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FCLO hosts first official OCRS of 2017

Not counting our February 5 concert at the Nixon Library Theater, 2017’s first official OCRS of the new year was Saturday, Feb. 18, at the FCLO Music Theatre rehearsal hall in downtown Fullerton.

As is customary for February meets, many of the pieces performed were written by composers whose birthdays are in February. As a nod to Black History Month, many of the selections were also by black composers.

Frank Sano started us off with a fun, all-piano medley of “Oh! You Beautiful Doll” and “Hello! Ma Baby,” followed by his piano arrangement of the 1911 Wenrich-Madden hit song “Red Rose Rag.” Frank closed his set with Joplin’s “Peacherine Rag” from 1901.

Eric announced that all of his selections for the day would either be by February-birthday composers, black composers, Scott Joplin (as a nod to 2017 being the centennial of his death) or have tie-in with the recent Super Bowl victory of his home team, the New England Patriots – and in some cases, more than one of these categories. He opened with “Easy Winners,” which fulfills three of these categories (Joplin, a black composer, and a “winner”-themed title), then followed with his original, “Winnin’ Time,” explaining that he wrote it as an homage to the “winnin’” L.A. Lakers of the 1980s and early ’90s, fulfilling two of his chosen categories (a “winnin’” theme, and his own birthday is in February). He closed with Joplin’s poignant “Reflection Rag” (Joplin and black composers plus this year is the rag’s centennial).

Paul Orsi opened with a rousing version of “Frog Legs Rag” (which fills two of Eric’s categories: Black composer James Scott was born in February), then an original, “Zebra Stomp” (and Paul’s own birthday is, like Eric’s, in February). He wrapped up his set with an outstanding arrangement of the 1909 hit “Temptation Rag,” whose composer, Henry Lodge, was born in February.

Ron Ross took the stage and announced “I play my own stuff” (and noting that no, his birthday isn’t in February), starting with his 1998 piece “Joplinesque” and followed by his “Acrosonic Rag.” Ron closed his set with his wonderful “Orange County Rag.”

Ryan delivered two compositions that predate the ragtime era by quite a stretch, especially his opening piece, “Ethiopian Medley No. 1,” which was published in 1846. He followed with “Patrol Comique” from 40 years later (1886), then closed with one of his most recent originals, “Etiwanda,” which Ryan has taken care to give an authentic Indian intermezzo sound.

Vincent Johnson gave us “The Ragtime Oriole,” one of the greatest piano rags of James Scott (February birthdate and a black composer), then one of the most rare pieces in his repertoire: “Scrambles,” a 1928 piece by Sidney Reinhertz (who, Vincent noted, was born in February and also, like Eric and his favorite NFL team, is from New England – in this case, Boston). Vincent closed his set with one of the greatest ragtime pieces enjoying a centennial this year: “Rialto Ripples,” written by a very young George Gershwin (in collaboration with Will Donaldson) and issued in 1917.

Frequent audience member and dedicated ragtime supporter Jeffrey Hartmann took the opportunity to deliver one of his favorite pieces, Joplin’s often stirring “Weeping Willow.”

Eric delivered a pair of rags by two great black composers – J. Russel Robinson and James Scott (the latter, of course, a Feb.-born composer). Robinson’s outstanding “Dynamite Rag” was published right nearby in Los Angeles in 1910 by the Southern California Music Company, one of the small handful of ragtime pieces from this region of the U.S. during the original ragtime era, while Stark published Scott’s elegant, lyrical “Troubadour Rag” in 1919 as the ragtime era was drawing to a close.

For his encore, Frank invited Vincent to join him on the second piano, and the two delivered a four-handed version of “I’ll Take Manhattan.” Frank then offered a medley of two jazz standards, “Louise” and “I Can’t Believe That You’re in Love with Me.”

Paul’s encore was his original “The Birthday Rag,” which he wrote in 1983 as a gift for his then-girlfriend and later wife’s birthday. Paul then invited Eric to join him on the second piano for a four-handed version of Joplin’s “Pine Apple Rag.”

Vincent’s encores were two outstanding pieces from the post-ragtime era: “Piano Gram” (1929) by Ralph Rainger, and Lothar Perl’s lovely “Hollywood Stars” (from 1935). Ron encored with his “West Coast Tango” from 2008, and Ryan came back with a daunting piece that tied with his first selection as being the afternoon’s oldest composition: “La Bamboula,” written by Louis Moreau Gottschalk at the age of 17.

To close out the afternoon, Paul and Vincent took to one piano and Ryan and Eric to the other for a wild, eight-handed version of “Maple Leaf Rag.”

 

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