Sue Keller at Old Town Music Hall

By Bill Mitchell

On Sunday evening, Nov. 7 2002, Sue Keller made her first appearance at the Old Town Music Hall in El Segundo. A nationally known performer and recording artist, she presented a one-woman show that displayed her multi-faceted talents. A very outgoing, energetic personality, she kept up a line of rapid-fire patter between numbers, commenting on the pieces she was playing and injecting many off-the-cuff quips.

She led off with a peppy rendition of the 1912 hit, "Waiting for the Robert E. Lee," and followed up with a couple of great Joplin compositions, "Pineapple Rag" and "Solace." She commented that her version of "Pineapple" borrowed an idea or two from Bob Milne's version, with some boogie and blues touches. She noted that the lovely "Solace" does not qualify as a rag, according to Jasen and Tichenor, and is hence omitted from their book, Rags and Ragtime. Ms. Keller sang the lyrics composed for this "Mexican serenade" in 1975 by Tony Isaacs. (sp?)

W.C. Handy's "Memphis Blues" (originally called "Mr. Crump" after a reform mayor in Memphis) was the first of the evening's blues songs. Next came "Cow Cow Boogie", made popular 60 years ago by Ella Mae Morse. Hoagy Carmichael's "Georgia on My Mind" was given the pensive treatment it calls for.

Possibly the most famous of the novelty piano pieces was "Nola," by Felix Arndt. It was named for his lady-love, whose full first name was "Magnolia." It is always pleasant to hear it.

Ms. Keller then performed her only original number of the evening, dedicated to her mother, who especially loved Christmas time. She called it "Cleanin' Up Christmas." Bringing the first act to a close was "Hard Hearted Hannah," which has some very amusing lyrics about a really mean "vamp of Savanna."

After intermission Ms. Keller opened with "Dallas Blues," one of the great ones. Then by way of contrast she accompanied herself on a soft and tender Gershwin ballad, "Someone to Watch over Me."She commented on the loss a few days before of one of the elder statesmen of ragtime, "Ragtime Bob" Darch, and played one of his specialties, "Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives to Me," followed by a Darch original, "Yackatat Piano Man," which tells of a pianist in Yackatat, Alaska. It involved some audience participation in repeating the title periodically.

"The Last of the Ragtime Pioneers" was played slowly with great expressiveness. This composition is by Galen Wilkes, and Ms. Keller remarked that the composer was in the audience. It honors such figures as Eubie Blake and Abe Olman, who had recently passed when the piece was written. Continuing with another modern rag, Ms. Keller rendered Frank French's "Belle of Louisville" with great vigor, adding occasional touches of her own. Concluding this trio of modern rags was John Jensen's "Sugar Plum Strut" of 1994, based on Tchaikovsky's "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy."

She concluded her program with a couple of oldies: "Lion Tamer Rag" and "St. Louis Blues," but a highly appreciative audience kept calling her back four times for the following encores: "Route 66," Patsy Cline's "Crazy," "Sugar Blues," and "Snowy Morning Blues."

John T. Carney's Original Rags for Download

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