Features and Reviews
Mimi Blais at Old Town Music Hall, 2/14/2002
By Gary Rametta
In what's becoming the perfect Valentine's date, the Old Town Music Hall presented another outstanding concert on February 14 by Mimi Blais. This marked the third straight year the Canadian pianist and entertainer extraordinaire made a Valentine's Day appearance in El Segundo.
Wearing a black lace skirt with matching long-sleeve blouse and a black bonnet accentuated by a burgundy rose, Mlle. Blais greeted the 100 or so guests with her trademark wittiness. To the cheers of "Belle Pianiste!" and other accolades, Mimi immediately went to work on a rhapsodic, multi-tempo waltz by countryman Jean-Baptiste LaFreniere, who composed during and after the ragtime era. She followed up with a long, sullen, probing blues piece called "Sunday Morning Blues."
Her set continued with more of her favorites, including LaFreniere's effervescent "Taxi Rag," a masterful rendition of May Aufderheide's "The Thriller," a heart-wrenching performance of Lamb's "Ragtime Nightingale," Bowman's "11th Street Rag," Eubie Blake's "Memories of You," a deconstruction of Luckey Roberts' "Pork and Beans," Frank French's "Belle of Louisville" and Galen Wilkes "Last of the Ragtime Pioneers."
For the second half of the show, Mimi came out in a top hat and tuxedo tails. She opened with a stunning performance of Louis Moreau Gottschalk's "Le Bananier" (The Banana Tree). Next was Joplin's "Crush Collision March," followed by a medley of Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag," "Solace," "Bethena" and "The Entertainer."
Moving into the novelty rag genre, she played a terrifically fast and exact "Kitten on the Keys," and gave Eubie's "Baltimore Todalo" a workout. Next was Kathy Craig's 1976 "Romantic Rag," followed by a trio of new Galen Wilkes rags (a western-style rag, a ballad and a tango) and a rare gem called "The Cutter," written by a woman named Elma Ney McClure during ragtime's heyday.
Mimi closed her set with two versions of Botsford's "Black and White Rag." The first was in her usual style, complete with blazing embellishments, while the second was the way she plays when accompanying a silent film. It was fun, original and superbly played. It's always a treat to see and hear Mimi Blais perform. Take my word, if you love ragtime or simply want to hear a great pianist play, go way out of your way to see her.
More Mimi Blais at OTMH Reviews: