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Another ‘lost’ Lamb and an eclectic mix of rarities, originals and guest performers highlight the July 2012 OCRS musicale

Ragtime fans collected at 3 p.m. at Steamers for the July 2012 musicale. A double-booking at Steamers forced a later start time and less time overall. Several of our regular performers were absent, and an expected guest pianist was unable to appear – yet two new guest performers attended, yielding a total of 10 pianists and one banjoist. Over a span of just three hours, we heard nearly three-dozen selections.

MC Eric Marchese started things off with two rarities: A.E. Henrich’s outstanding 1901 rag “Dixie Flyer” and Walter Blaufuss’ “Get This” (1913). Henrich is an obscure figure from ragtime’s earliest years whose other ragtime pieces include “Just Laughin’” (published by Frank G. Fite in 1899) and “Queen Raglan” (issued by Henry French in 1902). All three were published in Nashville, leading one to guess he was either a native of that city or settled there later. All three rags are fine pieces rarely heard, and Eric qualified “Dixie Flyer” as “either a sophisticated folk rag or a more simplistic classic-style rag.” The piece re-introduces both the A and B themes after the trio, uncommon for classic rags – so the folk-rag description is probably more accurate for this inventive and often melodic piece. Milwaukee-born ragtimer Blaufuss apparently thought of his piano rags in orchestral terms, as the score to “Get This” denotes “cello,” “cl.” (clarinet) and “fl.” (flute) in various spots. It’s a most imaginative rag with three strong, catchy themes (D is a restatement of B but in the subdominant key of the trio). Like Henrich, Blaufuss’ ragtime output is quite sparse. It includes his 1899 “Chicago Rag,” named for the Chicago Musical College, and “Swanee Ripples” (1912).

Stan Long offered “Taxi Rag,” an exciting rag by Canadian ragtimer Jean Baptiste Lafreniere and one of the entertaining specialty numbers of Mimi Blais. Stan followed this great piece with the standard “Coney Island Washboard,” which he played and sang, then closed his set with his folk-style original, “Haunting Accident.”

In Southern California on a visit from Wisconsin, special guest Dan Levi introduced himself and said he’s been playing ragtime music since 2009. He then settled onto the piano bench and delivered Luckey Roberts’ “Pork and Beans,” Joplin’s early masterpiece “The Easy Winners,” and Gershwin’s “Swanee.” Dan nicely accented the Stride features of “Pork,” offered some nice embellishments of “Easy Winners,” and exhibited a great deal of musicality on the Gershwin piece, which was originally written for the 1919 musical revue “Demi-Tasse.”

John Reed-Torres, who had invited Dan, gave a wonderful, all-James Scott set, playing his selections in chronological order of publication: “Ophelia Rag” (1910), “Dixie Dimples” (1918) and “Pegasus Rag” (1920). John’s performance of “Ophelia” incorporates treble tremolos and bass octaves. He shows an aptly light touch on “Dixie” and his playing of “Pegasus” emphasizes its boogie-style walking bass figures.

Next up was a second guest performer, also invited by John: Itichai Tiemsanjai, who plays both piano and concertina. He warmed up on concertina with an original, “Itchmeister Cakewalk,” then took the piano for “Arabian Nights” (1908) and “Waiting for the Robert E. Lee.” For both of these, Itchy (as his friends call him) showed a suitably light touch, steady tempo and good dynamics.

Andrew Barrett took the stage, attributing his wonderfully garish New Orleans-style costume to a gig he had that evening with Corey Gemme and his Wabash Wailers. While Andrew took a few minutes to repair and tie off a broken piano string, Itchy offered an impromptu concertina performance of “Smokey Mokes” and “Camptown Races.” Once Andrew was ready, he said he had planned a set of all 1912 selections for OCRS, but for the sake of variety, he belatedly substituted a later piece, saying he would play the third 1912 piece as his encore. He opened with “Spring Thoughts,” a light, delightful novelette by Gustave Salzer. Also from 1912: Albert Gumble’s waltz song “When I Waltz With You,” which Andrew played (adding wonderful pianistics) while singing Alfred Bryan’s lyrics. To avoid playing three consecutive pieces in three-quarter time, Andrew closed his set with Max Kortlander’s wonderfully intricate “Deuces Wild,” which was published in 1923 but which Andrew said was composed five years earlier. As with “When I Waltz…,” Andrew introduced numerous piano roll-style embellishments which are entirely in keeping with the piece, which was written in the late teens in an advanced ragtime style. Andrew also noted that although he learned and plays “Deuces” in A-flat major, he was going to re-learn it in its original key, A natural.

Ryan Wishner played May Aufderheide’s “Novelty Rag” – an outstanding piece that doesn’t get anywhere near the exposure as “Dusty Rag” or “The Thriller” – in a nice, crisp performance featuring improvised octave leaps in the treble. Next was a great rarity by a classic rag composer: James Scott’s wonderful “Springtime of Love, Valse.” Ryan noted that the piece is “more laid-back than Scott’s rags,” while its harmonic structure is just as complex and intricate. From 1919, it’s a pretty light-classical work with some bravura passages nicely emphasized by Ryan’s performance. Ryan then closed an outstanding set with his newest original. He had just titled it “West Park Rag” after the greater Cleveland, OH, neighborhood where much of his family resides. He first broke the audience up with some delightful anecdotes about past generations of his family, then performed what is a terrific piano rag with a lively opening section; a second theme with a riff-style melody and a sort of “downward echo” wherein a treble phrase is played, then repeated an octave lower; a wonderfully creative trio; and a closing theme built on minor tonalities.

Bob Pinsker picked up where he left off at the last OCRS, continuing to dig into and research the often mystifying evolution of the many Joe Lamb rags composed after 1919’s “Bohemia.” First up was a fascinating alternate version of “Ragtime Bobolink” than what appears in the 1964 Mills Music folio “Ragtime Treasures.” This version, transcribed by Glenn Jenks from the recording Mike Montgomery made when he visited Joe Lamb at home in 1959, has principal differences to both the B and C themes while also scrapping the as-published closing section that sounds markedly like “The Old Piano Roll Blues,” and adds a transition from the end of C to the closing reprise of A.

Next was “Hot Cinders.” Bob notes that the title was inspired by Lamb’s granddaughter’s middle name “Cindy” (according to Lamb’s daughter Pat Lamb Conn) and that until the recent discovery of “Shooting the Works,” it was the only Novelty rag by Lamb. A real boundary-stretcher for Lamb, it contains no “oom-pah” bass until well into its second theme (B9), a dynamic C theme played mostly below middle C, and complex interaction between treble and bass throughout.

Bob capped his outstanding all-Lamb set with a historic performance: The first-ever performance of another Lamb Novelty: “Cinders.” Bob related the piece’s history, noting that it had been filed by a Mills employee only by its title. Bob said this explains “why it was lost for almost 90 years,” announcing that his performance of the piece was a true world premiere in that “Cinders” has never been played for any audience anywhere. Living up to this billing was Bob’s first-rate performance of the rag. And while “Cinders” is more conventional and more Lamb-like – and less Novelty-style – than “Hot Cinders,” the piece’s B theme has a very strong Lamb flavor (mixed with some real novelty cross-hand figuration) and wonderful phrasing and rhythms in its C theme, capped in the D strain with the most technically difficult keyboard pyrotechnics found in any Lamb composition (at least so far!). Bob concluded that “there is no doubt that the four newly-discovered manuscripts [“Shootin' the Works,” “Crimson Rambler,” “Chime In!,” and now “Cinders”] are four of the 15 ‘lost’ Mills Novelties” that Lamb described and listed to Rudi Blesh and Harriet Janis in 1949, and as such constitute the most exciting and unexpected discovery in ragtime in many years. Bob will present a seminar on this topic at next month’s (August 2012) Sutter Creek Ragtime Festival.

While Jimmy Green began setting up to play the banjo, Bill Mitchell described what came to be known as “the Spanish tinge,” then played a great example of it: Jelly Roll Morton’s wonderful “New Orleans Joys,” with Bill imparting a solidly Mortonesque feeling and playing style. He and Jimmy then delivered “Curse of an Aching Heart” and a lively version of the ragtime standard “Dill Pickles.”

Ron Ross played “Digital Rag,” the 1999 piece that leads off his 2001 CD “Ragtime Renaissance.” He followed with the “Rose Leaf Combination Tango” from 2011, then harked all the way back to the early ’80s with the comical ragtime song “Afternoon TV.” “…Combination Tango” evokes poignancy and romanticism, while “…TV” features Ron’s patented twangy comedic vocals.

After a brief break and the raffling of several ragtime albums and CDs, Eric kicked off the encores with an original, “Valedictory Rag.” Noting that he wrote the piece in 1996 to commemorate his younger brother’s college graduation, he said the piece, subtitled “A Farewell in Ragtime,” uses its four-bar intro to quote the familiar “Pomp and Circumstance,” then moves through a standard classic rag format with four introspective and often plaintive themes, with a closing theme that expresses more optimism and a quiet sense of triumph than its preceding sections. Eric said the artwork on the cover of the sheet music shows a mortar board with tassel sitting atop a rolled-up diploma, and that a few years after writing the rag and publishing its score, he recorded it on the album “The Silver Lining” along with six other originals and nine vintage selections.

Andrew followed up on his 1912 selections with Walter Rolfe’s “Mystery Waltz” from that year, noting that the piece deliberately tried to capitalize on the success of William Polla’s 1907 hit “Dream Waltz” by using the same rhythms as the earlier piece but casting them in the minor. In fact, its use of the minor is inventive, and the piece, which features interesting interplay between both hands, has a solidly classical sound.

Bob continued with yet another rarity too: the pop song “You Hurt Me” with music by Fats Waller and Wilmore “Slick” Jones and lyrics by frequent Waller lyricist Andy Razaf. Bob explained that Fats sold many pieces to Mills and other publishers, often even reselling the same pieces to more than one publisher, and that “new” Waller tunes were continuously being unearthed. “You Hurt Me,” he noted, was never copyrighted nor published. His version, a piano arrangement with no vocals, is more or less in keeping with most pop material of the ’20s and ’30s, but with richer, more inventive harmonies.

John Reed-Torres offered “a rough draft” of his latest original, an as-yet untitled piano rag. A pleasing blending of folk and classic materials, it strongly resembles John’s other ragtime piano compositions, with interesting harmonies in its C theme and a D theme with a more subdued mood than what you would normally find in a closing section.

Ryan Wishner encored with Ted Snyder’s lively, catchy “Wild Cherries,” one of the biggest ragtime hits of 1908. His performance showed why the piece was so popular while also proving how much fun it is to perform.

Itichai Tiensanjai closed the afternoon with Sousa’s rousing “Manhattan Beach March,” a Sousa standard first published in 1893. He and John, Andrew and Vincent Johnson will be at Old Town Music Hall on Sunday, September 16. That’s the same weekend as our next OCRS (Steamers, Saturday, September 15). See you all next month at both venues – Steamers and OTMH!

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