2013 OCRS: Cut time and fewer pianists yield a compact but enjoyable musicale
The last abbreviated performance session of
the 2013 calendar year was complemented by a smaller contingent of musicians
ñ seven pianists and one banjoist ñ as well as a fairly
modest audience turnout. Those of us present, though, enjoyed a compact
afternoon featuring a total of 28 selections.
MC Eric Marchese and banjo player Jimmy Green warmed up the stage with
Charles ìDocî Cookeís perennial ìBlame It On
the Blues,î followed by two of Scott Joplinís more innovative
and upbeat piano rags: ìElite Syncopationsî (1902) and ìPine
Apple Ragî (1908).
Armando Gutierrez followed up last monthís performance of ìNolaî
with ìDizzy Fingers,î which was perhaps the second-most-popular
of Zez Confreyís Novelties next to ìKitten on the Keys.î
Vincent Johnson delineated Rube Bloomís creation of four outstanding
piano solos in the year 1931, noting the many similarities and family
resemblances between them with regard to harmonies, chord changes and
other musical material, and categorizing two of them as more ragtime-like
and the other two as more along the lines of the works of Bix Beiderbecke.
He then introduced his now-in-progress performance of one of the two rag-like
pieces, ìOne-Finger Joe.î The whimsical first theme leads
to a second theme containing unusual, daring modulations as well as augmented
chords and blue/flatted thirds. The Stride-like trio uses devices like
the drop bass and more unusual modulations to achieve its sound.
Vincent then followed with ìAunt Jemimaís Birthday,î
which he has included on his outstanding, recently released CD and which
is more jazzy than raggy: Indeed, this first-rate piece has an upbeat,
jazzy feel, with a very Stride-like opening theme and a second theme that
features a break and some intriguing bass runs.
Shirley Case offered up a wonderful set of ìsleepyî selections:
Archie Scheuís ìSleepy Sidneyî (1907), Billy Mayerlís
ìSleepy Pianoî (1926) and Irene Giblinís ìSleepy
Louî (1906). ìSidneyî is a typical folk-style pop rag
with two lively opening themes and a rousing finale. The Mayerl piece,
like his other works, is typical in its mixture of delicate sounds and
difficult, demanding, hand-stretching passages which challenge the pianist.
The highlight of the piece, which Shirley said first appeared in ìPiano
Exaggerations No. 4,î is its funky, jazzy second theme, which features
a break carried by the right hand. Before playing ìSleepy Lou,î
Shirley noted that Irene Giblin wrote nine outstanding rags that were
published between 1905 and í13, all of which are outstanding. Her
performance of ìLouî underscored the pieceís graceful,
pretty, melodic A theme, its B section, an outstanding ragtime theme,
and its stormy, dramatic, minor-key C theme. When B returns to conclude
the rag, itís played with a serenity and majestic dignity not often
found in folk or popular rags.
Following Shirleyís exposition of two pop/folk-style rags and one
by a lady ragtime composer, Eric offered up a work by yet another great
lady ragtimer, May Aufderheide. Eric chose her not only because she was
one of the first prominent, nationally known lady ragtimers, but also
because her birthdate was May 21st (she was born 5/21/88 in Indianapolis).
From 1911, ìNovelty Ragî is a folk-like pop rag that is for
some reason generally overlooked by ragtime performers. As Eric noted,
itís a superb rag that deserves more exposure. Eric used his set
to also feature a second ragtime composer with the same birthdate as Aufderheide:
Harry Austin Tierney (born 5/21/90 in Perth Amboy, NJ). Like all of Tierneyís
rags, ìCabaret Ragî is categorized as being in the ìpopularî
vein of rags having just three main sections, typically written in easier,
more accessible key signatures, and being considerably less complex for
the amateur pianist than much of the other existing piano literature of
the day. Eric noted one other crucial factor set ìCabaret Ragî
apart: It was never issued as a piano score or on piano roll. The piece
was issued in early 1912 only as a band recording. As such, Eric explained
how he obtained a copy of the recording, then set about transcribing it
and arranging it for piano. It was that version which he performed at
Stan Long served up ìRagtimeî Rod Millerís complex
arrangement of Isham Jonesí ìIt Had to Be You,î followed
by two contemporaries: Nan Bostickís ìThat Missing You Ragî
and Martin Spitznagelís ìSeagull Shuffleî from 2010.
ìMissing Youî was Nanís piano tribute to several ragtime
notables whom the ragtime community lost within the span of a year, and
Stanís performance was an homage to Nan herself, who had passed
away just weeks earlier. In a much different vein is ìSeagull.î
Its lively opening theme leads to a B theme whose first four measures
mirror their counterparts in ìMaple Leaf Ragî and which has
a chromatic run in measures 7 and 8 and a closing phrase (measures 13-16)
built on triplets. The pieceís trio is thicker and more involved,
and its closing theme is highlighted by a call-and-response treble pattern
and some jazzy, funky-sounding runs.
Making his first appearance at Steamers and OCRS, Edward Maraga delivered
a fine, upbeat, strong rendition of ìMaple Leaf Rag,î adding
interesting breaks and other pianistic performance devices. He followed
with an up-tempo version of Joplinís ìGladiolusî and
Hayden and Joplinís ìSunflower Slow Drag.î All three
selections featured assured playing and enjoyably creative embellishments.
John Reed-Torres also stuck to the classic rag vein, first with a gentle,
expressive reading of Marshallís ìThe Peach,î then
a creative and often more heavily syncopated (than the score, that is)
rendition of the early Joplin rag ìThe Favorite,î bookended
by one of the last great classic rags to be issued during the vintage
ragtime era, Scottís ìTroubadour Ragî from 1919.
Shirley Case encored with Lambís immortal ìThe Ragtime Nightingale,î
adding wonderful embellishments and a swingy final iteration of the closing
theme (section B, heard for the third and final time).
Vincent launched his set with W.C. Pollaís ìDancing Tambourine,î
one of the ragtime eraís most popular Novelettes, a piece whose
score (from 1927) does indeed dance. He then offered a third Rube Bloom
selection from 1931: ìSpring Holiday.î Like ìAunt
Jemima,î itís more jazz-like than raggy and, Vincent noted,
is the least-played of the four. He also correctly characterized the piece
as ìrhythmicî and ìa tone poem,î which it indeed
proved to be via his outstanding performance, which emphasized the pieceís
harmonic and rhythmic wanderings. Vincent then closed his set with Willard
Robisonís ìUp and Down in Chinaî from 1926, noting
that the piece was closer to Robisonís compositional style than
it was to anything Chinese. Indeed, features like its folksy feel and
themes with odd numbers of measures are closer to the works of Brun Campbell
or Les Copeland, while the ascending and descending modulations in themes
A and B provide the ìup and downî suggested in the title.
Stan Longís encore was the early Marshall-Joplin collaboration
ìSwipesy,î which fit in nicely with the nine other classic
rags heard earlier today.
Eric Marchese served up his latest composition, ìThe Ragtime Utopia,î
a classic-style piano rag he wrote and first introduced in 2012. The rag,
Eric noted, is built upon the idea of ascending, four-note chromatic phrases
that are used in a variety of ways throughout the piece. The trio features
a break, and the closing theme combines features of the first three sections
while using a riff pattern in the upper treble line, blues harmonies in
the thumbline and a countermelody in octaves in the bass.
John Reed-Torres had one more Classic rag up his sleeve: Scottís
rarely-heard 1910 opus ìOphelia Rag.î A great, unheralded
piece, ìOpheliaî has an unusual trio wherein the bass line
is used as an integral part of the melody. Johnís performance capitalized
on this device by using bass octaves and a spontaneous, improvisational
Edward Maraga closed the afternoon with ìBrain-Storm Rag.î
The piece was written by ìBud Manchester,î a pen name for
Etilmon ìE.J.î Stark, son of ragtime publisher John Stark,
who issued the piece in 1907. Edwardís was the first performance
of ìBrain-Stormî at OCRS, giving audiences a chance to hear
some unusual harmonies daring for their time, notably in section B.
We invite everyone to come back for our next OCRS on Saturday, June 15,
at Steamers from 1 to 4:30 p.m.