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Sept. 2013: the Classics reign supreme

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. Many works by Classic ragtime’s Big Three were featured alongside a few contemporary rags and a generous portion of non-Classic rags from the vintage era.

MC Eric Marchese opened things with “Whittling Remus,” Nashville composer Thomas Broady’s finest rag and the last of three rags published in 1898, 1899 and 1900. Noting that he had been working on numerous pieces that have milestones this year (published in years that end in a “3”), he proceed with Scott Joplin’s “Palm Leaf Rag” from 1903.

Robert Wendt continued with Joplin via the composer’s finest syncopated waltz, “Bethena,” and James Scott’s greatest rag, “Grace and Beauty,” also referred to by David Jasen and Trebor Tichenor as one of the three greatest rags ever written (the other two being “Maple Leaf Rag” and “Top Liner Rag”). Robert wrapped up his all-Classic rag set with Joplin’s “The Easy Winners.”

Armando Gutierrez delivered an outstanding reading of Zez Confrey’s “Dizzy Fingers.” Next to “Kitten on the Keys,” this masterpiece was issued in 1922 by Jack Mills and was one of the biggest Novelty hits of the era, and quite popular with pianists.

Ryan Wishner opened his set with “Mississippi Ripples” by Mary Earl, a pen name of composer Robert A. King. Next up was “Smiles” by Lee S. Roberts. Ryan closed his great set with Harry Ruby’s “Tenth Interval Rag.”

Frank Sano offered piano arrangements of three popular songs. First was Nat Ayer and Seymour Brown’s 1911 hit “Oh, You Beautiful Doll,” followed by “Louise,” popularized by crooner Maurice Chevalier. Frank wrapped up his set with “I Can’t Believe That You’re In Love With Me.”

Gary Rametta opened his set with Ron Ross’s “Joplinesque – A Gringo Tango,” a lovely piece despite Ron’s jokey subtitle. Next was more Classic ragtime: First, Joplin’s non-ragtime waltz “Binks’ Waltz,” then Lamb’s monumental “Top Liner Rag,” a perfect bookend with Robert’s earlier performance of “Grace and Beauty.”

Bill Mitchell and Jimmy Green teamed up for Doc Cooke’s “Blame It on The Blues.” Next was a real ragtime rarity, and a real treat: J.M. Wilcockson’s “Pride of the Smoky Row,” a great early rag and one of the best from ragtime’s first few years. Bill and Jimmy closed with the Dixieland standard “Some of These Days” by Shelton Brooks who, as Bill noted, also wrote some piano rags and ragtime songs.

Stan Long pitched into the afternoon’s preference for Classic rags with Joplin’s fine “Pine Apple Rag.” Next was a medley of two great 1910 popular songs, “Chinatown, My Chinatown” and “Washington and Lee Swing,” followed by Charles N. Daniels’ “Margery.” Noting that RagFest will pre-empt our having an OCRS session next month, Stan closed with Alan Thompson’s Halloween-oriented merging of the Haunted Mansion theme song with “Bumble Boogie.”

Eric took the stage to offer three more pieces celebrating anniversaries this year. First was Lamb’s outstanding “American Beauty Rag” from 1913. Next was “Unknown Beauty,” a lyrical 2003 rag by Swedish ragtimer Christoph Schmetterer. Eric closed with one of his own rags, “Prometheus,” written in 1993.

After a brief intermission and the raffling off of several ragtime recordings, those performers still in attendance offered encores. Ryan started things off with a wonderfully piano-roll influenced version of “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles,” followed by a superb rendering of Scott’s “Hilarity Rag.”

Gary encored with more Scott – this time, “The Ragtime Betty.” Most ragtimers take this 1909 essay at a too-rapid tempo that negates many of its most beautiful passages. Gary remedied this by adding expression, rubato and, of course, a much more measured pace. He followed with James P. Johnson’s “Snowy Morning Blues,” noting that “it’s really not a blues” and that it has marked similarities with the composer’s “Carolina Shout.”

Making a late appearance, Doug Haise announced that Dick Zimmerman has just issued a new folio of Chicago ragtime which can be ordered at dick@rag-time.com. Doug then did a three-rag set that started with the outstanding “Moving Picture Rag” by Ribe Danmark, the pen name of Danish composer J. Bodewalt Lampe. Next up was Charles L. Johnson’s “Cloud Kisser,” written under the pseudonym of “Raymond Birch.” Doug ended a fine set with Brun Campbell’s “Ginger Snap Rag,” a very folksy and in some ways bizarre folk rag featuring unusual modulations within sections or shifts to a key signature unrelated to that of the preceding section, primarily in the last three sections.

Bill and Jimmy then took us home with Johnson’s ever-popular “Dill Pickles Rag” and a fine, Dixieland-oriented performance of “Hindustan,” a very popular piece with ’20s jazz bands.

In all, we had a total of 33 selections, 10 of which were of the Classic Rag genre – a very nice way to lead into OCRS’s brief hiatus, with RagFest coming up next month. We’ll see everyone at RagFest, and back at Steamers for our November OCRS on 11/16/13.


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