July 2022: Back in O.C. in a new yet familiar spot
Our first post-pandemic Orange County Ragtime Society to actually take place in Orange County was in Fullerton, the city of OCRS's birth, and at the site of the first OCRS ever. That was in November of 2001 at Steamers.
The venerated jazz club closed seven years ago this month. The Pint House took over the space and hosted occasional OCRS performances until it closed in late 2019.
Now the site is Spice Social. The Indian cuisine is tasty and the management not just kind and friendly but welcoming of having ragtime pianists on hand.
Five of the six pianists from our June performance returned: Johnny Hodges, Vincent Johnson, Ryan Wishner, Michael Flores and Eric Marchese. Joining them were longtime OCRS and RagFest pianist Bob Pinsker and newcomer Christian Marino.
The afternoon's seven pianists delivered a total of 35 selections including quite early (mid-1800s) proto-ragtime to early and folk ragtime; classic ragtime; pop and Tin Pan Alley favorites; advanced, Novelty and Harlem stride; and Jelly Roll Morton. So overall, the day's selections provided as broad a representation of ragtime styles as you could hope for.
With a sly nod to the amount of time that has passed since our last ragtime venture in Orange County, and to the fact that the venue contained so many memories for so many of us, Johnny opened the day with "As Time Goes By," followed by the C and D themes of "Solace – A Mexican Serenade."
Eric delivered Scott Hayden's 1903 classic rag "Something Doing," whose trio was by Hayden's mentor, Scott Joplin, then followed with Joplin's 1903 solo opus "Weeping Willow."
Vincent devoted almost all of his selections to early published rags of the so-called folk style, offering one Charles Hunter and a generous handful of Tom Turpin ragtime plus two great classics, one by Joe Lamb and one by Joplin. His first set: Hunter's venerated "Possum and Taters," followed by Turpin's "Buffalo Rag" and Joplin's "Paragon Rag."
Eric gave us two more classics: Arthur Marshall's "The Pippin" and "Heliotrope Bouquet," whose Louis Chauvin A and B themes were salvaged by Joplin, given an intro and complementary C and D themes and a title, the completed piece eagerly published by John Stark in 1907.
Vincent continued on the Turpin track with "A Ragtime Nightmare" and "St. Louis Rag," then capped his set with Lamb's all-time masterpiece, "Top Liner Rag."
Christian Marino served up "Maple Leaf Rag" and a creative, bluesy arrangement of "Amazing Grace."
Michael Flores dazzled us with a great novelty rag and a great Morton rag: "Kitten on the Keys" and "Tiger Rag." As he often does, Michael cleverly interpolates "Maple Leaf" into his performance of "Tiger Rag."
Ryan offered yet another example of late 19th-century pre-ragtime with "My Hula Hula Girl," followed by two of the most popular rags of all time: "Twelfth Street Rag" and "Grizzly Bear Rag."
Bob gave us Eubie's immortal "Baltimore Todalo", which he cited as a favorite of the late Bill Mitchell (whose 98th birthday would have been in a few days) before unveiling a world premiere. At the Library of Congress's Landover, MD annex, he had the staff unearth the manuscript to "Oil Yo' Ankles," an unpublished piece from 1926 that was recorded but the recording unreleased and now lost. The manuscript is by "R. James," which Bob said is short for Relfow (or 'Relphow') James. That name, in turn, is a pseudonym for Lemuel James Fowler. During the pandemic (January 2022), Bob finally published his research online into the previously murky biography of Lem Fowler, in which he showed that Fowler had been born in Birmingham, Alabama on July 19, 1898 and died in Manhattan on June 8, 1963. See Bob's website on Fowler for details.
Bob notes that "Oil Yo' Ankles" was clearly intended as a verse/chorus song, but Fowler never got around to penning any lyrics. As if to emphasize this, the word "Instrumental" is written on the manuscript, although there are marked sections "Vamp", "Voice" [sic!], at the verse, and "Chos." at the chorus of the verse/chorus song form. Bob said that, belying the piece's presumed kind of content based on its title, which sounds like the name of a hot dance number, it actually "sounds like a show tune." Indeed, it's got the kind of broad sweep and feel of something you'd see/hear on stage. The piece's performance was a world premiere, and we were privileged to be the first to hear it. It's one of many Bob has unveiled at OCRS over the years, a product of his ongoing diligence in researching the history and origins of the early 20th century music we have long featured at OCRS.
Bob's second selection was also a rarity: Willie the Lion Smith's "Spanish Rag." While Smith copyrighted a sketchy lead sheet (melody line sketch only, no chords) in 1925, he never published or recorded the piece. It's clear from hearing Bob perform it that it's Smith's version of "The Dream" rag, a seminal work heard and played by various musicians throughout the ragtime era, with Bob calling his own version "my conjectural reconstruction" of the piece. [In fact, at past OCRSs, Bob has essayed "The Dream" in both Eubie Blake's version and in the obscure (only discovered a few years ago as a published piece, and then only as an orchestration, not as a piano solo) version copyrighted and published by Spencer Williams in 1919 under the title "Daigah's Dream", and is the only OCRS pianist to do so.]
Alluding the subject of show tunes, Eric offered Harris and Brown's "Texas Tommy Swing," a swingy rag which debuted in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1911. He followed with Melville Morris' "The Kangaroo Hop" of 1914, a dotted-note rhythm contribution to the sub-genre of animal fad dances. He closed his set with one of his favorite performance pieces for this time of year: a piano arrangement of Sousa's immortal 1897 march "Stars and Stripes Forever."
Michael played one of his favorites, Joplin's "The Cascades" and a masterpiece of early ragtime, Scott Hayden's "Sunflower Slow Drag" (trio by his mentor, Joplin).
Johnny offered Johnson's all-time classic "Dill Pickles Rag," then, referring to Christian's performance of "Amazing Grace," gave us his honky-tonk version of "Just a Closer Walk With Thee," colored with "the Southern flavor of N'awlins."
Vincent contributed Turpin's earliest rag and one of his final rags. First was "Pan-Am Rag," a busy piece from 1914 dedicated to the Pan-American Exposition held in the Bay Area in the mid-teens, then the seminal ragtime piece "Harlem Rag," published in 1897 and the first published piano rag written by a black composer.
Ryan offered "The Flash" by Carl Mora, still seen in reprints around 1900 but having first appeared in 1869.
Bob served up two more rarities. First was "New Orleans Wiggle," a 1924 collaboration between Clarence Williams, A.J. Piron, and Peter Bocage (though certainly Williams's contribution was probably only a 'cut-in', i.e., a demand for partial credit and the consequent share of the royalties in exchange for publishing the tune), unpublished as a solo instrumental and appearing only in song form and in an orchestration (arranged by W.C. Polla, a well-known figure in the ragtime era). He closed with the Lemuel Fowler piece first entitled "Chitterlin' Strut" when Fowler copyrighted it in 1924 and somewhat immodestly although justifiably retitled "Fowler's Hot Strut" by the composer when issued on a QRS piano roll in 1927.
Johnny wrapped things up with the 1898 song "When You Were Sweet Sixteen," written by composer James Thornton for his wife Bonnie, a noted vaudeville performer.
Our audience turnout has yet to match the level of interest normally shown for OCRS performances, but we're still relatively early in the process of resuscitating the program. Our next musicale is on Saturday, August 20, 2022, back at Spice Social. We're looking forward to it and know we'll see you there.