July 2013: Rarities, intricate pieces, Classic and contemporary rags and 1913 works are the focus
A lack of stage lighting and operable microphones for most of the afternoon didn’t deter the afternoon’s 11 pianists nor make their work any less enjoyable for the nearly packed house at Steamers. Hallmarks were a surprise appearance by veteran ragtimer Robbie Rhodes, superb sets by nearly every performer, and a focus on rarely heard and/or intricate works, works by Classic ragtime’s Big Three, contemporary rags and pieces from the year 1913. Of special note were the six pieces by “musical chameleon” Clarence M. Jones by Bob Pinsker, who offered thorough exposition to go with each piece’s performance.
Bill Mitchell opened the day with one rag apiece from each of Classic ragtime’s Big Three: Joplin’s “Rose Leaf Rag,” Scott’s “Honey Moon Rag” and Lamb’s “Patricia Rag.” “Rose Leaf” received a Dixieland-like rendition, with the treble of the closing theme taken an octave lower than scored. The Scott and Lamb pieces, both from 1916, are rarely heard at ragtime society performances. “Honey Moon” offers three outstanding themes, with the trio particularly wonderful. “Patricia” is great vintage Lamb that spotlights many of the composer’s key techniques and elements.
Ryan Wishner dug back a half-century prior to the ragtime era with George Willig’s “Miss Lucy Long,” an 1842 piece featuring light syncopation and a sound and feel similar to parlor music of the 1880s and ’90s. Ryan noted that the piece appeared in a number of different arrangements during its initial year of publication and that he deliberately avoided continuous repeats in line with the published versions’ numerous additional verses. Next up was another mid-teens Lamb: “Cleopatra” (1915), whose cover was a familiar piece of artwork first used by publisher Stark for Scott’s “Sunburst Rag” in 1909 and again later with Joplin’s “Reflection Rag” (1917), a tactic designed to save the publisher from having to commision new artwork for each new rag. Ryan’s performance was crisp and up-tempo, with tasteful embellishments and an emphasis on the oriental/exotic sound of the rag’s trio. (The cover artwork, by the way, encompasses all three titles. It depicts an Egyptian woman of antiquity watching a brilliant sunrise, or sunset, from across a lake, which reflects the scene; one could also surmise that the woman is Cleopatra and that she’s in a reflective mood.) Ryan concluded his eclectic set with Roy Bargy’s “Sunshine Capers,” published by Sam Fox of Cleveland in 1922 but issued in roll form as early as 1918 and recorded by the composer in 1922. The piece is a marvelous, intricate Novelty replete with fill-ins, triplets and other Novelty devices and featuring a light opening theme and an outstanding trio that’s among Bargy’s best.
After essaying “Nola” and “Dizzy Fingers” in his most recent appearances, Armando Gutierrez continued in the vein of Novelties and Novelettes with “Doll Dance,” a 1926 Novelette by Nacio Herb Brown that was one of the era’s most popular. Announcing the piece by shouting its title, composer and year, just as one might hear on a vintage wax cylinder recording, Armando proceeded to deliver a superb performance, his efforts producing a light, enjoyable rendition of this intricate, complex piece.
Frank Sano made a rare venture into ragtime with a pleasing rendition of Wenrich and Madden’s 1911 hit “Red Rose Rag,” followed by a simplified arrangement of the opening two themes of Joplin’s “The Easy Winners” (1901) and a medley of two song hits: 1899’s “Hello! Ma Baby” and 1911’s “Oh, You Beautiful Doll.”
Gary Rametta offered two of Joplin’s most beautiful compositions: the early “Weeping Willow” from 1903 and the haunting “Bethena” from 1905, the composer’s most superb syncopated waltz. Gary opened with “Bethena,” emphasizing the poignant main theme and providing a gentle swing throughout, then delved into the “pathos” inherent in the earlier masterpiece “Weeping Willow.” Moving ahead to the modern ragtime era, Gary essayed David Thomas Roberts’ outstanding “Waterloo Girls.” The 1980 rag, composed after Roberts visited the Illinois town of Waterloo, is a lively piece with two delightful themes followed by a contrastingly poignant trio, and Gary delivered a crisp, strong performance with tremendous dexterity.
Bob Pinsker took to the stage with a short bio of composer Clarence M. Jones, born in Ohio in 1889. Bob noted that though Jones is one of his “favorite piano roll artists,” his two sets would feature no transcriptions of piano rolls but instead only the published versions of Jones’ many and varied compositions. He opened with “The Candy – A Ragged Two-Step,” Jones’ second published piano rag, issued in Cincinnati in 1909.
Next was “Thanks for the Lobster” from 1914. Bob closed his fascinating, wonderful set with “The Dirty Dozen,” a 1917 song with lyrics by Jack Frost. Owing to the lack of a vocal mic and the potentially offensive nature of the lyrics, Bob chose to offer just the piece’s piano part.
MC Eric Marchese opened with Ethel Earnist’s “Peanuts,” a 1911 piece that was copyrighted on the same date as the day’s performance – July 20 – noting that for many years Ethel Earnist was thought to be one of Charles L. Johnson’s many pseudonyms but that it was ultimately discovered she was one of the many ragtime composers (and many lady ragtimers) whose works were published by Johnson. The piece’s three themes offer finely contrasting ideas and syncopations. Sticking with 1911, Eric delivered all of “Oh, You Beautiful Doll” by composer Nat Ayer and lyricist A. Seymour Brown. One of the most popular and successful ragtime songs of 1911, the piece’s verse is a true 12-bar blues, an unusual feature for a pop song, while its chorus is broad and generous, and so distinct it’s been easily memorable down through the decades and even now, a century later. Eric ended his set with “Prometheus Rag,” a 1994 composition in the Classic Rag vein with a lively A theme, a second theme that moves into the dominant key, a quiet, subdued trio and an exciting closing theme that function’s as the rag’s “ride-out.”
Having played Lamb’s outstanding “The Ragtime Nightingale” last time around, Shirley Case delivered an entire set of three birdcall rags – one vintage, two contemporary.
We invite everyone to come back for our next OCRS on Saturday, September 21, at Steamers from 1 to 4:30 p.m. We’ll see everyone again then!
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