Features and Reviews
Brian Keenan at Old Town Music Hall, 11/12/2000
By Fred Hoeptner
Approximately 50 ragtime fans appeared Sunday, November 12, at the Old Town Music Hall for pianist Brian Keenan's first performance in the Los Angeles area. Keenan, a 1994 graduate in music from the University of Colorado, programmed pieces reflecting a mix of styles within the ragtime genre: folk rags, classic rags in the Joplin tradition, contemporary rags. He also performed pieces that would be categorized as terra verde, a Latin-influenced, syncopated genre incorporating the habanera rhythm. Keenan demonstrated flawless execution and great sensitivity to the composers' intentions with appropriate tempos and dynamics. The concert demonstrated why Keenan rates high among the rising stars of ragtime.
Keenan began with one of his own compositions in folk rag style, "Whitewater" (1995), the literal translation of the name of his home state Minnesota. His next piece, his own composition in habanera rhythm inspired by Joplin's Solace, was "North Star" (1995). He followed with a wonderful folk rag by Missourian Bob Ault, "Flat Creek" (1998). Next were Joplin's "Weeping Willow" (1902), David Thomas Roberts' seldom heard folkie "Forest County" (1979), his own 1996 contemporary rag composition dedicated to his friend and admirer "For Joani Holmes," a ragtime waltz by Coloradan Jack Rummel, "When The Work Is Done I'll Dance" (1994), Arthur Marshall's "Lily Queen" (1907), and Trebor Tichenor's folk styled "Deep In The Ozarks" (1992). Intermission followed.
Keenan began his second set with the late Tom Shea's folk rag "Prairie Queen" (1965). He then played the David Thomas Roberts terra verde composition "The Child" (1974) explaining that, with his new CD River Bluffs on Viridiana label, he had realized his goal to be the first to record it. He followed with Joplin's masterpiece "Magnetic Rag" (1914), his own composition "Mississippi River Boulevard." which was recorded by David Thomas Roberts, his own newest folkie "Big Creek," and the title piece from his newest CD, "River Bluffs," a habañera. He next offered my favorite of his compositions, a folk rag that evokes the click-clack of the wheels on the rails, "Milwaukee Road" (1955), which received enthusiastic audience approval. He followed with an elegy for a relative who died in the Vietnam War, "Carter," and Trebor Tichenor's "Mississippi Valley Frolic." The concert concluded with the obligatory duets with OTMH proprietor Bill Coffman on the organ, Joplin's "Swipesy Cakewalk," "Maple Leaf Rag," and "Pineapple Rag."
Keenan's concert was well balanced among the component styles of ragtime and terra verde unlike his last two CDs where terra verde seems to predominate. It seemed to me that Keenan's rags received a more enthusiastic response from the audience than did his terra verde pieces. As one attendee put it, while he appreciates the terra verde pieces as musical works, for him they don't generate the gut level appeal of ragtime. Keenan reported that his next CD, featuring folk rags, would be a response to those who have asked why he doesn't record more ragtime.