version of Roy Bargy’s “Slipova.”


Andrew then cleared off one of the console pianos at the back of The Cave to deliver one more Gumble number and one more from 1910: Gumble’s “Mandy and Me” (an outstanding ragtime song that’s miles ahead of Berlin’s better-known “Mandy”), then a first-rate rendition of James Scott’s great 1910 rag “Hilarity.” As his encore, Andrew essayed Charles N. Daniels’s 1898 hit song “Margery,” taking care to rag the piece up for a big finale.


This was a wonderfully fun and musically diverse afternoon. We’ll see everyone next month (Sept. 18) at Steamers for our last OCRS of the year, then a month later at RagFest 2010!


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