Something Doing

Ragtime Happenings in the Southland



Rose Leaf Ragtime Club November Meeting (11/26/2000)

Reported by Gary Rametta

Hello once again!

If you happened to miss our November meeting, you missed a dandy. Possibly the most well-attended Rose Leaf Ragtime Club meeting in its 5-plus year history. No one asked for a recount, though one was probably due, as estimates and hand counts ranged from the low 70s to around 80 people or more. Some guests were not counted, though they actually attended…the banquet room was filled to overflowing, meaning that a handful or more visitors had to sit outside the room and wait for others to depart. Thankfully, the air conditioning provided a modest measure of relief for the jam-packed crowd. Okay, enough with the post-election humor. I guess I took it as far as I could…Sorry if anyone was offended.

The swell of new guests came no doubt as a result of Ryan Carter's front-page article in the San Gabriel Valley section of the Los Angeles Times. That article appeared the Thursday following our October meeting. Ryan did a great job capturing the spirit and goings-on of that afternoon's activities in his report. Pictured prominently along with the report were Ruby Fradkin, our 10-year old Wunderkind, and Phil Cannon, a recent devotee who picks classic rags with his guitar-banjo.

Gary Rametta opened up the afternoon's show at 2:30 sharp, starting out with Charles Hunter's "Tickled to Death," a fun and bouncy Tennessee folk rag that develops its ragtime feel within a variation of the march form. Gary's next piece was a new one; Joseph Lamb's posthumously-published "Firefly Rag." This is a lovely, lush piece with a nocturnal ambience. To close his set, Gary then performed Scott Joplin's "Gladiolus Rag," one of the jewels of classic ragtime.

Messrs. George McClellan and Lee Roan immediately spiced things up with duet versions of three popular tunes from the early 20th century. First was "Smiles," written in 1917 by Lee Roberts. Next was "The Little Red Barn," a 1934 composition by Joe Young. Last was "Louisville Lou" a Milton Hager tune from 1923. The gents are always enjoyable to hear, and their sheet music collection must be encyclopedic.

Ron Ross came up and made a brief announcement about the musical "Jelly Roll," which will be performed in Santa Barbara in early January. After some inquiries, he was able to secure a group discount price of $27.50 per ticket (regular price is $32.50) for 11th row seats. It looks like a number of us from the club will be attending. The show is an original production authored by Vernel Bagneris and featuring the fabulous pianistic talents of Norway's Morten Gunnar Larsen. In the show, Bagneris recreates the life of the legendary Jelly Roll Morton, drawing largely from Jelly's 1938 Library of Congress interviews with the American folklorist and author Alan Lomax. Larsen pumps out many of Jelly Roll's greatest compositions in authentic "Jelly Roll" style. The show first appeared off-Broadway several years ago and later toured the country. I may be guilty of understatement by saying it's a real treat and you won't want to miss it! If you're interested, please contact Ron Ross at 818-766-2384 to see if it's not too late to get in on the fun.

After his announcement, Ron played three of his original compositions. First was "Something Old, Something New," a rag he characterized as "recently rewritten." Following up, he played one of his newer pieces, "Sunday Serendipity Rag," which has a variety of textures. It was well-received. Ron closed his first set with his lovely habañera "Mirella," a piece full of passion, but at the same time calm and dreamy.

Next, Nancy Kleier made her way through the traffic jam of tables and chairs to delight the listeners with a sampling of rags wrapped around a theme. This time, the theme was Little Raggedy Alfred and Agnes playing a parlor game after Turkey dinner, called "Name That Tune." The first was a number of which Alfred said, "That sounds like a new rag of Scott Joplin's." He was right: It was "Scott Joplin's New Rag." Next was club member Eric Marchese's "Just Another Rag" a composition that provides more listening enjoyment than its modest title suggests. As did Glenn Jenks' "Wrong Rag," a rag that may be technically "wrong" as far as ragtime goes, with its unexpected syncopation, odd resolutions and sort of ragtime-in-reverse feel. Great fun, and a great job once again by Nancy K.

Following Nancy was our fearless prodigy Ruby Fradkin. She seemed to have sprouted an inch or two in the last month, and her playing was bouncy and energetic. Ruby started her set with a gleeful rendition of a Leadbelly folk tune, "Ha-Ha This-a Way." Next, she started flexing her chops with Sousa's "Stars & Stripes." This was her first performance of that time-honored march, and she's got all the basics down pat. It's going to be loads of fun witnessing her progression with that one. The crowd was unanimously pleased, and Ruby jumped right in to "Babyface." She closed her first set with an arrangement of "Alouette," played with her special brand of determination and style.

Gary then introduced Phil Cannon from Garden Grove, back for his second appearance with us. Phil provided a nice change of pace from the piano with his guitar-banjo. We miked him and away he went, performing three Scott Joplin masterpieces. First, "Fig Leaf," then "Easy Winners," and "Solace." All three are tricky enough to play on piano…I imagine they're even tougher to navigate and finger on a string instrument. However, Phil's renditions were soulful and sound, and presented the great composer's work in a new light. Classy, but with a true down-home feel. Kudos to Phil!

Yuko Shimazaki put the wraps on the first half of the musicale with two pieces, first, the evocative and lovely Argentinean tango, "Velada Criolla," by G.H. Matos Rodriguez. Written around 1900, this piece (Veiled Creole Woman) seems to conjure up the memories of a lifetime. Yuko played it with grace and restraint. Her next number was Scott Joplin's "Reflection Rag," an apt piece considering her opening selection. Published after the composer's death but believed written nearly ten years prior, around 1908, "Reflection Rag" is atypical for a Joplin rag in that it has five instead of four sections, and the first section doesn't reprise. Seemingly influenced from European classical sources, it has sections reminiscent of Chopin, Bach and Mozart, leading to an uplifting coda that's pure Joplin ragtime. Yuko's performance displayed her understanding of the piece, full of emotional depth and technical expertise.

By request, Gary opened the second half of the meeting with Scott Joplin's "Peacherine Rag," one of his early ragtime masterpieces. Next, Gary performed Arthur Marshall's "Kinklets," a fine Missouri-flavored rag that publisher John Stark named after first hearing Marshall play it. "That one's got a lot of kinks in it," Stark is said to have commented.

Making the long trip up from San Diego was Bob Pinsker-Dr. Bob Pinsker, a physicist, concert violinist, pianist, and avid collector and researcher of early ragtime and jazz. Bob commented that Gary's playing of "Peacherine" departed from the written score in that the eighth notes were "swung" instead of played straight. Taking that as his theme, Bob gave us a fascinating dissertation on when "swing" first appeared. He opined that it was in the early teens of the 20th century, with the advent of the "animal" dances-most likely with the Fox Trot. Who it was that invented the Fox Trot is a claim to be disputed, but Bob gave us a couple of possibilities, first the team of Vern and Irene Castle, then composer and bandleader James Reese Europe. Bob segued from this discussion into his first selection, a southern rag published in 1912 by W.C. Handy-the famous "Memphis Blues." In addition to the tune's bluesy and folksy rag identity, it gives us more than a glimpse into the swing sound that was to become popular.

Bob's next choice was a fantastic rendition of "Carolina Fox Trot," published in 1914 by William Vodery. Bob commented that Vodery was the noted conductor for the 1946 musical "Ziegfeld Follies." For his final number, Bob played us a rarely heard James Scott tune: "Dixie Dimples" from 1919. As always, Bob's performance was well received and much appreciated!

Next, we heard from pianist Bob Ross, a talented gentleman who refers to himself as a "bar-room pianist." In this, his second appearance at the club, Bob picked up on Mr. Pinsker's W.C. Handy lead by recalling a radio show which featured Handy's famous "St. Louis Blues" for 24 hours straight -and it was never played the same way twice. Surely, the piece is well suited to improvisation, as well as orchestration and re-arrangement. Bob gave us a wonderfully played version of his own, ranging from ragtime to literal blues, to boogie style and jazz. Next, he performed "Bob's Rag," a self-composed effort that further showcased his abilities and compositional interests. Nicely done!

With time winding down, Nancy Kleier came up to do a second set. First, she played a tune by request: David Thomas Roberts' charming "Waterloo Girls," written in 1980. She introduced her next tune by telling us that she had planned to do a political theme in light of the recent presidential election. She said it looked like the presidency was going to take a "Texas Steer," so she performed George Botsford's rag of the same name. As usual, her presentation was lots of fun and well played.

Ron Ross then came back to the keys-this time he braved the old green player piano-to perform two more of his works. First was "Digital Rag," a positive and modern-sounding number that Ron dedicated to a friend and his "wonderful old upright piano." Next was Ron's romantic and pretty habañera; "Sweet is the Sound."

Bob Pinsker returned to the Gulbransen to play a request: one of Artie Matthews "Pastime" rags. Bob chose Number Three, which starts with a couple of three-measure trills in the right hand as the left hand states the intro. It features a strong tango flavor throughout, but mixes it with a healthy amount of foot-stomping ragtime for maximum effect. Bob gave it a good workout. After, he closed with an Arthur Marshall classic "Little Jack's Rag," published in Terry Waldo's book "This is Ragtime." Marshall's daughter gave the manuscript of that piece to Mr. Waldo in the early 1970's.

Our November meeting closed with a trio performance by Ruby Fradkin on piano, Phil Cannon on guitar-banjo and newcomer Chuck Rimmer on tuba. They played "Turkey in the Straw" and "Tom Dooley," much to the crowd's overwhelming delight. It was a great way to finish off another successful Rose Leaf Club meeting. If you couldn't make it, please try to join us soon. And get there early-seating may be limited!

Finally, a couple of notes. First, we WILL meet the last Sunday in December-New Year's Eve, December 31st, 2:30 PM - 5:00 PM, rather than 2:30 - 5:30. Second, as attendance has clearly increased at our monthly meetings, we respectfully request that, out of deference to the players and guests who've come to enjoy the music, you keep your conversations to a minimum, and to a whisper at that. Yes, we'd like everyone to feel comfortable and relaxed, but more importantly, we want to share in a mutual celebration of the music. Thanks so much for your support.

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