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November 2012 OCRS: Whole lotta Joplin, contemporary ragtime and one-composer sets

The last OCRS musicale of the 2012 calendar year featured 10 pianists whose selections ran toward the works of Scott Joplin, the contemporary rags of figures like Trebor Tichenor, and sets dedicated to a single composer, including Charles Hunter and Fats Waller. A total of 38 pieces in all were essayed through which the audience received an impressively broad range of compositional styles. Of these 38, 17 were either written or co-written by Joplin or were composed within the last 50 years. Two more – one by Joseph F. Lamb, one by Harry Austin Tierney – are just seeing the light of day in 2012 for the first time.

Eric Marchese noted the seemingly common tendency of most ragtimers to select from a relatively limited pool of Scott Joplin compositions while ignoring others. He offered a rendition of “Leola,” the only Joplin rag of 1905 and one of those often overlooked. In fact, Eric has only performed it at OCRS once before, the only other time it’s been heard. He followed that with “The Sycamore,” a superb 1904 Joplin piece that Eric has played on several occasions. While both pieces lean on the structure of “Maple Leaf Rag,” “Leola” is much closer to that great rag, its choice of keys and key structure identical to the earlier piece. “The Sycamore” looks back five years to “Maple Leaf” only in its first half; its trio is a foretaste of the chorus of “A Real Slow Drag,” the final number in “Treemonisha,” written at least five years after “The Sycamore.” The piece moves briskly, without a return to A after the second theme. The trio has the fervor of a spiritual. The finale typifies Joplin’s craftsmanship: leaning on tonic and dominant harmonies for 12 measures, and using a call-and-response between treble and bass, it then shifts to minor and diminished chords in its final phrase, with quarter notes for the treble voicings. The subtitle “A Concert Rag” certainly seems apt.

Shirley Case offered three contemporary rags, the first being Eric Marchese’s “The Dream of Ragtime.” Published in 1995, it was written three years earlier. The piece’s inspiration was the composer’s meeting two of Scott Joplin’s nieces, who visited the Scott Joplin Festival in Sedalia, MO, in 1991. Eric dedicated the piece to the two women and a third sister who was unable to travel, and also to the memory of the King of Ragtime Writers. Descendants of Joseph F. Lamb and James Scott were also present at that festival, prompting Eric to write “One for J.F.L.” and “Uncle James.”

Shirley’s next two rags were by Trebor Tichenor: “Cape Rose Rag” and “Glen Arbor Rag,” both of which were copyrighted in 1994. In notes written in August, 1996, Trebor wrote that “Cape Rose” was commissioned and named by “Lady Luck Cape Girardeau to honor the vitality of the City of the Roses on the River” as part of a promotion for a gambling boat in the southwest Missouri river town. The fact that the vote for gambling there failed after the debut of this rag is purely coincidental. Shirley noted that “Glen Arbor Rag” was a gift to one of the greatest fans of Tichenor’s St. Louis Ragtimers, Midge Obata, formerly of St. Louis and now a resident artist of Glen Arbor, Michigan. “As a board member of the Glen Arbor Arts Association,” Trebor wrote, “Midge convinced the membership to sponsor annual concerts by the St. Louis Ragtimers, which we did for five years.”

Gary Rametta offered an all-Classic rag set comprised of “Heliotrope Bouquet” (Chauvin/Joplin) and two by Arthur Marshall: “The Kinklets” and “The Pippin.”

Bill Mitchell’s set featured three rags by the great folk ragtimer Charles Hunter: “’Possum and ’Taters – A Ragtime Feast,” “Queen of Love” and “Cotton Bolls.” It’s always nice to hear Hunter receiving his due as a seminal figure of early ragtime, as his compositions have a distinctive flavor representative of white folks who lived in the hills of Tennessee and created their own musical style and sound.

Continuing the trend of devoting a set to one composer was Ryan Wishner, with an all-Joplin set of “Gladiolus Rag,” “Wall Street Rag” and “Solace – A Mexican Serenade.”

Norm Zix had a nicely diverse set with “Don’t Be That Way” and “Stompin’ at the Savoy” (combined into a medley), Morton’s “The Pearls” and “Pinetop’s Boogie” by Pinetop Smith.

Vincent Johnson gave us three of his recent originals, Classic rags all: “Tiffany Lamp Rag,” “Storybook Rag” and “Puppy Love.”

John Reed-Torres had three vintage Classic rags: “Pine Apple Rag” and “Fig Leaf Rag” by Joplin and “Little Jack’s Rag” by Arthur Marshall, first published in Terry Waldo’s 1976 book “This is Ragtime.” The score, a manuscript presumably in Marshall’s own hand, was copyrighted in 1976 by Marshall’s daughter, Mildred Steward, whose childhood nickname was “Little Jack.”

Bob Pinsker said that since the recent discovery of Lamb rags once presumed lost, he’d been continuing his exploration of the Mills archive, having come up with an all-Fats Waller set, three of a countless number of unpublished Waller pieces to be recently unearthed. Bob said that the only piece from Waller’s “Living Room Suite” to be copyrighted was “Functionizin’.” Working from Fats’ manuscripts, Bob created piano arrangements of “Corn Whiskey Cocktail” and “The Scrimmage,” the suite’s second and third titles. (In an aside, Bob said he had intended to include “Functionizin’” in this set but had mislaid the score.) Closing this exciting set was “Wildcat Blues,” characterized by Bob as “very, very, very early Fats Waller.”

Eric took us out of the break and back to the performances with two selections from 1912, one of which has never before been arranged for piano. First off was “Scott Joplin’s New Rag,” one of the master composer’s final ragtime masterpieces. Eric noted some of the piece’s most interesting features: that it fluctuates between C major and E minor; that many of the phrases are segments of scales; that the piece doesn’t drop into the subdominant at the trio but is instead entirely in the same key (C major); and that the minor-key interlude is the only time Joplin wrote a 16-bar section that he didn’t repeat. For those interested, Eric also highly recommended Ed Berlin’s musicological analysis of the piece.

Eric noted that throughout 2011 he performed most of the 10 rags by Harry Austin Tierney that were published that year. For this year, though, we have only two Tierney rags from 1912. “Variety Rag” was published, but “Cabaret Rag” received only a recording by Prince’s Band, the house band of Columbia Records. Working from the recording, Eric arranged the rag for piano, giving it its world premiere through his performance – and promising to have the piece published soon.

Arriving after the break, Andrew Barrett did a wonderful set of four pieces. Having also played many 1911 pieces last year and 1910 the previous year, this year Andrew has been focusing on pieces from 1912, with three of this set’s selections from that year. First off was “Somebody Else Will If You Won’t,” a soft, charming waltz song by Albert Gumble (music) and Alfred Bryan (lyrics), arranged beautifully by Andrew. From 1905 is Joe Jordan’s “J.J.J. Rag,” whose C theme was a floating folk strain heard around St. Louis at the turn of the century and which has been credited to the great ragtime pianist Conroy Casey. It was also used by Charlie Thompson in his “Delmar Rag.” Andrew also noted that the main theme of “Frequent Flyer Rag,” one of his earliest compositions, leans heavily on this strain. The rag’s opening theme is bubbly and catchy, its second section delves into the minor, and the overall feeling is Turpinesque.

From 1912 and named for the superstar exhibition dancer known as “Maurice” is “The Maurice Tango” by Silvio Hein, one of the founders of ASCAP. Andrew noted that the piece features two tango/habañera sections and one ragtime section. The opening section is in the misterioso minor key vein, which B is tranquil, played slowly and softly. The trio is a nice, low-key ragtime theme with bits of the minor and some countermelodies in the bass. Andrew’s raggy arrangement of this section makes for a terrific ending. Last was Charlotte Blake’s “Jubilee March” from 1912 but originally written earlier, released in 1907 as the “Curly” two-step before being reissued five years later with its new title. The trio features adventurous harmonies and the rag is, overall, as creative as Blake’s other wonderful ragtime pieces. None of Andrew’s selections had ever been performed at OCRS.

Gary encored with “Graceful Ghost,” William Bolcom’s haunting, Chauvinesque essay and one of the biggest contemporary (1970s) ragtime compositions. Vincent let the audience select which Novelty composer they wanted him to play; the nearly unanimous choice was Roy Bargy, so we got a terrific rendition of “Omeomy.”

John chose “The Favorite,” one of Joplin’s earlier and lesser-known (and underperformed) rags. Though published in 1904 by A.W. Perry & Sons, the Sedalia music publisher bought the piece in 1900 and held it for several years. Indeed, the piece’s texture and style are in line with some of Joplin’s other rags from 1900 and the late 1890s (eg. going to the relative minor for the second theme).

Ryan delivered the rarely heard Lucien Porter Gibbs’ “Cactus Rag.” Bob gave us “Crimson Rambler,” one of the four Lamb rags recently discovered in the files of Mills Music.

Noting that it wasn’t really ragtime, Norm offered an outstanding rendition of Thelonious Monk’s arrangement of “Sweetheart of All My Dreams,” written by Art Fitch, Kay Fitch and Bert Lowe and issued in 1928 by Shapiro Bernstein. Before playing it, Norm noted that the Stride piece doesn’t use the pedal and that it features a chromatic circle-of-fifths.

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