Features and Reviews
Magnetic Ragtime Orchestra at Old Town Music Hall, 5/7/2000
By Ron Ross
This excellent aggregation of musicians has been together, in one form or another, since the early '80s when Galen Wilkes formed the Palm Leaf Ragtime orchestra. Dean Mora introduced the individual numbers and played piano. Nancy Bremner is the group's leader since its beginnings in the early '90s.
To begin the evening, Bill Coffman complained that Dean was a minute late, and asked if anyone wanted a refund. There were no takers of this generous offer, so the music began. First up was Charles Johnson's classic "Dill Pickles" from 1906, followed by a very obscure item written by Mark Williams in 1905, entitled "Pig Ankles: A Grotesque Rag." Then the familiar "Chatterabox Rag" from 1910, by George Botsford.
Next came Scott Joplin's "Weeping Willow," orchestrated by Robin Frost, as commissioned by Bill Coffman. I noticed an exceptionally clever passage in this arrangement where the flute and clarinet interacted quite beautifully.
Jodi Gladstone then sang the first of her five songs, "Home in Pasadena," orchestrated by Gerry Kuhn, the group's trombone player. This was followed by "Creole Belles," (J. Bodewalt Lampe) and "Dusty Rag," by Mae Aufderheide (arr. by Ribe Danmark).
Next came and E. J. Stark arrangement of Joplin's "Elite Syncopations" (1909), then Jodi favored us with "After You've Gone" (Creamer & Turner - 1918).
Dean Mora surprised the audience with a tune from 1914 that he had recently discovered -- "The Bayside Fox Trot" written by Jesse Wynn for an all-women's orchestra to play for the Bayside Yacht Club in Maine -- a delightfully bouncy little number.
Personnel: Dean Mora, piano; Nancy Bremner, violin/leader; Bill Masonheimer, tuba; Robin Neenan, cello; Brian Tajiri, percussion; Jim La Sota, flute/piccolo; Jim Lathers, clarinet; Gerry Kuhn, trombone; Andrew Surmani, cornet; and Jody Gladstone, cornet/vocals.
Next, we heard Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag" (1899) followed by a little known tango called "Delicioso" written by Will Dixon in 1914. Mora told us that Boston and other cities actually banned the tango during part of the ragtime era, as being lascivious and immoral. Next, we heart "Everybody Rag with Me" (1914), music by Grace LeBoy (lyrics, not sung here, were by her husband, Gus Kahn).
In the second half, we heard Lucien Denny's "Red Devil Rag" (1910), Joplin and Hayden's "Sunflower Slow Drag" (1901), Charles Young's "Rhinoceros Rag" (1912) and Jodi Gladstone's vocal rendition of the almost-risqué "Billy" (Kendis and Paley, 1911).
The orchestra whipped up an especially lively version of Edward Claypool's "Ragging the Scale" (1915). This was followed by Jelly Roll Morton's "Jelly Roll Blues" (1915). Ted Snyder's "Wild Cherries Rag" (1908), and "California, Here I Come," the Al Jolson, Buddy De Sylva, Joseph Meyer collaboration of 1924 (orch. arrangement by Gerry Kuhn).
The nostalgic "Old-Timers Waltz" from 1917 had us all trying to guess the several different turn-of-the-century waltzes included in this medley -- "The Bowery," "The Sidewalks of New York," "Sweet Rosie O'Grady," "Daisy Bell (Bicycle Built for two)," "Comrades," "Little Annie Laurie," "The Band Played On," and "After the Ball.) Jodi sang George Cobb's 1915 classic, "Alabama Jubilee" as her final number; the orchestra played a spirited march, "They're Off," by Charles Steinhauser (1893), and finally, as the coup de grace, the piece de resistance, and always worth the price of admission, Bill Coffman joined the orchestra on the giant Wurlitzer for the Joplin and Marshall rouser, "Swipesy Cakewalk" with all the bells and whistles (not to mention xylophones, upright pianos, cymbals, klaxon, bird calls and the Chinese gong). The encore was a terrific version of Joseph Lamb's "Bohemia" (1919) sending an enthusiastic, good-sized audience home happy.
As for my overall impressions, I would have liked to hear more from the piano, which seems to get drowned out by the other instruments. I especially enjoyed the work of the woodwinds; but all played exceedingly well and I can heartily recommend the Magnetic Ragtime Orchestra.