Originals reign supreme at May 2018 OCRS
The May 2018 OCRS musicale made for an informal event at the ragtime-era Bradford House in Placentia. A total of seven of the 17 selections were original/contemporary compositions.
MC Eric Marchese got the ball rolling with Joplin’s “Paragon Rag” and a rarity, the 1920 ragtime song “The Oklahoma Oil-Field Blues” by Randolph and Carroll. Eric described the piece’s lyrics and the cover artwork before presenting his arrangement of the piano score.
Ryan Wishner opened his set with the first of the afternoon’s several originals. Categorizing “Desert Queen” as “a historically accurate cakewalk,” he says it was inspired by a visit to Joshua Tree National Park. The minor-tinged A theme is delicate and lyrical, B is softer and more melancholy, C is lyrical, with the flavor of the Old West, and D is an outstanding ride-out theme.
For his next piece, “Hear Dem Bells,” Ryan switched to the Emerson upright piano since he felt it was better suited to the 1888 piece, which rings with joy and captures the sound of the old frontier. In performance, Ryan beautifully rags it up. Sticking with the Emerson, he finished with another original, “Bodie Belle,” which he describes as an 1880s-style schottische. Mostly in the minor tonality, its intricate, muted opening theme leads to an equally intricate second theme followed by a trio that’s playful in mood.
Paul Orsi opened with a new original he and Vincent Johnson had just completed: “’Sippi Shuffle” has a jazzy, cheerful opening theme and a minor-key, Harlem Stride-like second subject. C is jazzier and swingier than A and features a walking bass, and the vamp-laden closing theme is best described as “hot.”
Paul’s second selection is also an original – not one of his own, but Ed Maraga’s “Palisades Rag.” Its A is a solid “statement” theme that leads into B, a restatement of the second section of “The Cascades.” The trio is dominated by a rhythm familiar from pieces like “Gladiolus” (D theme) and “Pine Apple” (B theme) and leads back into a restatement of B, which closes the piece.
Vincent Johnson offered the afternoon’s second 1909 Joplin rag – this time, “Wall Street Rag,” giving the piece a loose, jazzy feel atypical of much Classic rag performance. Vincent chose a 2010 original, “Blueberry Pancakes,” as his second piece. Its A theme is pretty and lyrical, B intricate and more dramatic, C combines ideas from the first half, and D delivers a fine finale to this lyrical rag. Vincent closed his set with a second Classic rag – Joe Lamb’s immortal “American Beauty Rag.”
Eric returned to the piano and jumped on the original bandwagon with “The Fourth Estate Cotillion.” He wrote the piece in the 1990s but had never played it for an audience, describing it as a lighthearted envisioning of ladies and gentlement newspaper reporters of the ragtime era taking a night off from their work (“on a slow news day”) and, in all their finery, dancing to ragtime in a ballroom. Noting the start of spring, Eric then offered Paul Pratt’s outstanding “Spring-Time Rag” (1916), whose intro and opening them are inspired by Mendelssohn’s “Spring Song” and whose B and C themes are characteristic of Pratt’s beautiful, lilting style.
Johnny Hodges made a surprise appearance during the refreshment break and opened the second half of the musicale. What he announced as “a waltz” was actually a medley of ornate waltz tempo pop songs – “Beautiful Ohio,” “Tennessee Waltz” and “Let the Rest of the World Go By” – played in a laid-back, beautiful parlor piano style.
Vincent encored with two selections: “Pastime No. 4,” the flashiest and most discordant (deliberately so) of Artie Matthews’ five Pastime Rags, and Scott’s beautiful 1911 birdcall rag, “Ragtime Oriole.”
Ryan capped the afternoon with two encores. The first was “Rhyolite,” another first-rate new original. The rag is named for a ghost town in Nevada that was once a mining town that went belly up after all its gold had been mined (and is named for a buff- to pink-colored igneous rock found in abundance in the area). Relating a lovely frontier sound, the piece has an ornate second theme, a gentle, lyrical trio and a beautiful, graceful finale.
Ryan closed things off by taking to the upright Emerson and offering one of the many ragtime precursors in his repertoire: L.M. Gottschalk’s “Le Bananier,” written in France circa 1846, when the composer was 16 or 17. The selection nicely rounded off an enjoyable afternoon offering a wide variety of ragtime styles.
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