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February-born composers and Joplin dominate OCRS’s February 2011 musicale at Steamers

Now entering its tenth year, OCRS held its first meeting of 2011 at Steamers, the venerated venue that’s hosted us since the beginning. A total of 10 performers delivered 43 selections in all, many of which were either by composers born in February or, in honor of Black History Month, were by African-Americans.
Stan Long brought along and set up Bozodorfer’s “evil twin,” so Eric and Stan got things started with four-handed versions of “Maple Leaf Rag” and “Black and White Rag.”

Making his OCRS debut was longtime Rose Leafer Gary Rametta, who opened his set with Duke Ellington’s marvelous “Reflections in D.” Composed in the 1950s, the impressionistic, jazzy/bluesy piece sounds and feels strikingly modern, with pretty melodies and an often introspective mood. Calling ragtime composer David Thomas Roberts “a great storyteller,” Gary performed the 1982 Roberts masterpiece “The Girl Who Moved Away,” a wistful ballad in the signature DTR style. This pretty, haunting piece features a Latin tinge in the second theme, an ornate, romantic trio and a gorgeous final theme. Gary closed his set with the Marshall-Joplin 1907 rag “Lily Queen,” saying it was apparent that Joplin wrote the intro. and middle two themes (B and C) and Marshall the opening and closing strains (A and D). Indeed, it’s Marshall’s strains that proffer the deep folk richness often associated with Missouri.

Shirley Case played “Heliotrope Bouquet” with depth and feeling, tasteful embellishments and a tender yet jazz-inflected flavor for the closing theme. Next up was “Eubie’s Classical Rag,” a demanding showpiece Eubie wrote around 1972 while in his mid-80s. Shirley admirably handles the work’s various licks and tricks with stunning ease. Eric had asked today’s performers to select as many pieces by composers born in February as possible, and indeed, Eubie’s birthdate is Feb. 7. She closed her set with more Eubie – this time, Galen Wilkes’ “Baltimore Rag,” written in the 1980s as a tribute to Eubie, whose birthplace was Baltimore.

Vincent Johnson gave us a set of novelties, starting with “Daintiness Rag” by another February-born ragtime composer, James P. Johnson (Feb. 1). Next up: Roy Bargy’s “Omeomy,” characteristic of Bargy in its style, energy and inventiveness. Changing to a softer, more cocktail-lounge mood, Vincent delivered Lothar Perl’s “Grasshopper Dance,” showcasing the composer’s typical sensitivity.

Noting that he himself celebrates a February birthday, Stan Long offered two originals: “Haunting Accident” and a more recent concoction combining “Chinatown, My Chinatown” and the “Washington and Lee Swing.” Noting that he shares a birthdate with George Botsford (Feb. 24), Stan played his ever popular “Black and White Rag.”

OCRS was fortunate to yield the stage to a second newcomer, Ryan Wishner, a 13-year-old from Rancho Cucamonga now at the tail end of junior high. In a brief, two-rag set, Ryan gave us tremendous variety. “Magnetic Rag” is obviously a late-career masterpiece of Joplin’s, while Zez Confrey’s “Stumbling” is as popular today as in its own time. Ryan handled the demands of both pieces with grace, ease and perfect control.

Phil Cannon delivered his own string arrangements of two wonderful Joplin rags, “Reflection Rag,” published posthumously in 1917, and “Rose Leaf Rag” from 1907. Amazingly, Phil plays both treble and bass parts at once as if on a piano. He then asked Ron Ross to join him on piano for a performance of Ron’s “Joplinesque.”

Ron stayed at the Yamaha for two of his originals: “Sunday Serendipity” and “The All-Inclusive Tour,” accompanying himself as he sang in a comical hick character voice. Interestingly, he first played “Sunday” as written, in 2/4 tempo, then switched to march tempo (4/4), allowing us to hear the contrast.

Eric opened his set with yet another wonderful Eubie Blake rag, the composer’s “Chevy Chase” which, though published in 1914, was actually composed 100 years ago this year, in 1911. Noting that his own birthday was earlier in the month (Feb. 5), Eric offered two originals: the ragtime song “Fullerton Glide,” from 2003-2004, and “Jumpin’ Jupiter!,” a 2001 classic rag in the style of James Scott.
Frank Sano delivered a medley of pop tunes from the 1920s that includes “The Blue Room,” “You Were Meant for Me” and “Breezin’ Along With the Breeze.”

Bob Pinsker announced that he was going to perform “relatively obscure material” from among the many February birthdates of ragtime composers, asking us to “guess the composer.” He opened with a march, baffling the audience. The next piece, though, prompted Frank Sano to note that it was a pop song from the 1930s (correct) and Eric to guess the composer as James P. Johnson (also correct.) Bob noted that the opening piece was “Boys of Uncle Sam,” among the first three Johnson pieces to be published (around 1917) and that the song, “Whisper Sweet,” was from a 1931 show, published in 1935. He concluded his all-Johnson set with “There’s No Two Ways About Love” and “Harlem Bon-Bon Babies on Parade,” providing vocals for the former while creating piano-roll stylings (walking bass, treble tremolos, etc.) on the latter. “Harlem,” he noted, “sounds like a stomp but has lyrics.”

Eric launched the encores by asking Gary to return to the piano. Gary gave us “Mirella,” a Ron Ross tango with fine melodies, and Joplin’s non-ragtime waltz “Binks’ Waltz,” a beautiful score touchingly played.

Frank delivered a second medley, this time combining “Louise,” “Million Dollar Baby”and “I Can’t Believe That You’re in Love with Me.”

Ryan’s encore, “Twelfth Street Rag,” showed that his ragtime skills include early ragtime, classic ragtime and novelty, doing a wonderful job on the printed score’s distinctive bass work.
Shirley and Phil teamed up for their encores with two more Joplins: “Elite Syncopations” and “Bethena.” Ron added yet another original vocal work, “I’m Passin’ by Pasadena” and Stan the original “Short Boogie.”

Vincent’s closing set offered two classic Roy Bargy novelties, “Slipova” and “Justin-Tyme.” “Slipova” has great devices expertly played by Vincent, while the dynamic “Justin-Tyme” has a modern/futuristic sound to it. Vincent closed with one of his own, Billy Mayerl-inspired novelties, “Sweet Pea,” an elegant, slightly melancholy piece that easily could have come from the vintage era.

Bob’s closing set featured three great February-born ragtime composers: Henry Lodge (Feb. 9), Joe Jordan (Feb. 12) and Eubie Blake. The Lodge piece was “Oh, You Turkey” from 1914, with a rousing second theme and a trio as the rag’s highlight. Next was Jordan’s amazing, rarely played “Morocco Blues,” which Bob said was originally titled “Tampico Blues.” Bob closed with strong performances of Blake’s signature rag “Charleston Rag” and, from 1936, “Blue Thoughts.”

The afternoon held a total of 17 selections by those born in February and 10 more by black composers, almost all by Joplin either completely or in part. Our next OCRS, on March 19th, will be the first time OCRS will be held at Rutabegorz Restaurant (200 N. Pomona, Fullerton). We’ll meet in the dining room with the piano and get things rolling at 1 p.m. See you there!

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