Rose Leaf Ragtime Club August Meeting (8/27/2000)
With summer drawing to a close, it was an unexpected joy to encounter mild, comfortable climes in the banquet room of the Pasadena IHOP. For once, not having a bona fide air conditioner to cool things up a bit in the back room proved to be no problem to the guests or performers.
The August, 2000 meeting marked the 5th Anniversary of our organization. It also marked the anniversary of founder P.J. Schmidt's last meeting with us prior to his passing in September of 1999. For many of the performers, the meeting afforded the opportunity to play some of P.J.'s favorite rags, as well as reminisce about the many wonderful ways he touched our lives.
Gary Rametta kicked off the musicale with "Tickled to Death," an upbeat folk rag from the turn of the century by Tennessee native Charles Hunter. Gary recalled that P.J. was particularly fond of this piece not only as a warm-up number, but also for its bouncy syncopation. Gary followed up with Scott Joplin's "Weeping Willow," a wistful masterpiece of the Classic Rag genre that P.J favored.
Club veteran Nancy Kleier was next at the old Gulbransen upright. Nancy shared some personal recollections of P.J. and played some more of his favorite rags. First was Charles Hunter's "Cotton Bolls," another of the composer's fine rags, full of pleasing melodies and positive rhythms that draw from march music. Nancy continued with Joplin's splendid "Rose Leaf Rag," our club's theme number that P.J. used to open or close each meeting with. Nancy did a great job on this difficult piece, though all of us who heard P.J. play it will always remember his singular interpretation of it.
Nancy introduced the final piece of her set, saying it represented "hope for all of us who love ragtime"—a terrific rendition of Ben Harney's "Cakewalk in the Sky."
Gary returned to the keys to play a quintessential Joplin piece, "Gladiolus Rag." He then recognized another club veteran, Fred Hoeptner, Grand Prize winner of the ragtime composition award at this year's Scott Joplin Festival in Sedalia, and invited him to perform. Before Fred began, club member Chuck Carpenter amusingly queried him about the origin of his winning piece, "Dalliance, a Ragtime Frolic." Who, when and where? Chuck joked. Fred replied that it was a long time ago.
Fred played two numbers, first "Red Pepper, a Spicy Rag" by Henry Lodge. Fred's touch was really wonderful on this piece. Next, he played James Scott's timeless "Efficiency Rag," which features bravura octave runs and tough upper-register work. Fred's performance of this piece was outstanding, and it was great to hear his chops.
Following Fred was second-time player Annette Given, who drove all the way from Bakersfield to entertain us. Wow! Annette gave us a taste of Indiana ragtime with May Aufderhide's all-too-seldom heard "A Totally Different Rag." Annette's performance of this gem was quiet, sensitive and technically marvelous. The guests genuinely appreciated it and, I'm certain, definitely would like Annette to keep coming back with more.
Multi-talented Les Soper, another relative newcomer, came up to fill the room with some more excellent piano music. Les is a heckuva pianist, with a great repertoire and a full arsenal of technique. No better way to display it than with the rarely played "Triangle Jazz Blues" by World War I era New Orleans pianist, composer, club owner and music publisher Irwin P. LeClere. Les explained that the piece, while sounding a lot like jazz, relies on a ragtime structure, although each of the three sections are longer than those typically found in the Classic Rag format.
Les' next piece was a contemporary rag "Sosua" by the versatile Glenn Jenks from Maine. Les confided that he's worked for about five years on this long, meditative and lovely number after first hearing it performed by Glenn on a Caribbean cruise. The work's clearly paid off. Les closed his set with another modern rag, "Lone Jack to Knob Noster," a 1993 composition by Colorado dentist Jack Rummel, founder of the increasingly popular Rocky Mountain Ragtime Festival. Subtitled "The Rolling Road to Ragtime," this piece is a musical chronology of Jack's drive through small towns on his way to Sedalia for the Joplin festival.
Following Les was our club's gifted protégé, Ruby Fradkin. Ruby was recently featured on a television news show as a "local hero" and in the Los Angeles Daily News for playing ragtime to senior citizens in San Fernando Valley retirement homes. Though just 9 years old, Ruby's a serious talent and she plays with confidence. She jumped right in to her set with a ragged version of "Alouette," then continued with a fully-fleshed "Swipsey" by Arthur Marshall. Next, she got our toes a-tappin with "Zippity Doo-Dah." Ruby closed her set with a new addition to her bag, "Pick a Bale of Cotton" by Leadbelly. Rah, rah Ruby!
Before closing the first half of the meeting, Ron Ross informed us that club member Bill Mintz had been admitted into the hospital and was recuperating. We all wish our valued friend Bill a speedy recovery and hope to see him soon.
Prior to sitting down at the keys, Ron reflected on his relationship with P.J., recalling P.J.'s inspiration and encouragement, which helped Ron continue developing his talent for ragtime composition. Ron then played two of his finest compositions. First was "Sweet is the Sound," a brilliantly written habañera. His performance was evocative and graceful. Ron finished his abbreviated set with "Digital Rag" (digital because he plays it with his fingers or "digits"). Digital Rag has a catchy, show tune-like feel that's great fun. It's perhaps his most involved and complicated work to date.
The intermission gave us a chance to celebrate the memory of P.J. Schmidt and the anniversary of our organization. First, the club sang Ron Ross' tribute to P.J. and to our club, "The Rose Leaf Way." Afterward, two large sheet cakes were brought out for all to enjoy.
Les Soper kicked off the second half of the show by sitting at his high-tech washboard and accompanying a couple of pre-recorded tunes. The first of these was "Roger's Favorite Toy," a Robin Frost piece off John Roache's "Hot Kumkwats..." CD. Next was "Chestnut Street in the ?x2018;90s," a Brun Campbell folk rag performed by Trebor Ticheneor's St. Louis Ragtimers. Les' washboard playing is certainly enthusiastic and he leaves no implement unsounded.
Gary came back with another Joplin offering, "Peacherine Rag," an early ragtime classic that shows the composer at his best, with playful melodies, danceable rhythms, progressive development of the four themes and a great overall conception.
Next up was Tom Ross, an excellent and experienced jazz pianist. Tom began with an improvised boogie and blues piece based on the I-IV-V harmonic progression that he wanted to illustrate to Annette. He next gave Fats Wallers' "Honeysuckle Rose" a unique treatment, followed by a bridge of "Glory Hallelujah," which segued to the 1920 Conrad/Robinson standard "Margie." Nicely done.
One Tom followed another. Next up was octogenarian Tom Hanforth, a lifelong keyboardist with a gentlemanly manner, limber fingers, a wry sense of humor and razor-sharp acuity. Tom recalled his days playing circus music, and expressed an adage he learned in years past that still applies: When in doubt, play a march! Tom did a magnificent job on two John Philip Sousa marches, "Washington Post," written in 1889 especially for the newspaper, and "El Capitan," an 1896 march taken from the 1895 operetta of the same name.
Fred Hoeptner returned to play Spencer Williams' "Georgia Grind." He was followed by Ruby Fradkin, who's 2nd set started out with the A and B sections of Joplin's "Cascades" rag. She performed them great and we look forward to her mastering the rest of the piece. Ruby continued with "Smile" and "Tom Dooley," then finished up with "Babyface."
Nancy Kleier took over the piano once again and brought us to the homestretch with some more P.J. favorites. P.J. was especially partial to Joseph Lamb's rags, so Nancy played "Patricia Rag" for us and dedicated it to P.J. She then moved to a waltz by Harry P. Guy that P.J. truly loved—one that he once requested she play twice in one club meeting—"Echoes from the Snowball Club." This piece featured Nancy's best playing of the afternoon. Nancy finished her 2nd set with another memorial to P.J., this time with his composition "French Vanilla."
Gary noted that "French Vanilla," while clearly a rag, reflected P.J.'s classical piano training—P.J. studied the classics at the American Music Conservatory in Chicago. Among his favorites were Mendelssohn, Schubert and Chopin. In the last few months he was with us, P.J. had established a meaningful rapport with another classically trained pianist in the club, Yuko Shimazaki.
Yuko came up and explained that she and P.J. shared a mutual affection for Chopin's works. P.J. in fact had invited Yuko to play some Chopin for the club, but unfortunately never got to hear her do so. Yuko dedicated her performance of Chopin's tender and moving "L'Adieu" waltz (Number 9, Op. 69 No.1) in memory of P.J.
Gary adjourned the meeting with thanks to all the guests and performers, and to P.J. for bringing us together as a group.
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