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Non-ragtime knocks on the door alongside rags from the year 1911 and by the ‘Big Three’

Nine performers delivered a wonderfully varied program to an audience of about 40 ragtime fans, including an unusually high quantity of non-ragtime music – something typically avoided, by design, by most performers at OCRS. The result was a total of 38 selections, including nine non-ragtime – but the day also featured 12 selections by Classic Ragtime’s “Big Three” (Joplin, Scott and Lamb) and a total of eight selections from the banner year of 1911.

Marilyn Martin got things rolling with a couple of non-ragtime medleys that included “Love Me Tender” (originally derived from the Civil War tune “Aura Lee”), “Que Sera Sera,” “Sail Away” (by Styx), “Twisted” and W.C. Handy’s “St. Louis Blues.” She closed her set with Harry Jentes’ wonderful “Bantam Step” from 1916.

Stan Long offered Joplin’s “The Entertainer” and “Pine Apple Rag” plus his original folk-style rag “Haunting Accident.” He then brought his grandson Kaden Long up to solo on “Maple Leaf Rag.” It’s the young man’s first and only complete ragtime solo, and what better starting point for any budding ragtime pianist? Kaden navigated this monumental rag, including the finger-stretching trio, and he created a coda by repeating the D theme’s last four measures.

MC Eric Marchese offered two more Joplins, both from 1909: The heavily European/Romantic-influenced “Euphonic Sounds” and the equally groundbreaking “Wall Street Rag.” Eric noted that the emotional arc of “Wall Street,” and its New York City theme, made him want to play the piece in honor of the recently observed commemmoration of the September 11 attacks.

Stan and Kaden then returned to the piano for a socko, four-handed version of the “Colonel Bogey March,” a wonderful piece rediscovered by the public after its use in the 1957 film “Bridge on the River Kwai.” Kaden delivered a spirited treble to grandpa Stan’s piano roll stylings in the bass. Their arrangement, which includes the march’s rarely heard trio, greatly enhances the piece, and their lively, kinetic performance was a highlight of the afternoon.

Robert Wendt, who last appeared on stage at Steamers during RagFest 2010, gave a beautiful rendition of “Solace – A Mexican Serenade,” playing it slowly and gently (as the A theme) and tenderly (section B). He used rubato to evoke a wide array of emotions in the outstanding trio section, and gave the famed closing theme an ethereal quality while making it just as tender as the rest of his performance. He then took James Scott’s challenging, intricate “Efficiency Rag” at a nice, modest tempo, never forced or rushed, while adding tasteful embellishments. He closed his set with a non-ragtime selection: “The Rose Song” from the 1860 Hungarian operetta “John the Valiant.” Like “Solace,” the piece is tender and romantic but also a bit melancholy.

Bill Mitchell delivered a nicely varied set, starting with a terrific, underplayed rag from 1911, “Pride of the Smoky Row” by J.M. Wilcockson, whom Bill said was “a music dealer from Hammond, Indiana.” The composer copyrighted the rag on February 5, 1911 and self-published it later the same year. Bill added a peppy, upbeat quality to the piece, highlighting the 16th-note bass octaves in the circle-of-fifths-oriented trio and the rag’s overall semi-poignant use of the minor tonality. Next was “Bolo Rag” (1908) by Albert Gumble, a ragtime composer famed for such ragtime songs as “At the Mississippi Cabaret.” The rag’s opening theme uses a contrapuntal bass, its second strain the “echo” (call-and-response) effect while in its trio, both hands are quite mobile and active. Like “Pride of the Smoky Row,” “Bolo Rag” has long been a part of Bill’s repertoire; he featured both rags on his 1972 album “Ragtime Recycled.” Bill then wrapped his set with James Scott’s “Frog Legs Rag,” noting that it was the first Scott rag to be published by John Stark (in 1906) and that it was “a modest hit” for its publisher.

Ryan Wishner opened his set with L.M. Gottschalk’s “La Scintilla” (“the spark”), noting that such pieces were “the transition between classical music and ragtime.” Indeed, the waltz-tempo piece offers sparkling, interesting syncopations and has an especially active treble part. Next was Joplin’s 1907 masterpiece “Search Light Rag,” the first rag he had published after moving to New York City (and named for the town of Searchlight, Nevada). Ryan’s rendition is smooth and flowing, with pleasing embellishments on the repeat of the trio and a fine handling of the rag’s captivating closing theme. Last was Zez Confrey’s 1922 novelty “Coaxing the Piano,” with its wonderful melody/countermelody A theme, vibrant B theme and outstanding trio.

Gary Rametta offered the pensive, introspective jazz piano solo “Prologue” by jazz pianist/composer Bill Evans, who wrote the piece in 1967 to commemorate the recent passing of his father. Next was the 1910 tango “El Bigua” by Argentine composer Carlos Posada, with a sweet-tempered opening theme, intricate B theme and a trio that interweaves treble and bass. Indeed, the piece is an outstanding example of ragtime-like music contemporaneous with the ragtime of the vintage era during one of its peak years. Gary closed his set with Joe Lamb’s masterful “Alaskan Rag,” completed by Lamb and published by Bob Darch in 1959. One of Lamb’s most exquisite creations, along the lines of “Top Liner” and “Excelsior,” the rag opens with rests in both hands (!) before unfolding four outstanding, carefully constructed themes rife with amazing harmonies.

Eric continued the thread of 1911 ragtime pieces that has run throughout all of this year’s OCRS performances, playing Charles L. Johnson’s marvelous “Cum-Bac Rag” and the terrific “That Demon Rag” by Indianapolis ragtimer Russell Smith, a black pianist-composer who worked in vaudeville and minstrel shows.

Andrew Barrett continued the focus on 1911 with one of the most unusual selections yet heard at OCRS: A medley containing 10 selections from the 1911 Broadway show “Dr. Deluxe” by Karl Hoschna, a musician and composer from Bohemia who came to the U.S. in 1896 and found work with Victor Herbert. The outstanding medley, featuring the show’s Act One and Two openers, several non-ragtime and march songs, a ragtime song, and the show’s finale, is a wonderful mixture of Broadway/show music and popular music circa 1911, published that year by Witmark & Sons under the title “Selection from Dr. Deluxe” (the word “selection” – singular, not plural – connotes a sampling of the work’s music). Evoking a wide variety of moods, emotions and musical styles, this compressed version of the score and its beautifully composed and often pretty music was a real treat, and one of the highlights of the afternoon – and of any other OCRS musicale.

During a brief intermission, several ragtime items were raffled off, including two RagFest tee-shirts, an Evans & Rogers CD, and the 1974 LP “Piano Rags by Scott Joplin, Volume III” featuring pianist Joshua Rifkin. Like its two predecessors, the latter recording was partly responsible for the huge explosion of interest in ragtime music that occurred during the early 1970s.

Following the break, Robert Wendt encored with “Pine Apple Rag,” lending pleasing dynamics and some fine embellishments to the notable second theme.

Ryan Wishner chose “The Glow-Worm” as his encore. The piece, written during the ragtime era (1902) by German composer Paul Lincke (with lyrics by Heinz Bolton-Backers) as an aria from his operetta “Lysistrata,” became a hit in Europe. Within a few years, it was translated into English by Lilla Cayley Robinson (under the title “Glow Worm”). In 1920, when it was interpolated into the score of the Broadway musical “The Girl Behind the Counter,” it became a hit all over again – this time with American audiences. Ryan beautifully articulated the familiar main theme as well as the song’s more complex, semi-classical interlude section. (As a point of interest, Johnny Mercer expanded and revised Robinson’s lyrics for the 1952 recording made by the Mills Brothers. His version gave the group a hit and was so popular that it was then covered by several other pop music performers.)

Eric Marchese offered “A Sunset Idyll,” a lyrical Classic-style rag he wrote in 1992 as a companion to his poetic 1989 rag “An Autumn Memory.” Next, he played what he said has been a longtime favorite: “World’s Fair Rag,” a wonderful, rollicking piano rag composed by Harvey M. Babcock, who published the piece in San Francisco in 1912.

For his encore, Gary Rametta chose Ford Dabney’s “Porto Rico,” a 1910 composition that deftly mixes elements of popular and light classical music and whose opening theme melody has the familiar sound of a tune borrowed and re-used by later composers. Gary then essayed “Gladiolus Rag,” one of Joplin’s greatest rags, with themes that are poetic (A), stormy (B), grandiose (C) and ringing (D).

In yet another highlight of the afternoon, Bill Mitchell (piano), Jimmy Green (banjo) and Andrew Barrett (washboard) gave a spirited performance of “Porcupine Rag,” one of Charles L. Johnson’s best rags. The trio then gave a jazzy, Dixieland-style version of “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” Irving Berlin’s monster hit from 1911. Next was Lamb’s “Bohemia,” in which Jimmy created wonderful countermelodies and where the sounds of all three instruments blended nicely. To close, this terrific off-the-cuff trio gave a rousing performance of Jelly Roll Morton’s “Grandpa’s Spells,” with Andrew whistling, rapping a metal music stand and creating other improvisations for the trio’s “crash bass” section.

Andrew Barrett wrapped up the day with an all-1911 set. First was the ragtime song “I’ll Wait For You Till the Cows Come Home,” by Thomas Allen, a violinist from Massachusetts. Andrew played and provided vocals, offering comical asides between the written lyrics and winding the piece up with a wonderfully raggy piano arrangement of the chorus. He followed with the Ted Snyder-Bert Kalmar ragtime song “Movin’ Man Don’t Take My Baby Grand,” singing its syncopated lyrics (eg. “that box of joy, that music toy”) and delivering yet another socko all-piano finale to the piece. Andrew closed by noting that ragtime composer Al Marzian was a piano teacher and string bass player from Louisville, KY, who came from a musical family and who wrote all of his piano rags under the pen name “Mark Janza” save one: the 1911 rag “Angel Food.” Published by Forster in Chicago, the rag opens with two lively, kinetic themes (the second section is especially rousing) before moving into a lyrical trio, much of it voiced in broken chords, and a terrific minor-key interlude in a vein similar to “Dance of the Seven Veils.” The interlude leads back to the third rendition of the C theme, but Andrew extended his performance by repeating the interlude and C one more time, pouring on the licks and tricks for a truly socko finale.

Eric announced that the next OCRS will be held at Steamers on Saturday, October 15, from 1 to 4:30 p.m., and said that he may schedule an OCRS meeting for November 19 to commemorate the Orange County Ragtime Society’s 10th anniversary.

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