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First OCRS of 2012 celebrates February-born composers, Black History Month and a few originals

The Orange County Ragtime Society welcomed the year 2012 with 11 performers playing a total of 43 selections, 10 of which were originals or contemporary pieces and 8 more of which were written by composers born in February.

Stan Long got the afternoon started with George Botsford’s biggest hit, “Black and White Rag.” Botsford was born Feb. 24, 1874 in Sioux Falls, SD – the first of several February-born composers to be celebrated this afternoon. Stan played Charles N. Daniels’ “Margery,” serving up a dramatic finale, then closed with an original, creative mixture of “Chinatown” and “The Washington and Lee Swing.”

John Reed-Torres opened his set with Percy Wenrich’s “The Smiler” (1907), then moved on to “Dengozo.” This well-known work by 19th-century composer Ernesto Nazareth has a definite Latin/South American sound and feel, and in style, is an obvious precursor to ragtime. John concluded with “The Belle of Los Angeles,” a new original piano rag composed just this year. While John said the piece is “more of a cakewalk,” its opening section sounds like a D-flat classic rag a la Lamb, its second theme has a funky folk sound, its complex trio uses a habañera-style bass, and it closes with an exciting rideout strain – all marks of a carefully constructed piano rag.

Ryan Wishner opened his set with more Gottschalk – this time, the composer’s “Ay! Lunarcitos.” Next up was George Gershwin’s “Swanee” (from the 1919 revue “Demi-Tasse”) and May Aufderheide’s “The Thriller.” Saying that his performance of “Swanee” is “more like the piano roll than the sheet music,” and indeed, Ryan offered wonderful embellishments in both hands. He took “The Thriller” at a slow, measure tempo, using almost the entire keyboard for the final repeat of the closing C strain. Ryan closed with an original, as yet untitled rag he composed this year. An elegant folk-classic rag, the piece has a pretty opening theme and some intriguing rhythms in the folksy B theme. The trio offers a riff pattern in the bass, and the final theme is a fine ending to this wonderful new rag.

Vincent Johnson followed suit by opening his set with his newest ragtime masterpiece, “Tiffany Lamp Rag,” a wonderful classic rag completed earlier this year. The tranquil piece has a gentle, ethereal opening featuring an ascending melodic line. The still-calm second theme is broken up with stormy passages. The trio is more conventional and features a break with a treble descent. The great final theme, with syncopations crossing the bar line, encapsulates elements from the preceding sections, creating a tranquil yet firm ending to a great rag. Vincent followed with Rube Bloom’s “Soliloquy” (1926), a playful piece that typifies ’20s jazz, and closed his set with Lothar Perl’s “Grasshopper Dance,” which is typically (for Perl) gentle yet expansive, with a complex trio and a call-and-response between bass and treble that pushes outward to the keyboard’s highest and lowest registers.

Shirley Case served up three great classic rags: Two by Lamb, one by Scott Joplin and Louis Chauvin. First up was Lamb’s “American Beauty Rag,” a beautiful masterwork from 1913 and one of the original dozen Lamb rags issued by Stark between 1908 and 1919. Next came “Cottontail Rag.” Though evidently written decades earlier, the piece wasn’t completed by Lamb until the late 1950s and didn’t appear in print until it was issued in the 1964 folio “Ragtime Treasures.” (Also of note, “Cottontail” was Lamb’s original title for his 1916 masterpiece “Top Liner Rag”). Shirley always adds a welcome variety of devices to her performances of these dense scores, including ascending and descending strings of 32nd notes. She closed with the delicate, haunting “Heliotrope Bouquet,” whose mood is set by the opening two themes penned by Louis Chauvin, then carried through by Joplin’s closing themes, which mirror the style and feel of the first half. “Heliotrope” was also a nice nod to Black History Month.

Kaden Long, grandson of Stan Long, also honored Black History Month by opening his set with the granddaddy of all rags, “Maple Leaf Rag,” impressively playing this hand-stretcher in a generally unsimplified version. Next up, he offered “Dill Pickles,” considered the first major “popular” rag and, like “Maple Leaf,” one of the watershed pieces in ragtime history. Kaden closed his set with an untitled boogie recently composed by Disneyland pianist Alan Thompson.

Ron Ross delivered three originals: “Ragtime Song,” “Rickety Rag” and the song “Good Thing Going,” noting that the first two of these, written in the late 1990s, are on his CD “Ragtime Renaissance.” “Ragtime Song” has a lyrical opening theme and uses delicate minor-key harmonies throughout, while “Good Thing Going” is part comical, part folk and part ragtime song.

MC and club founder Eric Marchese did an all-James Scott set, noting that Scott was born in early February, 1885, in Neosho, MO. First was the rare ragtime song “The Shimmie Shake,” published by Stark late in the ragtime era (1920), with words by Cleota Wilson. Next was Scott’s charming “The Princess Rag,” one of three outstanding Scott rags from 1911 and also issued by Stark. Finally was the great ragtime song “Take Me Out to Lakeside,” a 1914 ragtime song with lyrics by Ida Miller and published by Ball Music Co.

Andrew Barrett tipped his hat to Black History Month with a wonderful, original arrangement of Tom Turpin’s “Harlem Rag,” the first published piano rag (1897) written by a black composer. He next celebrated the career of Henry Lodge, born Feb. 9, 1884 in Providence, RI, with Lodge’s second hit rag, “Red Pepper, A Spicy Rag” from 1910. Andrew closed with a remarkable rendition of Scott’s 1917 rouser “Efficiency Rag” that turns an already challenging score into something even more complex – especially the piece’s trio and the third and fourth iterations of the B theme used to conclude the rag.

Bob Pinsker launched his set with one of early ragtime’s gems: “Pekin Rag” by Joe Jordan. Jordan, who was born February 11, 1882 in Cincinnati, OH, published the piece himself in Chicago in 1904 through his Jordan & Motts Pekin Publishing Co. He named it after the Pekin Theatre, where he was musical director, arranger and composer for several years and where, as Bob related, he was constantly writing all-new musical shows, sometimes as often as once every two weeks. As might be expected, the rag’s opening themes have a broad, theatrical air to them, while its trio creates a riff with a rhythmic pattern that prefigures Stride piano by many years – something exceedingly advanced for its time.

Next in Bob’s set was the 1916 hit Nat Ayer song “If You Were the Only Girl in the World,” which Bob said has gotten recent exposure in the second season of the PBS series “Downton Abbey” (episode 4, to be exact). Bob sang Clifford Grey’s lyrics while accompanying himself, then concluded his performance with an ear-pleasing and pretty piano arrangement of the score. Bob closed his set with “Dictys on Seventh Avenue” by Eubie Blake (born February 7, 1887 in Baltimore, MD). Remarkably, “Dictys” was written by Eubie as his thesis composition, capping off music studies at NYU wherein Eubie earned a music degree (in 1950). The wonderful piece, which utilizes the Schillinger approach to composition that Eubie learned in his studies, was eventually published in 1971.

Continuing with more February-born composers, and more James Scott, Bill Mitchell delivered one of his favorites – Scott’s beautiful “Sunburst Rag” from 1909. Next up was Charles L. Johnson’s popular “Crazy Bone Rag” (1913), the A section of which can be considered sort of an inversion of the corresponding section of the much earlier, and more popular, “Dill Pickles.” Bill concluded with a wonderful and rarely-heard Jelly Roll Morton piece, “New Orleans Blues,” noting that it’s also known as “New Orleans Joys” and delivering an outstanding performance of the rarely played score.

After a short break, each performer returned to the stage for their encores. Ryan selected Lamb’s masterful “Ragtime Nightingale.” For his encore, John delivered his second original rag of the afternoon, “La Cosa” (“the thing”). Written in 2011, its pretty, flowing opening themes give way to a livelier trio played at a faster tempo.

Both Stan and Ron followed suit with two more originals – Stan with “Haunting Accident,” Ron with “Orange County Rag,” named for the OCRS and its Southern California home base.

Bill’s encore was yet another terrific Morton tune, “Milenburg Joys,” a lively number with a pleasingly quirky and amiable second theme. Bill’s performance was spiced by Andrew’s washboard and impromptu percussion accompaniment.

For his encore, Bob stated, “I’ll just play one – but it’s a mother.” Indeed it was: The overture for Sissle & Blake’s 1921 hit Broadway show “Shuffle Along.” Noting that the medley contains 11 numbers, Bob gave each section its due, including the well-known “I’m Just Wild About Harry” and “Love Will Find a Way” as well as lesser-known numbers like “Bandana [sic] Days,” “Good Night, Angeline,” “Gypsy Blues,” “Baltimore Buzz,” “I'm Craving For That Kind of Love,” and others (!). In all, this selection is a wonderful re-creation of what turned out to be the most successful black-originated Broadway show of the 1920s.

Shirley delivered Irene Giblin’s beautiful 1906 rag “Sleepy Lou.” Shirley showcased this fine folk rag by emphasizing its dramatic trio and the third iteration of the B theme, which concludes the rag.

Vincent and Andrew wrapped up the afternoon’s outstanding roster of pieces: Vincent with the Billy Mayerl hit (and now standard) “Marigold,” Andrew with Luckey Roberts’ 1913 masterpiece “Junk Man Rag.” Andrew noted that “Junk Man” was almost as big of a hit for Luckey as his much later “Moonlight Cocktail.” His performance provided a bright ending for a wonderful afternoon of ragtime music.


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