RagFest Home | The Music | Schedule | Performers | Venues | OCRS | About Us


Yet another top-notch Nixon Library concert, the second one this summer

OCRS had already been placed on the Nixon Presidential Library's schedule for July 9 when June 4 opened up due to a last-minute performer cancellation.

That means OCRS had a presence at the Yorba Linda venue twice over a period of just over five weeks, giving seven of our performers a choice live platform from which the public could access their music.

June featured Ryan Wishner, Barry Blakely, Michael Flores and Dave Flores. The lineup for July was Andrew Barrett, Vincent Johnson and Pedro Bernardez. Pedro, like Barry the previous month, was making his debut at the beautiful Theater 37. Like Barry, he did a superb job. As a matter of fact, Andrew, Pedro and Vincent each brought his "A" game to the stage and delivered yet another first-rate concert of ragtime piano.

Andrew led things off with scintillating performances of two outstanding rags: "Georgia Rag" by Albert Gumble and "Champagne Rag" by Joe Lamb. From among the peak years of ragtime's popularity, "Georgia Rag" (1910) is a fun pop rag that's rarely if ever performed today. Gumble reworks typical ragtime devices in a fresh way, and Andrew's smooth playing and the addition of surprise performance effects turn a good piano piece into a great one. Next up, Andrew delivered a peppy rendition of what he called "a more popular" style rag by classic rag writer Lamb. Andrew takes this outstanding piece and creates excitement through his improvisatory-sounding embellishments to the score, including playing the last repeat of the finale an octave higher.

Pedro delivered the first of four early classic rags for the afternoon, none later than 1902. He started with "Swipesy," that perennial Marshall-Joplin rag so well known to today's audiences, creating a rollicking, flowing rendition boosted by pleasing dynamics. An up-tempo yet delicate version of "Original Rags" followed. This is the first full rag Joplin wrote, coming out the same year as "Maple Leaf" (1899) but being published six months earlier, and a lot closer to folk ragtime than most of Joplin's output. Pedro's performance is notable for his bass work and the way he shifts the piece's rhythms in his playing of the closing theme.

As J. Russel Robinson's birthdate was the preceding day (July 8, 1892), Vincent chose "Sapho," Robinson's first published rag, as his opener. The piece is a great, rockin'-and-rollin' early rag by the then-very-young composer, given exceptional dynamics and a stellar performance by Vincent. "Music Box Rag" is perhaps the most lyrical of Luckey Roberts's published ragtime pieces, elevated to a superb piece by Vincent's wonderful arrangement, silky-smooth playing, jazzy and swingy rhythms and overall dynamics. If it wasn't already clear to the audience that the afternoon was a winner, Vincent's set crystallized that fact.

Andrew's encore set was a phenomenal one-two punch that moved listeners beyond the original ragtime era and into the '20s with his first selection and the '30s with his second. First came "My Honey's Lovin' Arms," a 1922 pop song by Joseph Meyer (music) and Herman Ruby (lyrics). That Meyer penned works like "California Here I Come" and "Crazy Rhythm," means his music is well worth searching for and hearing. Andrew makes the intro and verse of "Lovin' Arms" lyrical and delicate before he unfurls the song's memorable chorus, beautifully rendered here. The song meshes vintage ragtime with '20s pop, and Andrew plays the final go-round of the chorus up an octave, and makes it raggier (and jazzier) than scored.

"The Finger-Buster" ranks among Willie "the Lion" Smith's best and most well-known piano pieces, and Andrew's up-tempo performance makes this gem jump, his outstanding pianistics breathing scads of Harlem life into it, with devices like the drop bass creating excitement for listeners. The surprisingly gentle trio soon gives way to the blazing finale, boosted here by Andrew's deliberately jittery dynamics.

Pedro delivered two more early Joplins: "Elite Syncopations" from 1902 and "The Easy Winners" from 1901. Pedro handles the opening themes of "Elite" with gentle waves of syncopation and pleasing performance flourishes before getting down to more forceful accentuations of the score, driving the rag home to an exciting finish. Pedro's up-tempo version of "Easy Winners" showcases extensive embellishments to the score, the third theme brimming with barely contained energy. The rapid tempo is cranked down a notch or two for the closing theme before blasting back off to a rapid gallop.

Vincent delivered the second Lamb of the day: "Alaskan Rag," which Lamb wrote to commemorate the arrival of Alaska as the 49th state of the union. Its opening themes are gorgeously lyrical and poignant, its third section carries echoes of previous great Lamb rags, and its haunting, graceful finale is unforgettable. Vincent's performance of this latter-day Lamb masterpiece can only be called masterful. Fittingly, Vincent closed his encore set and the afternoon with the concert's only original, "The Toe-Curler." The rag's jazzy A theme leads into a lilting second section. Block chords are used for part of the trio, and the jaunty closing ride-out theme is highly original, with numerous devices that capture our ears and our attention and helped bring a successful close to this fine afternoon of ragtime piano.


This website ©2023 by RagFest