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Special July Fourth concert: OCRS hosts “An Evening of American Ragtime” at Muckenthaler Center

As part of Muckenthaler Cultural Center’s annual series of Thursday night summertime performances, OCRS was invited to create and produce a ragtime show. Since the special event was scheduled for July 5, it was given the title “An Evening of American Ragtime” to tie in with Independence Day.

The crowd at the Muck’s outdoor amphitheater was treated to a revue-style show similar to those that highlight RagFest each year, starring Andrew Barrett, Michael Chisholm, Jimmy Green, Johnny Hodges, Vincent Johnson, Eric Marchese, Paul Orsi and the vaudeville duo of Evans and Rogers.

With Eric as M.C., the show got rolling at 7:30 with a two-piano version of the 1901 rag “Car-Barlick Acid.” Michael Chisholm helmed the Yamaha digital grand piano situated audience left and Eric took the Wurlitzer spinet piano at audience right.

Johnny Hodges took to the Wurlitzer for his vaunted “tremolo love song” medley. He was followed by Sharon Evans and Rick Rogers in the first of their four numbers, a medley of Looney Tunes songs including “The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down” and “Merrily We Roll Along.” Rick accompanied the duo’s vocals on his ukulele.

Paul Orsi, Jimmy Green and Eric offered up “Swipesy,” with Paul on the spinet, Eric on the digital piano and Jimmy on banjo. Like “Car-Barlick Acid,” it’s one of the earliest pieces in the ragtime repertory (1900) and, though often credited to Scott Joplin, was composed by Arthur Marshall, whose A, B and D themes are connected by the piece’s more lyrical trio written by Joplin.

Vincent Johnson delivered a lovely solo of the program’s only Classic rag: Joe Lamb’s immortal “American Beauty Rag,” from 1913, was a perfect fit with the evening’s overall Americana theme. Paul followed this with one of his specialties, a socko version of one of the most popular rags ever written: George Botsford’s “Black and White Rag,” an inspired three-theme showcase of the composing approach that later came to be known as “three-over-four.”

Evans and Rogers delivered the Irving Berlin standard “All By Myself” (1921), peppering the song with fun ragtime patter. Paul then returned to the piano and led the audience in a singalong of various patriotic pieces crafted into a comprehensive medley.

Michael took to the stage and, jokingly apologizing for detracting from Americana, offered instead some Canadiana in the form of “Canadian Capers.” The piece is known for having been composed by San Francisco-area pianist Sid Le Protti, who would play the untitled ragtime piece on request for a few dollars. Henry Cohen eventually was able to duplicate portions of the piece himself. He and Gus Chandler notated this handful of themes from LeProtti’s much longer work and sold it for publication in Chicago in 1915 under the title “Canadian Capers,” with lyrics added by Bert White. Michael gave us a socko piano rendition, complete with impressive piano-roll stylings in the left hand.

Johnny closed out the first half with one of his signature vocal numbers, “Flamin’ Mamie,” followed by a killer, mostly improvised boogie of his own creation.

The performers again took to the stage after intermission, now joined by Andrew Barrett. Vincent got the second half rolling with “Wild Flower Rag.” The evening’s only Harlem Stride piece, published in 1916, it was written by Clarence Williams in a style similar to James P. Johnson, the “Father of Harlem Stride” (and was reputed to have been Johnson’s favorite rag).

Joined by Andrew on washboard, Michael delivered one of his signature numbers: “Hap’ Li’l Mose,” a rarely heard early rag (1903) by T.A. Duggan.

Now accompanied by Andrew on piano, Evans & Rogers delivered the Arthur Lange-Bobby Heath standard “On the Old Front Porch” (1913). Andrew then offered a bit more Americana with his entertaining piano solo of the standard “Sidewalks of New York,” composed in 1894 by vaudeville performer and singer Charles B. Lawlor, with lyrics by James W. Blake.

The socko Hughie Cannon song “Bill Bailey, Won’t You Please Come Home?” (1902) was then delivered by Paul on piano, with Jimmy on banjo and Paul dropping in some of the lyrics here and there. Johnny then delivered the evening’s second major all-time ragtime hit, his rip-roaring version of “Twelfth Street Rag.” Like the earlier “Black and White,” this perennial hit rag makes terrific use of ragtime’s “three-over-four” rhythmic device.

Putting a capper on the evening were Evans & Rogers followed by Eric, Michael and Andrew. E&R delivered their signature number “Home in Pasadena,” with Andrew’s piano providing the accompaniment to the ever-popular 1924 Al Jolson number and Rick Rogers rolling out his vaunted Jolson impersonation.

The closing number featured Eric (piano), Michael (flute and piccolo) and Andrew (washboard) for an all-stops-out version of Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever,” the 1897 march that has nearly become synonymous with Independence Day. Michael played flute for the first two themes, then switched to piccolo for the last half, providing the countermelodies and flourishes audiences have routinely come to expect when the piece is performed. As if by design, the nightly fireworks from Disneyland could be heard just as the piece started, providing the appropriate background sound effects of either a sky show display or of distant cannon fire – whichever you prefer.

All nine performers lined up for a couple of curtain call bows in what is hoped will become an annual performance at Muckenthaler Center’s outdoor amphitheater.

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