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August 2022: More great ragtime at Spice Social

The Orange County Ragtime Society is settling in nicely at Spice Social and have found the venue welcoming of our piano performances.

That's just part of the good news. More pianists are returning and so are ragtime fans. And multiple venues – more than prior to the pandemic – are now willing to host us, so we're in good shape moving forward.

Our August OCRS featured five pianists from July and an old friend making his first appearance since RagFest 2019 and the OCRSs of earlier that year.

Vincent Johnson, Ryan Wishner, Michael Flores, Bob Pinsker and Eric Marchese were joined by Andrew Barrett, performing a total of 32 selections. The variety was just as staggering as July, with virtually every ragtime subgenre represented as well as one category, original compositions, not heard a month earlier.

Eric Marchese, working as Master of Ceremonies, got things going with an instrumental version of "Please Say You Will," a ragtime song by Scott Joplin and his first published piece (1895), followed by Joplin's first published piano rag, "Original Rags" (1899, six months before the publication of "Maple Leaf"). He closed his set with Arthur Marshall's "Swipesy" (trio, of course, by Marshall's mentor, Joplin).

Vincent Johnson had been delving into the many piano rags of Charles L. Johnson, offering the first of two outstanding sets devoted to that prolific ragtimer's rags. He started with a great rendering of the wonderful, rarely played "Southern Beauties," noting that Johnson originally self-published it under the title "Lovey Dovey Two-Step." Vincent followed with the fine, rollicking rag "Pigeon Wing" and closed his set with "Sneeky Peet," [sic] another great Johnson rag featuring a pleasingly unusual trio section.

For years, Ryan Wishner has been exploring American pop music of the 19th century, unearthing some incredible pieces covering the pre-Civil War era right up through the 1870s, '80s and '90s and eventually yielding the pieces we know of as early ragtime. He opened his set with a period-faithful rendering of two pieces from the 1880s, combined into a medley: "Flying Back to Dixie" and "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny." His second selection was the massive 1890s hit "Ta-Ra-Ra Boom-De-Ay," referring to it as "the original monster" and noting it was published by Bromo-Seltzer (yes, the consumer headache and hangover remedy) in the 1890s. And in a nod to his penchant for pre-ragtime pieces, he referred to the piece as "newer" than his other selections. Ryan closed with William Krell's 1897 piece "Mississippi Rag," relating that although it's often referred to as the first published rag, it's actually a cakewalk. Ryan added excitement to this historic piece by giving it the full-on ragtime treatment.

Michael Flores delivered one of Jelly Roll Morton's great pieces, "The Crave," which prompted some of the other pianists in the room to allude to it and its connection with the notorious "Dream Rag" that appears in various iterations throughout the ragtime era (see below!). Michael followed his flawless performance with the venerable "Maple Leaf Rag" and a second Morton, the fantastic "Tiger Rag."

Andrew Barrett's appearance at OCRS was a welcome sight, his work at the piano fully justifying our excitement at having him back. Long a fan of the works of Nat Johnson, he delivered a piece we've heard from him at previous OCRSs: the composer's "Hesitation Waltz," published by Forster in 1914, describing the piece as gorgeous and expressing wonder that it isn't in the repertoires of more ragtimers. Next up was Arthur Pryor's great 1911 rag "Frozen Bill" which, as Andrew pointed out, has brass and woodwind-like treble passages and trombone-like bass phrases that point up trombone-player Pryor's more orchestral-oriented approach to ragtime. Andrew closed his set with an original he said was part homage to J. Lawrence Cook, part homage to Fats Waller. And indeed, "Doin' the L.A. Front Step Back Step" has the authentic sound of both of those storied composers.

Bob Pinsker opened his set with his piano solo version of Jelly Roll Morton's "Pretty Lil," noting that it's "a band piece" that was obviously named for Louis Armstrong's wife, Lil Hardin Armstrong, who got to know Morton in Chicago in the early 1920s. Next up was Bob's piano arrangement of "Daigah's Dream," subtitled "A Brazilian Intermezzo" - the first published version of "The Dream Rag," the elusive piece credited to Jess Pickett by Eubie Blake or to John Wilson, known as "Jack the Bear," by James P. Johnson and others. Whoever originally composed the piece, "Daigah's Dream" was copyrighted and published in Chicago in 1919 with the composer credit going to Spencer Williams. Bob prefaced his performance by noting that "for some reason it was only issued as an orchestration" (which probably explains why this piece was not recognized as a version of "The Dream" until this century) and that he would "try to reinterpret it as though it were a piano solo." Bob closed his set with "The Jazz," a 1917 piece by Ted Eastwood and G. Hepburn Wilson that carried the subtitle "Latest American Fox Trot Idea." Bob said that in working the piece up for performance, he found that dropping the third four bar phrase of each 16-bar theme worked best, treating each section as a 12-bar blues strain.

Michael Flores opened his set with one of his specialty numbers, "Kitten on the Keys," followed by a piano arrangement of the 1947 pop song "Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans" (by Eddie DeLange and Louis Alter). Michael wrapped up his set with a piano arrangement of "The Sheik of Araby." The 1921 song was a huge Tin Pan Alley hit whose music was written by Ted Snyder, familiar to ragtimers as the composer of "Wild Cherries Rag" and a crucial figure in Tin Pan Alley publishing during the ragtime era. Michael noted that he had selected the piece, which was a musical response to the massive popularity of the Rudolph Valentino film "The Sheik," because of the upcoming (Aug. 31) event at Hollywood Memorial Cemetery commemorating the 95th anniversary of Valentino's death, at which Michael will play this arrangement. Michael told us afterwards that Valentino was actually a relative of his - a few generations removed, of course!

Vincent unveiled three more outstanding Charles L. Johnson rags. Johnson wrote "Beedle-Um-Bo" as Raymond Birch, one of his more frequently used pen names. Vincent said that of all the Johnson pieces he had been working on, the real find was "Pink Poodle," a 1914 piece that's among the composer's most unusual. This great set concluded with the great 1909 rag "Kissing Bug."

Ryan encored with a wonderful piano version of H.W. Petrie's 1894 pop song "I Don't Want to Play in Your Yard," then topped that with a stellar rendering of Lamb's "Ethiopia," one of the most striking classic rags ever written.

Bob encored with his version of the incomplete novelty by Joseph F. Lamb that came to light only a few years ago, with Adam Swanson's discovery of a tape made by Bob Darch at Lamb's home in Brooklyn in the late 1950s, on which Lamb is heard attempting to remember one of his lost Mills novelties. Lamb plays a complete first strain, a partial second strain, and a transition to a trio, then trails off. Lamb's family is heard in the background, and perhaps Lamb's wife Amelia says that this piece is the one entitled "Waffles", but maybe not. Bob's (Pinsker, not Darch!) version is his conjectural completion of the piece; others have come up with different versions. Next was the so-called "Untitled Fox-Trot by Eubie Blake," a circa 1914 piece Bob discovered in the Blake Archives at the Maryland Historical Society. Finally, noting "we've had pieces by Charles L. Johnson and Nat Johnson but nothing by James P. Johnson," Bob closed with "The Mule Walk," one of the many outstanding pieces to have flowed from JPJ's pen.

Andrew encored with a piano version of a song, an original, and a rarity by one of the greats of the ragtime genre. He opened with his piano arrangement of the 1928 song "Get Out and Get Under the Moon" by composer Larry Shay (of "When You're Smiling" fame, another Shay song from the same year). Andrew then world-premiered his original, "The Fine Right Rag," an incredibly intricate and entertaining piano piece he said he'd been working on for years and that was dedicated to two Steves, one living, the other having passed – Stephen Kent Goodman (1949-2018) and Steve Mutz. If you heard the piece, you might think it couldn't be topped, but Andrew saved the best for last. It was Luckey Roberts' "The Park Avenue Polka."

Andrew prefaced his performance of it by giving us a brief timeline of the piece: Roberts reported that he had initially composed it around 1908 or earlier, published the piece himself in 1949 (it is listed as such in the back of Blesh and Janis's "They All Played Ragtime," though Roberts evidently did not register the copyright of the piece) and made a recording of it on March 18, 1958, on the Good Time Jazz LP "Luckey and The Lion," where the track is titled "Nothin'." That certainly seems hardly an appropriate title for such an extraordinary "something"! Andrew said that as the piece wasn't published commercially, he worked up his performance based partly on Tom Brier's transcription of Luckey's performance and partly directly on his own careful listening to that track. Just before diving into it, Andrew said "This is one of the most complicated rags ever written." His performance of it was a treat which fully bears out this statement.

Spice Social has enjoyed having us, so OCRS has been invited to return on Saturday, September 17, and again on Saturday, October 15. Start time is 1:30 and we'll wrap things up around 4:30 – so mark your calendars and get ready for more ragtime! As with previous performances, this is free of charge. Nearby parking is plentiful and also free. The food is outstanding and the owner and his staff are good to us, so we want to keep this going.

NOTE: If you haven't already done so, please also note that OCRS is hosting two concerts at the Nixon Presidential Library on September 4 and October 16. These events are free to the public. Parking is also free. Doors to the auditorium open at 1:30 and both concerts are from 2 to 3 pm. So please help spread the word and please join us there – we look forward to performing for you!


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