November 2022: 21 years since OCRS got rolling
At the risk of being repetitious, the November 12 OCRS at Spice Social once again proved the incredible variety ragtime music has to offer – not to mention the skill and talent of our many outstanding pianists in continuously shedding light on pieces either rarely heard among ragtimers or receiving OCRS premieres.
For roughly the first half of the day, Vincent Johnson and Bob Pinsker did most of the heavy lifting, with Andrew Barrett and Michael Flores later picking up the slack. These four gents are to be commended for their top-notch musicianship, scholarship into their selections, and packaging it all up into first-rate performances.
Eric Marchese functioned primarily as MC for the day but kick-started the afternoon with "The Oklahoma Oil Field Blues," a rare 1920 piece from Pawhuska, OK. Jack Randolph wrote this ragtime song's lyrics and John F. Carroll the catchy music. Eric bypassed singing Randolph's humorous, lighthearted lyrics, focusing on delivering a credible piano arrangement of the score. He then brought us a peppy version of Charley Straight's 1914 rag "Humpty Dumpty."
Vincent's first set represented Classic, Advanced and Novelty ragtime. First was "Pastime Rag No. 4," one of the five "Pastimes" by Artie Matthews, whose birthdate is in November (November 15, 1888, to be exact). All five Pastimes were in the Advanced style, and John Stark deemed No. 4 the most advanced of the five, with its remarkable tone clusters in the first strain, so he didn't publish it until 1920, two years after issuing No. 5. Vincent's fine rendering features a swingy feel and plenty of subtle embellishments.
Next up was Lamb's immortal "Patricia" from 1916, the set's Classic selection. Vincent closed with Sid Reinhertz's great 1924 Novelty "Mah Jong," whose low-key second theme is balanced by an intricate, riotously dissonant C theme.
Bob started his first set with "Crimson Rambler," one of many presumably lost rags Lamb wrote for Mills Music and one of three whose manuscripts were uncovered in 2012, leading to their initial publication nearly ninety years after their composition. This new masterpiece's opening theme is quintessential Lamb; its flowing, melodic second theme is lightly bluesy; and its trio intricate, given enjoyable embellishments by Bob.
Leading into his Fowler seminar at WCRF later this month, Bob gave us the Fowler song "You've Got Everything a Sweet Mama Needs But Me," telling us it was the composer's follow-up to the earlier song "He May Be Your Man, But He Comes to See Me Sometime." Bob gave us melodic, swingy piano and fine singing of the pop song's humorous lyrics. He closed his set with Rawls and Neel's "Majestic Rag," a terrific exemplar of Texas ragtime of the teens. Bob's rendition shows it as, indeed, a great two-fisted number, a heavily bluesy Southwestern rag rife with walking bass figurations, bluesy treble slurs and more regional touches.
Vincent noted that Arthur Schutt, who was born November 21, 1902, has been a longtime favorite Novelty composer of his, devoting a set to Schutt's great Novelties: First, the creatively intricate "Bluin' the Black Keys," then "Rambling in Rhythm," whose gentle opening section contrasts with its stormy B theme, and, finally, "Piano Puzzle," an phenomenally intricate Schutt number that has long been one of Vincent's specialties.
Bob delivered Marshall's rarely heard "Silver Rocket," which was among the afternoon's best numbers. Published in the 1966 edition of They All Played Ragtime despite having been composed years earlier, it's the essence of Missouri ragtime and pure Marshall through and through.
Next up was Jimmy Blythe's "Chicago Stomps," with Bob's performance patterned after Blythe's 1924 recording, creating for us an exciting re-creation of Blythe's performing style. Last was Blake's "Blue Thoughts," a softly seductive 1935 piece unlike more readily identifiable Eubie creations.
In a nod to Thanksgiving, Andrew gave us "The Turkey Trot" by J. Bodewalt Lampe, published under the pen name Ribe Danmark (Lampe's birthplace was the town of Ribe, Denmark). Quite advanced for something from 1912, the piece isn't what you'd expect. Its dance-able A theme is a typical pop rag opener, section B establishes the dance ("trot") motif, and the trio is melodic and more subdued, though Andrew plays it more forcefully on the repeat.
Next up was Maceo Pinkard's "Sweet Georgia Brown," Andrew basing his performance on Pete Wendling's piano roll. The famed main theme is just one of the pleasures of hearing it; the piece features a joyously elaborate opening section and an intricate, jazz-oriented extended bridge. Andrew closed his set with C.L. Woolsey's "Funny Bones," which has a wonderful opening section, jovial and rollicking B theme and a great trio intro leading into an infectious trio.
Michael offered Joplin and Hayden's "Sunflower Slow Drag" followed by Jelly Roll Morton's outstanding number "The Crave." In doing so, Michael, in effect, bookended the ragtime era, what with the Hayden-Joplin piece (essentially composed by Hayden) having been issued in 1900 and Morton's no earlier than the mid-teens.
While "Sunflower" is at heart a stately Classic rag, "The Crave" showcases a variety of performance devices that became signature Morton touches such as the break, the rhythm he referred to as "the Spanish tinge." Michael concluded his masterful set with "Maple Leaf Rag," widely known as "the granddaddy of all rags."
Vincent opened his encore set with Harry Belding's "Good Gravy Rag." The number, presumably selected with Thanksgiving Day in mind, was given a pleasantly swingy feel by Vincent. Next up was the slow, bluesy "Siam Blues" by Federico "Fred" Elizalde, who was all of 17 when the piece was composed in 1924. Vincent closed his set with the first-rate "Milk and Honey," among his most haunting originals.
Bob returned to Blake with the piece he has referred to as Eubie's "Untitled Fox-Trot," a piece Bob uncovered from Blake's papers in Baltimore whose composition he estimates at around 1914-1915. Next, classic Blake with the immortal "Charleston Rag" and, finally, Turpin's celebration of the St. Louis World's Fair of 1904, "St. Louis Rag".
Andrew opened his encore set with Milton Ager's "Lovin' Sam, the Sheik of Alabam'," lending the 1922 number piano roll stylings. Next up was the lively intermezzo "Echo of Spring," by Willie the Lion Smith.
Closing his set was "This One's for Essie," a gentle, introspective piece Andrew said he began composing in 2008 and continued working on it until the piece's completion in 2021. In performing it for us, Andrew gave us its OCRS premiere.
Michael put the capper on a top-flight afternoon of music with his first-rate rendition of the 1935 hit "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter," then followed up with Arthur Marshall's and Scott Joplin's perennially popular "Swipesy."
"Reflection Rag" was an outstanding choice by Michael for wrapping up the superb afternoon of music. John Stark published the piece in December of 1917, eight months after Joplin's death, making it the immortal composer's final published piano rag (until "Silver Swan" emerged more than 50 years later).
All told, the afternoon featured 32 selections encompassing nearly every genre and sub-genre of ragtime music.