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First OCRS of 2010 a time for current and February-born composers

First OCRS of 2010 a time for current and February-born composersOur first OCRS of the new year got off to a great start at Steamers, what with Stan Long having brought and set up his renowned "Bozodoerfer" (digital piano) and a goodly-sized crowd eager for some good ragtime. The focus was on contemporary rags as well as those composed by people born in February. All told, we heard a total of 11 contemporary pieces and six by February-born ragtimers. Scott Joplin was also well-represented, accounting for five of the selections.

Shirley Case started off the afternoon with a set of contemporary rags – two by William Bolcom, one by Galen Wilkes. The Bolcoms are part of the composer's "Garden of Eden" suite: the jazzy/bluesy "Old Adam" and folksy, bittersweet "Through Eden's Gates." The Wilkes piece is his 1998 tango "Queen of Diamonds." As always, Shirley provided tasteful embellishments in the melody line.

Marilyn Martin opened her set with Harry Jentes' "Bantam Step," a teens piece with tangy dissonances, then delivered an instrumental version of the 1908 hit "Shine On, Harvest Moon," which was interpolated into the Ziegfeld Follies of 1908 courtesy the song's composers, Nora Bayes and her husband, Jack Norworth. Marilyn closed with Charlotte Blake's outstanding rag "Gravel Rag," also from 1908.

Ron Ross delivered three originals: The piano version of his movie-score song "Small Town Private Eye"; "Cloudy – A Ragtime Waltz"; and "Midnight Jam," with Ron singing his own, characteristically humorous lyrics.

Robert Wendt delivered the first of the day's many rags by those born in February: a beautiful rendering of "Grace and Beauty," the unquestioned masterpiece of James Scott, whose birthday is February 12. Robert then switched to contemporary composers with Bolcom's masterpiece "Graceful Ghost" – part Chauvin, part Gershwin and, as Robert remarked, "almost like classical" piano literature. He closed his set with the popular ragtime hit "Dill Pickles.

Eric Marchese offered a pair of 1902 Joplin rags that don't get much exposure: "A Breeze from Alabama" and "The Strenuous Life," describing the flatted-sixth device used throughout "Breeze" and hypothesizing about Joplin's use of the term "strenuous life" as an homage to President Teddy Roosevelt for inviting Booker T. Washington to dine at the White House. Eric then invited Nan Bostick to join him in a duet of "Original Rags," with Nan on the house Yamaha and Eric on the Bozodoerfer.

Eric and Shirley then switched places, with Shirley and Nan delivering a duet of "Margery," first demonstrating it as a march, then as full-fledged ragtime. "Margery" has a wonderful "dogfight" section, and Nan slows the tempo down, a la cakewalk, before leading into her swung-rhythm finale of the opening theme. She then concluded her set with a solo version of Tom Pitts' outstanding, lyrical birdcall rag, "The Meadow Lark."

Stan Long opened with "Taxi Rag" by the French-Canadian ragtime master Jean- Baptiste Lafrenière, with its taxi-horn "beeps," then offered one of his own, the brief, exciting "Short Boogie." He closed with Gil Lieby's rollicking "Goldenrod Rag."

Seizing on the Winter Olympics fever seemingly gripping everyone, Bob Pinsker pounded out the now-familiar Olympics theme music. He launched his set with Les Copeland's "Texas Blues," noting that as his specialty is Harlem Stride, the Copeland piece is "one of my very few by a white guy" and saying that this version, based on the published score from 1917, is very similar in detail to the hand-played roll that Copeland made in 1916. It's a lively, bluesy rag that resembles the composer's better-known rags as well as Euday Bowman's raggy blues numbers.

Bob then offered three consecutive pieces by famous ragtime composers born in February: "Poor Jimmy Green" by Eubie Blake (born Feb. 7, 1887); "How Could You Put Me Down?" by James P. Johnson (born Feb. 1, 1894); and "Morocco Blues" by Joe Jordan (born Feb. 11, 1882). "Jimmy Green" is a great Stride piece with call-and-response, a stoptime/break section and other notable features. The soft, lyrical "...Put Me Down?" has three composers in common: Johnson, Willie the Lion Smith and Fats Waller. Actually the published sheet music (1945) credits only Willie and JPJ, but Bob observed that the tune of the chorus seems to have been 'borrowed' rather liberally from the Fats' 1937 song "Lonesome One"! "Morocco" is actually more of a torrid tango than a genuine blues tune, but wonderful nonetheless.

Glen Pearlman, generally a non-ragtime pianist, offered a syncopated/raggy rendition of the pop/rock tune "I Can See Clearly Now."

For her encore, Shirley gave us "Cottontail Rag," a Joe Lamb masterpiece perhaps written some time in the teens but not published until many decades later, in the 1963 posthumous folio "Ragtime Treasures." Shirley and Nan then offered one of their favorites, "Chicken Chowder," written by Irene Giblin at the tender age of 15. The lively piece makes for a great duet, especially when Bostick & Case ramp up the tempo.

Making a belated appearance, Vincent Johnson fired off "Poor Buttermilk," one of the first seven Zez Confrey Novelty rags to appear in 1921 and '22, adding an additional new strain after the trio that was recently discovered in a recording and having no trouble with the B theme's exotic harmonies and tricky rhythms.

Next up in Vincent's set was another rarity: "Piano Puzzle" – not the piece by Arthur Schutt that Vincent typically plays, but one with the same title from 1923 by Ralph Reichenthal. Better known as "Ralph Rainger," Reichenthal composed numerous well-known songs, including "Love in Bloom" and "Thanks for the Memory." Vincent closed his set with Schutt's "Bluin' the Black Keys." "Puzzle" is light, delicate and airy, while "Bluin'" is a handful for any pianist, Vincent more than meeting its demands.

Robert Wendt encored with "Play, Gypsy," a number from the 1924 operetta "Countess Maritza" by the Hungarian composer Emmerich Kálmán.

Noting that James Scott's "Prosperity Rag" of 1916 is to his 1909 "Grace and Beauty" as Joplin's "Gladiolus" is to "Maple Leaf," Eric offered his arrangement of "Prosperity," a rarely played late Scott piece, with considerable embellishments in the final reprise of the B theme in the form of sixteenth-note bass octaves. He then delivered Joplin's "Reflection Rag," published in late 1917 some eight months after the composer's death. A typically poignant Joplin rag, it seems to have been unjustly overlooked by most contemporary ragtimers.

Ron encored with another original, "Joplinesque." For her encore, Nan chose "Echoes from the Snowball Club." From 1898, by the Detroit composer Harry P. Guy, it's the first ragtime waltz to be published. In Nan's hands, this intricate piece is delicate, pretty and grand. Stan encored with the original "Haunting Accident," written in an early folk-rag style a la Brun Campbell.

Vincent's second set consisted of Pauline Alpert's "Dream of a Doll" and the first two Confrey Novelties to be published, "My Pet" and "Kitten on the Keys." "Doll" is a delicate Novelette that leaves the impression of salon music, and Vincent really goes to town on the two Confrey pieces.

Nan and Shirley then gave us a four-handed, and two-fisted, version of "Gravel Rag," a piece with an early (1908) use of swung rhythms. Frank Sano made his first and only appearance at the piano for Percy Wenrich's 1910 hit "Red Rose Rag," which had lyrics by Edward Madden.

Picking up on Eric's commentary about the many late Joplin rags written in the key of B-flat major that have a second theme in G minor (e.g. "Reflection Rag," "Magnetic Rag" and "Silver Swan Rag"), Bob played "Silver Swan," composed before 1914 (as that's when the incredibly rare piano roll was issued) but unpublished until 1971, when it was discovered on a piano roll in a Los Angeles area collector's garage and transcribed by Maple Leaf Club members; Bob adds tremolos in the style of the original roll arrangement. He then concluded the afternoon's entertainment with one last Eubie Blake piece: a clean, crisp rendition of "Baltimore Todalo" with wonderful embellishments that include tremolos, treble dissonances and a walking bass.

Despite the late, 1:15 p.m. start, an audience of roughly 50 heard a total of 43 selections, each wonderful in its own way. We'll see everyone in March at Mo's Fullerton Music!

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