Something Doing

Ragtime Happenings in the Southland

MARCH, 2001

NUMBER 59

Rose Leaf Ragtime Club February Meeting (2/25/2001)

Reported by Gary Rametta


Hello once again, ragtime aficionados!

Well, another month has gone by, so here's a reminder to join us for this month's Rose Leaf Club ragtime musicale. Sunday the 25th of March will be our next get-together, at 2:30 PM sharp. Based on the attendance over the past several months, it might be advisable to arrive a bit early. Last meeting, Bob Kirby counted the heads of 80 attendees. Wow! And on a rain-soaked afternoon. Just proves what Bill Mitchell said is true: ragtimers are a partisan, zealous bunch.

After some repositioning of the two pianos-the old Gulbransen upright and the exquisite, nearly-new, Yamaha upright that the club recently purchased (thanks to Yuko Shimazaki and her extremely generous friend Kasugo), Bill and yours truly dueted on a few old favorites to get things rolling. First was the Scott Joplin/Scott Hayden classic "Sunflower Slow Drag." Next was Charles Hunter's Tennessee folk rag "Tickled to Death," followed by Joplin's first published rag, "Original Rags."

Gary stayed at the Yamaha for one more, "Scott Joplin's New Rag," one of the great composer's more unusual, original and forward-looking pieces. Wish I had done it more justice…had just returned from a vacation and the fingers were noticeably rusty. Ugh. Sorry!

Bill came back up and got things back on the right track, beginning with "Snookums," by the ubiquitous ragtime composer Charles L. Johnson. Next, he played a great rendition of Jelly Roll Morton's "Chicago Breakdown," a hot number that was also recorded by Louis Armstrong. By the way, it was also known as "Stratford Hunch," when Jelly attached a four-measure intro to it. The intro also served as a bridge into the third section.Bill finished his set with the Joplin classic "Cascades."

The platform was then turned over to Ruby Fradkin.Ruby came up and introduced the five numbers she had on her play list for the meeting. First was her bouncy warm-up number, Alouette, then Joplin and Arthur Marshall's "Swipsey," followed by "Babyface," then a really nice version of Hoagy Carmichael's "Stardust." Ruby's set concluded with "Tom Dooley."

Next was Nancy Kleier, who had decided to use the rain as a theme. She chose three numbers, each providing a different ragtime "twist" on the theme. First was Tom Brier's "Wellington Rag," a title Nancy made analogous to putting on one's Wellington rain boots. Next was Brier's 1992 "Rainy Day Blues". Nancy put the finishing touches on her set with Lew Pollack's 1914 "That's A Plenty." Ragtime authors Jasen and Tichenor noted in their book on ragtime that Jackie Gleason used "That's a Plenty" as a musical theme on his show ("…and awwaaaaay we go!"), and that, even though the piece was written as a rag, it soon became a staple of the New Orleans Dixieland repertoire.

After Nancy's set, Ron Ross took over the mike. For his first number, he brought up friend, RLRC member and pianist/composer Martin Choate. The two dueted on Martin's recent composition "I Done Left My Hip Boots in the Other Car," an upbeat, fast and syncopated novelty number that was hugely entertaining.

Ron then soloed on two of his own pieces; first, a new rag entitled "Nostalgia," then, an older composition called "Rickety Rag." He said both would be on his upcoming CD, which he is currently recording.

San Diegan Bob Pinsker was in attendance with his wife Judy and two guests from British Columbia, Sondra and Barry (Barry joked that he had brought Vancouver weather with him). Bob hit the keys with a "Name that Composer" set-three numbers that ranged from completely obscure to somewhat recognizable. The first was an untitled rag/show tune from a 1913 pencil-manuscript. No one had a clue who wrote the tune or what it was called. The second had a familiar strain here and there, but it too was difficult to pin down. Bob later informed us that it was called "Betty Washboards Rag," and was written in the early part of the 20th century, but not finished until 1970. His last piece, "Blue Thoughts," featured some magnificent playing. The piece had some definite Gershwin-like octave runs and harmonies. Gershwin was my guess, but it was incorrect. After Bob gave everyone a couple of clues, club member Stan Long nailed the answer: Eubie Blake! Bob went on to explain the origin of these rare pieces.

After a short break, the playing resumed, first with Tom Handforth playing Joplin's "Strenuous Life." Next up was Fred Hoeptner, who entertained us with James Scott's "Victory Rag" from 1921, then "Red Peppers, A Spicy Rag" by Henry Lodge.

Yuko Shimazaki was our next performer. She displayed deep sensitivity on Joplin's "Solace-A Mexican Serenade," playing it at a slow tempo which brought out the piece's pristine beauty and aching sadness. Then, for a total change of pace, she jumped right into Joplin's final masterpiece, "Magnetic Rag." Her playing exuded joy and precision. It was one of the best performances of the entire afternoon.

Following Yuko was the genteel Stan Long. Stan gave us a nice rendition of Joplin's "The Entertainer," which included his own musical ideas. He then segued into a nice, extended boogie-woogie improvisation. He does very well in the boogie-woogie idiom, keeps good, steady time, moves along at a nice clip and employs numerous blues, jazz and raggy figures in the right hand. For his closing piece, Stan invited Gary to join him in a duet of Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag." There was a little improvising on the part of both of us. Stan used some ideas he gained from the fourhanded Disneyland team of Miller and Thompson. Gary used improvisations that came from Joplin's own piano roll performance of MLR.

Next up was guitar/banjoist Phil Cannon. Phil explained that he recently borrowed a cassette tape of Joseph Lamb compositions from the club library. He was really taken with them and decided to weave a medley of Lamb tunes together. For nearly 10 minutes, Phil wowed us with a beautiful tapestry of Lamb compositions (or sections of compositions). Included in the medley were "Sensation," "Ethiopia Rag," "Patricia Rag," "Excelsior Rag," "American Beauty" and "Ragtime Nightingale." It was marvelous to hear Lamb in this context. Phil concluded his set with Joplin's "Rose Leaf Rag," our club's theme number, of course.

Bill Mitchell returned to the keys and invited friend and tuba player Chuck Rimmer to join him on "Maple Leaf Rag," "Ballin' the Jack" and "Dill Pickles." The duo sounded great together.

Afterward, Ron Ross, Ruby Fradkin and Alan Bramer gave us an audio/visual presentation of "The Great Romanovich," with Ron at the slide projector and cassette tape player, Ruby at the mike reading copy, and Alan encouraging the both of them. I'm not exactly sure of the origins or meaning of the great Romanovich, but it appears as though he was a dinosaur or similar-looking bipod who lived around the time of the dinosaurs, and enjoyed a swinging lifestyle seemingly akin to Dino in The Flintstones. The exception, of course, being his use of that odd language, some strange cross of Russian, French, Slavic, English and gibberish. In all, the show was, at the same time, hilarious, creative and frightening.

Bob Pinsker came back up and worked through a magnificent, seldom-heard Willie the Lion Smith piano solo called "Between Sharps and Flats."

Ron Ross encored with, by request, two of his vocal/piano songs, "Good Thing Going" and "Studio Sensation."

With that, the symbolic gavel fell on another meeting.


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