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March 2010 OCRS delivers nice surprises

The second OCRS of the year coincided with the first day of spring and offered a pleasing balance of vintage rags of many different styles and genres plus a handful of contemporary ragtime works. We also heard a wider-than-usual variety of instruments, from acoustic and digital piano to guitar, violin and washboard.

Stan Long got the afternoon rolling with his original arrangement of “The Entertainer” by way of “Old McDonald Had a Farm.” Next up were two contemporaries: Nan Bostick's “That Missing You Rag” and Gil Lieby's “Goldenrod Rag.” The former is Nan's soulful, contemporary-sounding memorial to the late, great Bob Darch, Bill Coffman and Phil McCoy; the latter, a rollicking folk rag and one of Lieby's best.

Phil Cannon offered his amazing solo guitar arrangements of “a medley of Centennial rags” (from 1910), focusing on 1910 rags written by Classic ragtime's “Big Three”: Joplin's “Stoptime Rag,” Scott's “Ophelia” and Lamb's “Champagne.” Indeed, this was far more than a “medley,” for Phil performed all three rags in their entirety - no mean feat when you consider the intricacies of each piece.

Shirley Case delivered three vintage rags by lady ragtime composers born in Iowa, a tip of the hat to the Iowa-based women's organization known as PEO founded during the ragtime era. First was Adaline Shepherd's “Live Wires,” then Irene Cozad's “Eatin' Time” and Imogene Giles' “Red Peppers.” Never before played at an OCRS, “Wires” is wonderfully lively. “Eatin' Time” is bright and cheerful, while “Red Peppers” is a truly great rag, its trio among the best ragtime themes written.

Marilyn Martin opened with Frederick Bryan's “Bell Hop Rag,” continued with a bluesy, syncopated arrangement of “Sentimental Journey” and closed with Harry Puck's “Foot Warmer.”

Bob Pinsker took the brief intermission, during which a ragtime CD was raffled off, to set up a Yamaha digital piano connected to a pair of laptop computers. Their purpose? To play back Bob's previously-recorded piano performances so that he could accompany himself on violin. This he did, to Lamb's stately “Alaska Rag,” written to commemorate the admission of Alaska as the 50th state in the union. Rather than merely doubling the melodies or bass lines, Bob has composed and arranged countermelodies and rhythms which play against the written score.

Bob then followed with two piano solos: One based on his transcription of James P. Johnson's “After Tonight” (1916), the second of Turpin's “St. Louis Rag.” Bob gave the pretty, lively chorus of “After Tonight” a genuine piano roll sound and used his creative embellishments to turn “St. Louis” into a bright-sounding solo.

Fred Hoeptner followed suit with Theron Bennett's “St. Louis Tickle,” also written for the 1904 World's Fair under the pen name of “Barney & Seymore.” Next was Fred's own “Marching Through Sedalia” which, like most of his compositions, is wonderfully intricate and contains daring harmonies. He closed with Scott's 1914 “Climax Rag,” a terrific Classic rag that's somehow rarely performed and has orchestral ideas written into its opening and trio themes. In all, this was a very well-balanced set.

MC Eric Marchese continued the Scott thread with the composer's late (1920) ragtime song “The Shimmie Shake,” which Eric said had lyrics by Cleota Wilson and whose cover was recycled from an earlier composition by publisher John Stark, whose business had fallen on hard times. Eric didn't sing the lyrics or bring a vocalist, but the piece's dotted-rhythm patterns and harmonies, he noted, make for a wonderful instrumental.

Noting that St. Patrick's Day had just passed, Eric then gave Euday Bowman's “Shamrock Rag” its OCRS premiere. Published in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1916, the rag is comprised of five sections, all in the same key, E-flat major, yet still achieves a great deal of variety (along with its echoes of Bowman's “Twelfth Street”). Eric closed his set with another “centennial” rag from 1910, Tom Kelley's outstanding “A Certain Party.” Little is known of Kelley, but “Party” is a first-rate rag that, like many others, isn't well-known either to many ragtimers or the general public.

Vincent Johnson delivered an entire set of Novelties starting with two by Phil Ohman. Vincent noted that David Jasen has postulated two reasons for the relative lack of performances of Ohman's pieces as compared with Confrey: They're not as “fun” to play as Zez's, and they're much harder to play than Zez's. Sure enough, Vincent's wonderful performances of “Try and Play It” and “Up and Down the Keys” bore this out; “Try” features dissonances, upward runs in both hands and a fun trio, while “Up and Down” has an eccentric opening theme, melodic second subject and swingy trio. Vincent closed his set with Confrey's 1922 Novelty “Coaxing the Piano.”

Andrew Barrett gave us an instrumental version of the Percy Wenrich ragtime song “After a While,” noting that Ed Madden's lyrics are no great shakes. He tipped his hat to St. Patty's with George Cobb's “Irish Confetti,” then gave us the “Honky-Tonk One-Step,” the instrumental version of the Chris Smith (of “Ballin' the Jack” fame) and Charles McCarron's 1916 hit song “Down in Honky-Tonk Town.” For the latter, Andrew said he's play it one time around as written and a second time “my way.” Sure enough, he added fill-ins, octaves and jumpier rhythms, slows the tempo down a la cakewalk performance, then gradually speeds it back up for a socko finish.

Shirley and Phil delivered a piano-guitar version of Lamb's “Ragtime Nightingale.” She and Eric than gave the two-piano treatment to Iowa-born lady ragtimer Adaline Shepherd's hit rag “Pickles and Peppers.” Shirley closed her set with “The Dream of Ragtime,” one-third of Eric's “Rag Suite: To the Classicists,” this one being his nod to Joplin.

Stan encored with his original pastiche titled “My Ditty,” while Vincent continued with more Novelties - first, Confrey's “Greenwich Witch,” then Ted Shapiro's “Puttin' on the Dog,” the latter with Andrew on washboard. The latter has become one of Vincent's specialty numbers; as such, the boys treated us to several extra repeats.

Bob offered a second set of three numbers, again opening with a piano-violin arrangement followed by two piano solos. The opener was Luckey Roberts' 1915 hit “The Robin and the Red, Red Rose,” with Bob deftly playing his violin arrangement in sync with his pre-recorded piano performance. With its slow and haunting harmonies and melodic lines, the piece is evocative of silent film scores of the teens.

Next was Bob's piano solo of his transcription of Jimmy Blythe's “Alley Rat,” a solo of “Heliotrope Bouquet,” and “Wild Cat Blues,” a wonderful early Fats Waller piece. The Blythe piece has a funky, low-down sound and a creative use of various devices found in boogie, while “Heliotrope” was taken at a steady, stately tempo and given tasteful embellishments.

Andrew chimed in with his own Blythe, the bluesy, down-home, three-themed blues rag “Jimmy Blues.” As a fitting capper to the afternoon, Andrew and Vincent then went to town on Charley Straight's “Hot Hands,” with loads of wonderful improvisational ideas.

From the 39 selections, the audience enjoyed a great deal of variety both in terms of material and the various instruments. Next OCRS is Saturday, May 15th, once again at “The Cave” at Mo's Fullerton Music. We'll see everyone there!

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