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Classics, Stride and Charles L. Johnson
rule the May 2010 OCRS musicale at Mo’s

The third OCRS of the year brought the smallest contingent of musicians ever – six, plus one banjoist – yet still produced a wonderful afternoon of solos and duets inside “The Cave” at Mo’s Fullerton Music Center.
Marilyn Martin got things going with her even, steady performance of Chauvin and Joplin’s haunting “Heliotrope Bouquet.” The piece is new to Marilyn’s repertoire, and it’s great to see her working up some Classic ragtime and bringing out the rag’s beautiful harmonies. She finished with two Galen Wilkes rags, “Spanish Moss” and “Creeks of Missouri,” the former picking up on the semi-habanera rhythms of “Heliotrope,” the latter a modern-day classic.

MC Eric Marchese interjected the last “new” Scott Joplin rag to be published: “Silver Swan Rag” which, as Eric had told the audience, was cut as a piano roll circa 1914 but never issued, nor was the piano score ever published. Not until 1970 was piece discovered on piano roll, authenticated as Joplin’s and attributed to him and, finally, transcribed. Eric’s performance made the piece’s Joplinesque qualities clear, especially the minor-key second theme (akin to other late Joplins like “Magnetic” of the same year and “Reflection”).

Shirley Case continued the Classic rag emphasis with two great “birdcall” rags by Joplin’s two greatest disciples: Joe Lamb’s “Ragtime Bobolink,” composed in the 1950s, and James Scott’s “Ragtime Oriole,” the piece that inspired Lamb to try his hand at a birdcall rag (the one he composed was the great “Ragtime Nightingale.” “Bobolink” evidences a sophisticated use of harmony by Lamb, its rhythms embellished upon by Shirley; she likewise improvised on “Oriole,” notably in her bass runs. Shirley closed her set with Imogene Giles’ “Red Peppers,” which has a beautiful opening theme and a wonderful trio, one of the best ever

Ron Ross gave us three originals in what he called the “ragtime group set,” with rags dedicated to the Sutter Creek Ragtime Festival (“Sutter Creek Rag”), RagFest and OCRS (“Orange County Rag”) and his newest piece (2010): “Valley Ragtime Shuffle,” dedicated to the Valley Ragtime Stomp. The “Shuffle” is a nice-and-easy, mellow sort of piece with an outstanding second theme and an even more terrific trio.
Eric took the stage long enough to play one of his all-time favorites, Joplin’s monumental “Fig Leaf Rag,” noting that Dave Jasen had actually ranked the rag second only to Joplin’s “Maple Leaf.”

Bill Mitchell gave us a nicely varied set, starting with Charles L. Johnson’s happy “Porcupine Rag.” Jimmy Green then took the stage with his banjo for a duet with Bill on “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.” They continued with Joplin’s “Elite Syncopations” and, to close Bill’s set, Johnson’s most famed rag, “Dill Pickles.”

Bob Pinsker delivered an explication of the foxtrot, noting that pieces were labeled foxtrots “from 1915 all the way through the early rock era” (often even when those pieces were clearly not foxtrots). He also debunked the myth that the dance step and musical style were named after vaudevillian Harry Fox. Bob then gave us two versions of the 1917 song “When It’s Cherry Time in Tokyo”: First, as originally published, second, as played by James P. Johnson on piano roll (which Bob has just transcribed).
Bob noted that Perfection, the New Jersey roll company that issued the roll, “employed an obscure pianist from New York” to hand-play the roll; that pianist was, of course, Johnson, who, Bob notes, “turned (the song) into a one-step.” Indeed, Bob’s second rendering was much more lively and full.

Continuing with the foxtrot theme, Bob with Lew Pollack’s “Harry Fox Trot,” a wild piece with bluesy riffs, jazz breaks, rapid-fire sixteenth notes in the left hand, and much more. Bob then ended his set with Willie “the Lion” Smith’s “Spanish Rag” (© 1925), which he said is Smith’s “version of ‘The Dream’ rag” (by Jess Pickett)... “sort of.” As Smith’s rag was unpublished and unrecorded, Bob learned it from a lead sheet he obtained from the Library of Congress. Like several other pieces heard this afternoon, this one pits a heavy habañera bass line against a syncopated melody line.

Following a refreshment break during which three ragtime CDs were raffled off, Eric put together a brief set comprised of Henry DeCosta’s wonderful “Bunny Hug Rag” (as an Easter followup) and James Scott’s lively yet gracious “Ophelia” rag, which turned 100 this year. Eric notes that though a second “Bunny Hug” was written by a Keith Abandana the same year as DeCosta’s (1912) and George Cobb’s even more famous rag of the same name appeared the following year, Eric favors DeCosta’s, with its many “leaping” and “hopping” motifs.

Ron encored with two more originals: “Digital Rag” (off his album “Ragtime Renaissance”) and “Acrosonic Rag,” after his Baldwin spinet piano. The first is jazzy and swingy, the second slower and more introspective.

Bill Mitchell did two-thirds of a Charles Johnson set, adding 1909’s “Barber Pole” and the late “Snookums,” to his previous Johnsons. “Barber Pole” is something of a rarity: It was published not in the midwest, like most of the composer’s, but rather in Denver (by Hal Nichols, in 1909); it’s opening theme has a lively “Western” sound; and its 32-bar trio is both friendly and folksy. From a decade later (1919), “Snookums” has a funky-sounding second theme with a very cool walking bass and a trio that has a broad, theatrical, vaudeville sound. Bill wrapped up his set with the lovely early Classic rag “Something Doing” by Joplin protege Scott Hayden (Joplin wrote only the trio).

Eric delivered one more solo: Thomas Broady’s wonderful “Whittling Remus” which, he explained, was the third of Broady’s three published rags. All three were issued by H.A. French of Nashville: “Mandy’s Broadway Stroll” in 1898, “Tennessee Jubilee” in 1899 and “Whittling Remus” in 1900. Eric’s performance showed why “Remus” is the best of the three.

Eric and Shirley then gave a two-piano version of “Dill Pickles” they’d been working on for a gig in Anaheim later this month, followed by their four-handed “Maple Leaf” followed by the more obscure 1905 “Black Cat Rag” by Frank Wooster and Ethel B. Smith. The latter in particular was fun and lively.
With his final set, Bob Pinsker took us home for the day. Having given us The Lion’s version of “The Dream,” the then gave us Eubie’s, which is probably the version most ragtimers have previously heard. The piece is a wonderful tango with outstanding and dramatic dynamics, and Bob explained how he learned the piece while still a teen off the album “86 Years of Eubie.”

Bob followed with two great Classics: Scott’s “Great Scott Rag” and, from the same year (1909), Joplin’s immortal rag-tango “Solace – A Mexican Serenade,” the latter as wistful and romantic-sounding as ever. Bob closed the enjoyable afternoon musicale with more Eubie – specifically, “Troublesome Ivories,” which Bob said “has sometimes been called ‘Tricky Fingers’” (by Eubie) and was even once referred to in print as “Black Keys on Parade.” A phenomenal Harlem Stride piece, “Ivories” is a real handful with a variety of outstanding “tricks” (as Eubie would say): drop bass and walking bass figurations, treble slurs, a sort of Stride version of a “dogfight” section, and even a riff on a well-known piano piece by Rachmaninoff.

The audience heard a grand total of 34 selections. Of these, 19 – nearly 59% – were either by Classic rag or Harlem Stride composers or by Charles L. Johnson. Next month’s OCRS is on Saturday, June 19th, at Steamers. We’ll see you all there for our next exciting performance!

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