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October 2017 OCRS brings many Joplin numbers and originals and some delightful surprises

With RagFest taking place in September for the first time since its earliest days, October was instead occupied by an OCRS meeting at Muckenthaler Center. A small crowd of fans and supporters cheered on seven pianists, who delivered a total of 23 selections, including six Scott Joplin rags and five original compositions. The seven also delivered some wonderful surprises for the audience – pieces rarely heard at ragtime performances, some of which had never been heard at an OCRS musicale.

While waiting for more musicians to arrive, Eric took to the piano to honor requests for “The Cascades” and “Cleopha.” After a false start on “Cleopha,” a piece he hadn’t played in years, Eric vowed to play it next time around. His “Cascades” was more successful, and it allowed him to delineate the tie-ins between the three world’s fairs held just prior to and during the ragtime era (1893, 1904 and 1915) – and also provided a tie-in to “Worlds Fair Rag,” which he had prepared for the afternoon.

Ron Ross got things rolling officially with a set of three originals: “Ragtime Song,” which he recorded on his CD but which he rarely performs; “Obediah’s Jumpsuit”; and “Sunday Serendipity.”

Newcomer Paul Schiada, who discovered OCRS through one of the Nixon Library concerts in 2016, said he was finally ready to start performing for the public, explaining that he had just retired after a career as a math teacher and now has more time to devote to piano. He performed the piece he said he always opens with as an ice-breaker: “Dizzy Fingers,” one of Zez Confrey’s most famous and, in its day (1921), most popular Novelty rags. Paul then delivered an exciting, Disneyland-style rendering of the pop song “I’m Looking Over a Four-Leaf Clover.”

Paul Orsi announced an all-Joplin set, starting with a “Solace” with many dramatic embellishments. Then, after outlining the history of Joplin’s 1899 ballet “The Ragtime Dance” and, specifically, its closing stoptime sections, Paul said he’d play the complete version published by Stark in 1902, then would follow up with Joplin’s all-stoptime followup from 1910, “Stoptime Rag.”

Johnny Hodges delivered a brassy, honky-tonk-style performance of “Flamin’ Mamie,” a 1925 jazz standard by Paul Whiteman, even singing a few choruses of Fred Rose’s hilariously bawdy lyrics. He closed with a torch-song-like rendition of Shelton Brooks’ “Some of These Days,” the 1910 song that was parlayed into a hit by Sophie Tucker.

Praising the other pianists and referring to himself as an amateur ragtime pianist still in the process of learning the genre, Frank Sano played the Wenrich-Madden hit “Red Rose Rag,” then followed with the 1911 song hit “Oh, You Beautiful Doll” by Nat Ayer (music) and Seymour Brown (lyrics).

Vincent Johnson related that after first steeping himself in Joplin’s music when first learning ragtime music, he had essentially passed it all up until recently – then set the stage for a performance of “The Entertainer,” which he said seems to be “the bane of ragtime pianists” (due to unceasing audience requests for “The Sting”) but that on its own terms it’s a beautiful rag that deserves to be played. He then did so, saying that the last time he performed the piece publicly was ten years ago. Sticking to classic rag composers, Vincent then did one of Joe Lamb’s least typical pieces, the Novelty “Hot Cinders” he composed in the 1950s. He closed with one of his most beautiful and lyrical rags, “Storybook,” which he said leans heavily on the narrative style of “Wall Street Rag” and many other Joplin rags.

Before the refreshment break, Eric followed up on his promise to play “Worlds Fair Rag,” filling the audience in on how and why it’s such a different piece from “Cascades” (among many reasons is that it was the only published rag by Harvey M. Babcock of San Francisco and that, being self-published, was essentially a vanity publication). Eric said the piece, inspired by the Pan-Pacific Exposition of 1915, oddly was issued three years prior to that worlds fair (and, another odd feature is why Babcock omitted the apostrophe in the word “world’s” in the piece’s title) and that it was one of the most fun rags to play. He followed with Euday Bowman’s outstanding 1915 rag-blues number “Colorado Blues,” then capped his set with one of the afternoon’s many Joplins – in this case, “Eugenia.”

Paul Orsi encored with Joplin’s “Peacherine Rag,” noting that the word “peacherine” was a ragtime-era slang term used to describe something wonderful (cf. “just peachy”) or to describe a pretty girl. Ron encored with “Orange County Rag,” written as an homage to the O.C.R.S. Vincent’s closing selection was Fats Waller’s outstanding yet underplayed “Alligator Crawl.” Johnny brought the short but sweet afternoon of music to a close with his own piano arrangement of the standard trombone number “Lassus Trombone” (by bandleader and composer Henry Fillmore).

An afterglow of sorts took place at the nearby Sunrise senior living facility in Fullerton, an hour-long program featuring Paul, Johnny, Vincent, Ron and Eric, who performed a variety of ragtime pieces for a small but most appreciative audience of Sunrise residents and a few holdovers from the afternoon’s musicale at Muckenthaler.

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