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March 2012 OCRS serves up an eclectic selection of ragtime for (and on) St. Patrick’s Day

Ragtime fans met at Steamers on a Saturday afternoon in March, a rainy St. Patrick’s Day that saw a total of six pianists and one banjo player. Six of the seven were on the bill of RagFest 2012, so this performance offered audiences a wonderful preview of that upcoming event. Variety was the order of the day, with a generous helping of early/folk rags, classic rags, popular rags, novelty piano, Jelly Roll Morton and contemporary ragtime compositions as well as a small handful of ragtime-related pieces. And though the performance was limited to three hours, the septet of musicians delivered a total of 34 outstanding selections.

Gary Rametta emceed the meet, filling in for Eric Marchese (who had car trouble on the way to Fullerton). Gary kicked the performance off with three pieces he would also feature in solo sets at RagFest: “In the Dark” (1931) from pianist, cornetist and composer Bix Beiderbecke, L. Edgar Settle’s “X.L. Rag” (1903) and Lamb’s masterful “Alaskan Rag,” his performance set the tone for the afternoon, providing a compressed look at three divergent styles of piano composition – jazz, folk ragtime and classic ragtime. As it was composed by Lamb in 1959 to commemorate Alaska gaining statehood, “Alaskan Rag,” published in 1966, also qualifies as a contemporary rag.

Bill Mitchell delivered Scott’s “Great Scott Rag” and, from 1912, “Bag of Rags” by W.R. McKanlass. John Reed-Torres offered an all-classic-ragtime set with Joplin’s “Peacherine,” Scott’s “Pegasus” and Joplin’s “Sugar Cane.”

Continuing in the classic rag vein, Ryan Wishner delivered two of the best of that sub-genre: Lamb’s “Top Liner,” often considered his greatest work, and Scott’s “Frog Legs,” the 1906 rag that put the young Missourian on the map as a ragtime composer of note. Scott’s score takes the second half of the rag from the tonic of D-flat major to the dominant key, A-flat major. Ryan, however, performs the piece by moving into the subdominant key of G-flat major for the last two themes – a key change more typical of ragtime but also a far more difficult and challenging one to perform. Ryan capped his outstanding set with Kerry Mills’ 1907 Indian intermezzo “Red Wing.”

Shirley Case offered two tunes from her outstanding CD – Imogene Giles’ “Red Peppers” and Blake’s “Eubie’s Classical Rag” – with Lamb’s “Bird-Brain Rag” sandwiched between them.

Vincent Johnson delivered an all-Novelty piano set of Confrey’s “Kitten on the Keys,” Rube Bloom’s “Spring Fever” and Roy Bargy’s “Omeomy.” While “Kitten” has become something of Vincent’s signature tune, it’s nice to hear him do especially difficult selections from the pens of people like Bloom and Bargy.

Bill Mitchell then returned to the piano and invited Jimmy Green to join him on banjo for three selections. The first two, “Milenberg Joys” and “Someday Sweetheart,” are by Jelly Roll Morton and the third, “Grace and Beauty,” by Scott. And though the latter is, like “Great Scott,” from 1909, it’s considered Scott’s masterpiece. It’s also considered among the three greatest rags ever written (along with “Top Liner” and “Maple Leaf Rag.”)

John Reed-Torres offered Aufderheide’s vintage “The Thriller” and Joplin’s masterful “Gladiolus.”

Ryan opened his encore set with “Car-Barlick Acid,” a rollicking folk rag copyrighted in 1901 by Oskaloosa, Iowa pharmacist Clarence Wiley. He sold the piece to a small publisher in 1903, and after it was picked up by Remick in 1907, this wonderful early rag began to receive national exposure. Ryan’s second encore: a piano arrangement of the 1922 song “Titina” by Frenchman Léo Daniderff. The piece first appeared with English lyrics in the U.S. stage revue “Puzzles of 1925.” Ryan’s performance is based on the 1920s Ampico piano roll that Zez Confrey cut, including the trio section he created especially for the roll arrangement.

Shirley encored with two outstanding rags by Irene Giblin – “Sleepy Lou” (1906) and the earlier “Chicken Chowder” (1905), a number Shirley and Nan Bostick had long ago worked up into an exciting two-piano duet.

Vincent had two more great novelties up his sleeve: Arthur Schutt’s “Rambling in Rhythm” and Ralph Rainger’s “Pianogram” (1929).

Gary encored with two contemporary rags: DTR’s moving “Through the Bottomlands” and Trebor Tichenor’s “The Show-Me Rag – A Ragtime Defiance” (1976). While vintage ragtime is often extraordinary, it’s nice to see at least one OCRS regular making a concerted effort to mine, memorize and perform some of the greatest ragtime pieces composed in recent decades.

For St. Patrick’s Day, Andrew Barrett delivered three appropriate pieces, all of which are now in their 100th year. He sang and accompanied himself on “When Irish Eyes are Smiling” (1912). With words by Chauncey Olcott and George Graff, Jr., and music by Ernest Ball, the song was written for Olcott’s production of the stage show “The Isle O’ Dreams.” Andrew’s next “Irish” selection was “Kathleen Kildare.” Andrew again both sang and played this 1912 song (music by Emmanuel Klein) that was patterned after the style of old Irish ballads. He offered a piano arrangement of yet another 1912 standard, “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary,” then closed his set with “Ragtime Amanda,” a beautiful original of his from 2008-’09.

To wind up the abbreviated musicale, Jimmy and Bill again took the stage, this time with the rousing “Grandpa’s Spells,” (Morton), “Ballin’ the Jack” (Burris and Smith) and the granddaddy of all rags, “Maple Leaf.” It was a wonderful afternoon producing a total of 34 selections and not only providing tremendous variety, but also creating a wonderful preview of RagFest 2012.

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