Features and Reviews
John Gill in Concert at Old Town Music Hall, 7/13/03
By Bill Mitchell
Australian John Gill regaled a fair-sized and highly enthusiastic audience with a program of pianistic pyrotechnics that began with classic ragtime and moved on through stride, novelty, and Latin.
Mr. Gill led off with a decidedly brisk rendition of Joplin's "Elite Syncopations," with slight alterations as he saw fit. He followed up with another early Joplin composition, "Weeping Willow," at a suitably slower tempo, although still faster than it is usually performed. Abe Holzmann's wonderful cakewalk of 1899, "Smokey Mokes," was given a flashy workout. "Heliotrope Bouquet," the Joplin-Chauvin collaboration, came in an elaborate arrangement.
It was now waltz time. Mr. Gill announced "Valse Miroir" by a composer named Jean-Baptiste Lafreniere. A second waltz was Joplin's "Bethena," which was played dramatically, with superb dynamics.
James Scott's masterpiece, "Grace and Beauty" was done as fast stride. Then came an Ernesto Nazareth number with a Spanish title translating as "The Tramp." It was a playful excursion in tango rhythm.
A couple of Jelly Roll Morton pieces were featured next. "Sidewalk Blues" is rarely heard as a piano solo, but it worked well in a peppy Gill arrangement. "Perfect Rag" is one of the dazzlers that Morton liked to trot out to impress his audiences with his virtuosity. It still serves the purpose!
Fats Waller's stride piece, "Valentine Stomp," and Joplin's "The Ragtime Dance" brought the first half of the program to a close. The latter was performed in its seldom-heard full version.
Joplin's "The Entertainer" opened the second half of the program. Mr. Gill's arrangement was creative and unusual. The last theme was played in a minor key and repeated in the major, a rather dramatic device.
Then came a revamping of a classical number, "A Maiden's Prayer," in ragtime, followed by another Waller piece, "Alligator Crawl." Up next was a familiar novelty number of the 1920s, "Doll Dance," by Nacio Herb Brown.
Billy Mayerl, the British novelty pianist, was represented by a piece from 1927 titled "Marigold." It came off as something Zez Confrey might have written. I simply did not catch what the next number was called, but it was a sassy Latin number that brought to mind Carmen Miranda. (Unfortunately I had difficulty hearing some of the titles and comments, because Mr. Gill did not use the microphone, and his "down under" accent compounded the problem).
The program was brought to a close with show-stopping versions of "St. Louis Blues," "12th Street Rag," and "Maple Leaf Rag." The technique and dynamics of John Gill were of Lisztian proportions as he made the Bosendorfer thunder and whisper.