Features and Reviews
Frank French at Old Town Music Hall
By Bill Mitchell
The Old Town Music Hall in El Segundo presented the Boulder, Colorado-based pianist Frank French on Sunday evening, October 31. In his solo concert, French devoted the first half to the works of the New Orleans-born composer, Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829-1869), and the Brazilian composer, Ernest Nazareth (1863-1934), a prolific writer of tangos.
French opened the program with "Souvenir de Porto Rico," a haunting, intense, and dramatic piece by Gottschalk. This was followed by "Pasquinade," published in 1869. These two numbers are among the composer's most memorable.
Among several Nazareth tangos that French played were such titles as "Batuque," "Fon! Fon!" and another piece whose Brazilian title I did not catch, but which translated to "Falling Down Drunk."
French then played one of his own compositions, "Womba Bomba," inspired by a trip to Cuba, but possible also by the above-mentioned composers.
The last number before intermission was "Operatic Fantasy," and arrangement by Gottschalk of "The Miserere" from Il Trovatore. French reminded us that Jelly Roll Morton also created a transformation of "The Miserere" on his extensive Library of Congress recordings of 1938.
At this point Bill Coffman, proprietor of OTMH, announced that "The pharmacy will be open" during intermission for refreshments. Most of the audience gathered outside near the "pharmacy" for coffee, refreshments and socializing.
Opening the second half of the program, French announced that he would be playing some of the music of his contemporaries, opening with "Bon Bon," by Hal Isbitz of Santa Barbara. Hal has shown a fondness for Latin-American music in his compositions, such as this one.
"Memories of a Missouri Confederate" was composed by David Thomas Roberts in 1992. French brought out the tenderness and pathos of this piece, one of Roberts' very best.
Colorado's Jack Rummel wrote "From Lone Jack to Knob Noster," a rollicking piece celebrating a stretch of highway between two communities on the trip from Kansas City to Sedallia, Missouri. French pointed out that this piece is a mixture of several musical styles, including ragtime, blues, country, and gospel.
No Frank French concert would be complete without his own popular rag, "Belle of Louisville," written in 1990, and the composer obliged us by playing it. This exciting romp is much played these days, and is a favorite of your reviewer/editor, who frequently attempts it.
Frank had promised to include Jelly Roll Morton in his program, and accordingly wound up with "The Naked Dance," "The Crave," "Mr. Joe," and a recap of JRM's demonstration of "Tiger Rag's" genesis from quadrilles, waltzes, and what-have-you.
After hearty and lengthy applause, French returned to encore with Joe Lamb's "Ragtime Nightingale." Several bars into the piece he abruptly stopped, got up, saying "I forgot to raise the lid," and adjusted the lid of the Bosendorfer to a higher elevation. When he resumed, he was joined by Bill Coffman on the Mighty Wurlitzer to continue the rag, complete with a bizarre Wurlitzerian bird whistle.
The duo brought the evening to a close with "Heliotrope Bouquet" and "Kismet Rag," Joplin collaborations with Louis Chauvin and Scott Hayden, respectively.
The concert featured top-drawer pianism by an artist of prodigious technique and depth of feeling. His extensive knowledge of music provided enlightening commentary between numbers.