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April 2013 OCRS: Whole lotta Joplin, all five 'Pastimes,' light Novelties and a few 1913 rarities

The April 2013 OCRS had the distinction of being the first OCRS ever to open with four consecutive pieces by Scott Joplin, the King of Ragtime Composers. A total of 12 pianists, 1 vocalist and 1 banjo player delivered 36 selections and a wonderful afternoon of ragtime music that included all five of Artie Matthews' outstanding 'Pastime' rags (1913-1920), some lighter-than-usual Novelties, and quite a few selections that turn 100 this year, several of which are rarely if ever heard even at ragtime gatherings.

Stan Long loosened up and got things going with Joplin's 1902 masterpiece 'The Entertainer.' Following him, MC Eric Marchese noted that Stan's choice was apt, what with this year being the 40-year anniversary of 'The Sting,' and he proceeded to deliver 'Pine Apple Rag,' another of Joplin's greatest and one of the best rags featured in the 1973 film. Robert Wendt then kept it going with two more slow-tempo, meditative Joplin greats -- 'Weeping Willow,' which was issued a year after 'The Entertainer,' and 'Solace - A Mexican Serenade,' which was also featured in the popular George Roy Hill/Paul Newman/Robert Redford movie.

Robert then broke away from ragtime with 'Souvenir of Herculaneum,' an unsyncopated/lightly syncopated waltz by Jakob Pazeller. The piece is as gentle and pretty as 'Solace,' with just one stormy, minor-key section.

Armando Gutierrez, who hasn't been able to perform much at OCRS musicales in recent years, took the stage for Felix Arndt's great and highly popular Novelette 'Nola' (1915). One of the most popular tunes of the teens and one of the great early Novelettes, its trio features a break with a treble run comprised of triplets.

Ryan Wishner started his set with Herbert Spencer (music) and Fleta Jan Brown (lyrics) 'There's Egypt in Your Dreamy Eyes,' published by Remick in 1917. Next up was 'Three O'Clock in the Morning,' composed by Julian Robledo and with lyrics by Dorothy Terriss. Ryan said the piece, whose score features a 'chimes' effect in the treble, was first copyrighted in England in 1922 by West's Limited, and was published in America by Leo Feist around the same time.†Since it caught on in Europe before the United States, Feist advertised it as 'The waltz hit of two continents.'† Ryan finished his set with 'Witching Waves' by Mary Earl, the composer of 'Beautiful Ohio,' issued by Shapiro Bernstein in 1919. Like his first two selections, Ryan's performance of 'Witching' featured tremolos, fill-ins, octave leaps and other devices commonly found on piano rolls.

Vincent Johnson announced that his new solo piano CD was finally available, then delivered an all Lothar Perl set, the first two selections of which can be found on the CD: 'Hollywood Stars' and 'Grass Hopper Dance,' both from the early '30s. The cocktail piano-like 'Stars' is pretty and ethereal, while the first-rate 'Grasshopper' has a broader style and mood. Vincent concluded his wonderful Perl set with 'Ducky.' From 1932, the piece has never before been performed at the OCRS or other Southern California ragtime organizations. Its opening section has a playful, whimsical mood and its trio features a descending treble passage that begins at the top of the keyboard.

Andrew Barrett also dedicated his set to one composer -- in this case, Maurice Abrahams. He opened with Abrahams' 'Pullman Porters on Parade.' The 1913 piece credits 'Ren G. May' as lyricist, but realizing this is simply an anagram of 'Germany,' Andrew noted that the actual lyricist was Irving Berlin. The piece is catchy and lighthearted, given ain inventive arrangement and raggy, jovial performance by Andrew. Next up was 'At That Bully Wooly Wild West Show,' with lyrics by one of Abrahams' favorite writing teams, Edgar Leslie and Grant Clark. Andrew's very raggy, peppy playing of the chorus was reminiscent of Charley Straight's compositions and roll arrangements. Last up was Abrahams/Leslie/Clark's 'Oh, You Million-Dollar Doll.' Characterized by Andrew as 'like a ragtime ballad,' it's got a soft, pretty verse, a ballad-like chorus with a pretty melody, and rich harmonies overall.

Eric Marchese offered what is generally regarded as George L. Cobb's greatest rag, 'The Midnight Trot' from 1916. Eric explained that Cobb's earliest rags are considered 'popular,' his next few 'advanced,' and that he wound up writing Novelties. 'Midnight Trot' is an advanced rag with a distinctive, minor-key main section (A theme that opens and closes the piece) plus a wonderful second theme and a trio with some extraordinary harmonic modulations. A maxixe performed by vaudeville dancer Maizie King, for whom the piece was written, the piece is a superb piano solo in addition to having become famed in the late teens because of King. Eric also noted that as Cobb made the city of Boston his hometown by virtue of his ongoing work as music director of the Walter Jacobs Music Publishing firm, it's highly possible that the title 'Midnight Trot' is a reference to Paul Revere's famous 'midnight' ride through the Massachusetts countryside.

Honoring the fact that April is Womens' History Month, Shirley Case offered one contemporary rag written as an homage to a great humanitarian lady and two more vintage rags penned by the great lady ragtime composer Irene Giblin. Shirley started with 'The Last Princess,' Eric Marchese's tip of the hat to Princess Diana Spencer. Eric wrote the piece in September, 1997, during the weekend of Diana's funeral, and the piece's four sections reflect the British people's high regard for Diana during her lifetime (A theme), at the news of her tragic death (B theme), and in the days and weeks following her death (sections C and D). Next up was 'Sleepy Lou' from 1906, which Shirley said is 'kind of dreamy until the middle part' -- then, with its minor key trio, it's more like a nightmare. Last was Giblin's greatest rag, 'Chicken Chowder' (from 1905). The Kramer catalog called this whimsical, lively piece 'one of the funniest two-steps we have ever heard.' Indeed, it's cute, peppy and, indeed, poultry-like with its piano emulation of the sounds of chickens clucking.

Bill Mitchell then teamed up with Jimmy Green (banjo) and Andrew (washboard) for 'Maple Leaf Rag,' Jean Schwartz's wonderful 1910 rag 'Whitewash Man,' and Scott's beautiful, lively 'Sunburst Rag' (1909). All three selections were done in an upbeat Dixieland performance style.

Bob Pinsker delivered an all-1913 set. He started by pulling a rarity out of his hat with 'Why Don't They Set Him Free?,' a 1913 song referring to Harry K. Thaw, who had been sentenced to a mental institution following his 1906 murder of architect Stanford K. White. The sordid Thaw-White-Evelyn Nesbitt story was covered in detail in E.L. Doctorow's 1975 novel 'Ragtime' and featured in both the film and musical theater adapations of the book. Bob played and sang the piece, and while Harry C. Loll's music is nothing special, Thomas J. Blue's lyrics are genuinely inventive and laugh-inducing and, as Bob said, well representative of the corny, overexaggerated style of the era. Bob then played Artie Matthews' 'Pastime' rags Nos. 1 and 2, both of which were issued by John Stark in 1913. Both pieces have a certain degree of panache, and while 'Pastime Rag No. 1' is exceptionally theatrical, 'No. 2' uses a variety of styles and devices in its four themes: The A theme features an upward bass run that leads into the treble melody, B has a whimsical mood, C uses a stoptime rhythm, and D is built on a riff pattern.

Noting that he doesn't usually perform ragtime selections, Norm Zix opened his set with Joplin's beautiful rag-tango 'Solace,' then switched to Novelty piano with Confrey's ever-popular 'Dizzy Fingers.' Norm then closed his set with Duke Ellington's 'Black Beauty,' which he said was issued as a piano roll in 1918, published in 1928, and recorded in 1942.

After the break and raffle, Stan Long completed his official set with 'Dill Pickles' and Disneyland pianist Alan Thompson's 'Haunted Mansion Bumble Boogie.' Marilyn Martin then followed with two non-ragtime selections: 'O Sole Mio' and 'Aura Lee.'

Vincent Johnson encored with yet another wonderful cut from his new album: Rube Bloom's 1931 masterpiece 'Aunt Jemima's Birthday.' Ryan picked up Bob's 'Pastime Rag' thread by delivering No. 4. Issued in 1920, it was the last of the five to be published by Stark, ostensibly because it was considered the most difficult. Shirley encored with Jean Schwartz's 1911 rag 'April Fool,' played in honor of her and Storm's grandson, who was married on April 1, 2013. Like 'Whitewash,' which we heard earlier today, 'April Fool' shows Schwartz's genius, with a minor-key opening theme, a pretty trio that's the rag's high point, and a grandioso treatment of the trio to conclude the piece.

Robert Wendt encored with a very slow tempo, very soft rendition of Creamer and Layton's 1918 song hit 'After You've Gone.' with his wife Rosalie singing the lyrics and accompanied by Robert on the 'xaphoon' (a small wind instrument), Eric on piano and Andrew on washboard and piano. Andrew then stayed on stage for his solo piano encore, Nat Johnson's outstanding 'Gold Dust Twins Rag.' From 1913, this superb yet rarely heard piece is named for the then-popular Gold Dust Twins laundry detergent.

For his encores and to wrap up the day's performance, Bob returned to the stage and completed the 'Pastime Rag' hat trick by delivering Nos. 3 and 5, thus giving the afternoon's audience a wonderful opportunity to hear all five 'Pastimes' in one sitting. Our next OCRS is Saturday, May 18, at Steamers from 1 to 4:30 p.m. We'll see everyone again then!

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