Rose Leaf Ragtime Club October Meeting (10/29/2000)
Aside from the steady and sometimes heavy downpour of rain that visited the foothills of the San Gabriel mountains, the final Sunday of October 2000 brought some unexpected delights to the monthly meeting of the Rose Leaf Ragtime Club. We heard from some new players, enjoyed several impromptu duets and even had a reporter from the Los Angeles Times visit with and interview several players and guests. A subsequent article about the meeting and performances appeared in the San Gabriel Valley section of The Times the following week, as well as on the L.A. Times Internet web site.
After our organizational meeting (the details of which are reported below by Ron Ross), Gary Rametta kick-started the music with "X.L. Rag," a 1903-4 folk rag gem penned by J. Edgar Settle of Sedalia, MO. Gary then invited Bill Mitchell to join him in a couple of duets, first, "Blame it on the Blues" by Charles Cooke, then Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag." The Cooke number is a wonderful piece, lots of fun to play and definitely worthy of some more study. We'll bring it back again with an even better rendition, I pledge!
Bill then took over the keys with "Boomerang Rag," from 1916, the last rag written by the talented George Botsford, composer of the ever-popular "Black and White Rag." Bill's next tune was "Cotton Time," written by Charles Daniels, who also arranged and published Joplin's first rag ("Original Rags"). Bill pointed out that Daniels had a body of work that extended beyond ragtime into the popular song genre.
Yuko Shimazaki came up and surprised us by departing from her exploration of Argentinean Tangos to perform some rags for us. Being a classically schooled pianist, Yuko naturally gravitated toward two of the most challenging works in the entire repertoire. To start with, she laid down the gauntlet with Joplin's "Magnetic Rag," the composer's final and most autobiographical work. It's also his toughest to interpret, as it departs from the traditional ragtime formula with its sonata-like form and constantly changing moods. Next she gave us Luckey Robert's exceedingly difficult "Pork and Beans," which features leaping stride figures in the left hand and a mix of playful runs and full chords in the right. Yuko's playing was outstanding.
Next was Annette Given, making the trip from Bakersfield once again to play for us. Her first piece was a modern rag by Thomas P. Quinn: "Cardiac Rag," filled with syncopation and boasting an extroverted tone. Well done!
Annette's second solo was "Old Virginia Rag," a piano rag I hadn't heard prior to her performance. I didn't get the year it was written, but the author's last name was Douglas. Annette's playing on this was terrific as well. She's come on very quickly and we're more than happy to have her play for us.
We then heard from Bill Coleman, who until now has been sitting back enjoying the music along with the rest of the guests. Bill gave us enjoyable renditions of ragtime and cakewalk, starting with Joplin's "The Entertainer" from 1901 and "At a Georgia Camp Meeting" from 1899.
Eric Marchese stopped by and played a couple of tunes for us. First was a Tin-Pan Alley piece called "The Kangaroo Hop," composed in 1915 by Melville Morris. Eric did a fine job on this one, as he did on his second solo, an original rag entitled "Zephyrs of Spring" which follows the classic rag format. He noted that he first began working on Zephyrs about a year ago, laid it on the shelf, then picked it back up earlier this year and finished it off. Eric's now written what has to be well over 36 original ragtime compositions dating back to the 1980's. Quite a portfolio!
Joining us for the first time was Phil Cannon, a musician from Garden Grove, who's married his love of classic ragtime to his unique instrument: the guitar-banjo, which looks like a banjo but has six strings. The sound it emits is earthy and down-home, kind of like what you'd imagine hearing on the bayou or the Mississippi Delta around the turn of the 20th century. At any rate, a welcome instrument from which to hear ragtime played. Phil fingerpicked two Joplin classics; first the evocative "Gladiolus Rag," then the lovely "Bethena" concert waltz. Next time, we promise to work out the microphoning a little better, but that notwithstanding, the audience was genuinely appreciative and pleased with Phil's efforts!
Fred Hoeptner came up to perform a couple of bread-and-butter ragtime pieces, starting with James Scott's marvelous "Victory Rag" from around 1915-18, then concluding with Henry Lodge's popular "Red Pepper" from 1910. We can always count on Fred to play some of James Scott's inimitable rags and for that, we say "Thanks." For, if Joplin is the King of Ragtime (which he most certainly is), then James Scott is easily the Crown Prince. His pieces are among the most virtuoso-like and satisfying in the repertoire.
As we moved toward the half-time break, ten-year-old Ruby Fradkin was eager to perform next, which she did amazingly well as usual. Her set included a syncopated "Alouette," two staples of classic ragtime, "Swipsey" and "Cascades" and Leadbelly's "Pick a Bale of Cotton," a crowd-pleaser she recently added to her playlist. In the aforementioned L.A. Times article, one of the guests was quoted as saying about Ruby, "If she's this good when she's 10, just imagine how good she's going to be at 20." I wholeheartedly agree!
As the break drew to a close, Gary returned to the keys to play William Bolcom's 1971 ragtime masterpiece "Graceful Ghost."
Ron Ross, in red and white-striped vest, opened up the second half of the musicale with three of his own compositions. First, the recently-written "Sunday Serendipity Rag," (performed no doubt by request. Thanks, Ron!), then with two of his exquisite habanera works, "Sweet is the Sound," which he just finished notating, and perhaps the loveliest of all, "Mirella." Gary opined that Ron's latin-tinged works are as musically satisfying, if not more so, as any of the Terra Verde pieces that have been recently recognized as the logical evolution of American ragtime music. I'm sure there are others who would agree.
The unexpected surprise of the afternoon was an impromptu combo featuring Bill Mitchell on piano, Phil Cannon on guitar-banjo, and Don Rose on cornet. Though they never played together before, the three provided some great entertainment with two extended numbers, first the New Orleans favorite "Sheik of Araby," then Jelly Roll Morton's "I Thought I Heard Buddy Bolden Say." Both numbers featured some great soloing, improvising and stretching out by all three musicians. Bravo, bravo, bravo!
Lee Roan then came up to play a couple of piano duets with Mr. Mitchell. First was the 1916 Spencer Williams hit "I Ain't Got Nobody (Much)," then Hello My Baby," and Henry Marshall's 1912 "Be My Little Bumblebee." Kudos to Lee for always coming to the meetings with fun and memorable tunes, and to Bill for his top-notch musicianship.
Tom Handforth came up and joked that, since he found an absence of Halloween tunes in the ragtime oeuvre, he decided to dedicate his solo performance to Veteran's Day. This he did with a bevy of patriotic tunes, all performed by memory. Fantastic! The medley of World War 1 and pre-War tunes began with "Over Here, Over There," moved to "Roses of Picardy," then segued to "Smiles," "K-K-Katy" and "Rose of No Man's Land," then to "Hinky Dinky Parlez-Vous," "Pack Up Your Troubles," "It's a Long Way to Tipperary," and "The Stars and Stripes," finally wrapping up with "Over Here, Over There." Simply put, Tom's an inspiration and we're fortunate to have him play for us!
Annette came back for a return engagement, soloing on "Boone County Rag," a Galen Wilkes-written ode to the pioneering Missouri pianist and folk-rag chronicler John "Blind" Boone. Annette plays more Wilkes pieces than anyone I've heard, and she does an excellent job on them.
Ruby took us to the home stretch with another set that included some patriotic tunes, including "You're a Grand Old Flag" and "I'm a Yankee-Doodle Dandy." She also played "You Are My Sunshine" and another Leadbelly tune, "Ha-Ha This-a-Way."
Yuko put a bookend on three-plus hours of great music with a beautiful rendition of our theme number, Scott Joplin's "Rose Leaf Rag." With that, the gavel fell on another memorable meeting. If you weren't able to join us and share in the excitement, mark your calendar for the last Sunday in November the 26th at 2:30 PM. We're looking forward to seeing you there.
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