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May 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 Steamers.

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 feel.

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.

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