Something Doing

Ragtime Happenings in the Southland

APRIL, 2001


Rose Leaf Ragtime Club March Meeting (3/25/2001)

Reported by Gary Rametta

So how'd you like the March meeting? As usual, we had lots of fun and everyone who came to enjoy some rags, cakewalks, pop standards and jazz went away pleased. If you weren't able to come, well, don't stay away too long. Perhaps you're interested in hearing a special tune from way back when that still tickles your fancy. If so, feel free to make a request. No doubt we can accommodate you! And if you're a player who hasn't been able to share your talent with us recently because of other commitments or conflicts, we hope you can find some time to stop by and play on one of these last Sunday afternoons of the month. Anyway, as you may have already deduced, our upcoming meeting will be on Sunday, April 29th at 2:30 PM at the Pasadena IHOP on Foothill Blvd.

Well, March was a breather for us in more ways than one. I think it could best be described as "middle of the road." Pleasant weather, rather quiet and sort of a lazy day. A nice change, really. And with less than a packed house at the IHOP, everyone in the audience got to stretch their legs a bit. Meanwhile, up at the keys, several players took the opportunity to stretch out, figuratively speaking, on the ivories.

Some of the players took advantage of the crowd dribbling in to warm up. Gary Rametta played Joplin's "Fig Leaf Rag" while Yuko Shimazaki was heard warming up with his beautiful "Solace."

Ragmeister Bill Mitchell opened the with "Bolo Rag," a 1908 piece by Albert Gumble (you'll find it on Bill's "Ragtime Recycled" cassette). I especially liked the descending figures in the third section. For his second number, Bill cranked out Abe Holzmann's popular "Smokey Mokes" from 1899. It's classified as a cakewalk, and Bill wondered aloud what the essential distinctions are between cakewalks and rags, since they often sound very similar. It appears to me that whereas the rag evolved from the cakewalk era, it came primarily from a pianistic tradition and quickly departed from the strictures of march rhythm. The cakewalk was a syncopated, multi-instrumental plantation dance based on the march that, unlike ragtime, quickly made its way into "proper" society.

Bill closed his first set with James Scott's ebullient "Sunburst Rag" from 1909.

Guitar-banjoist Phil Cannon followed Bill and immediately provided some magic with an amazing rendition of Joseph Lamb's "Excelsior Rag." For his second number, he gave an equally impressive performance of Joplin's "Solace," with some very nice work keeping the habañera rhythm pulsating throughout the piece. Phil closed his set with a Joplin staple, one that he said he initially hesitated to play but decided to perform because it's so darned good: "The Entertainer." Listening to Phil's arrangements and performances of ragtime pieces is a real treat.

Fred Hoeptner took over the podium and gave us a strongly played rendition of "Pickles and Peppers," a 1906 folk rag by Adaline Shepard. Fred noted that it was used by William Jennings Bryan as his campaign theme when he ran for president in 1908. Next, Fred performed Hal Isbitz' 1990 composition, "Opalescence," which features pretty harmonies and nice moving chords in the left hand during the first section.

Lee Roan followed Fred for a few duets. First was the theme song from the landmark 1933 Broadway musical, "42nd Street," performed with Nancy Kleier. Then, Lee was joined by Bill Mitchell on "Who's Sorry Now?" and "You Made Me Love You."

Next was Ron Ross, who performed two of his new compositions. He started off with "Nostalgia," a piece he dedicated to P.J. Schmidt. This tune makes nice use of the habañera rhythm in the left hand, as well as Ron's customary augmented chords that provide harmonic movement in the right hand. Next was an experimental rag/tango, "Gringo Tango," which Ron described as Joplinesque. It has similar harmonic touches as "Nostalgia" while at the same time having a punctuated eighth-note feel.

Ruby Fradkin came up next. Her first choice was Leadbelly's upbeat "Pick a Bale of Cotton," which she played with verve and positivity. She followed up with a new one, "Merry Widow Waltz," the theme from the operetta written by Austrian Franz Lehar in 1905. It became a huge hit in the U.S. when it was produced as a film by MGM in 1934. To close out her set, Ruby chose one of her favorites (and ours), "Babyface." She added some improvisation to it that sounded very nice.

Nancy Kleier's set featured a theme of springtime, and more specifically, rags that reflect blossoms. First was "Clover Blossom Rag," a 1912 composition by "Bud Manchester," which Nancy suggested was a pseudonym of E.J. Stark, who also published the rag. Her next selection was "Dixie Blossoms," a rather obscure 1906 piece by Percy Wenrich. To conclude her set, Nancy selected a current rag by California composer Tom Brier: "Rose Blossoms." Like most of Tom's pieces, it's written in the fully fleshed AABBACCDD format. Sounded quite lovely.

Our next pianist was Tom Handforth. Tom gave us a thoroughly enjoyable rendition of Sousa's "Stars and Stripes," and sounded like a one-man marching band. I especially liked the way he was able to play the rhythm and melody of the trio in the left hand, while playing the famous piccolo countermelody in the right. Bravo!

Bill Mitchell needed to make an early exit, so he was invited up to close the first half of the program. He reprised "Smokey Mokes," this time on the Gulbransen. His coup de grace was Jelly Roll Morton's "The Pearls," which he played expertly and with the perfect amount of Jelly Roll swing.

After the break, Gary Rametta performed two staples of the Classic Rag repertoire, first Joseph Lamb's exquisite "American Beauty Rag" from 1913. This rag is highly original, with Lamb's characteristic long and elegant eight-measure phrases in the A and B sections, alternated with short statements and call-and-response figures in the C and D sections. Next was Joplin's 1907 masterpiece "Gladiolus Rag," which contrasts nicely with his "Maple Leaf Rag." Both are similarly constructed harmonically, yet "Gladiolus" is a more sweeping and grandiose composition as it develops its four themes.

Yuko Shimazaki greeted us with a strong rendition of Luckey Roberts' dazzling "Pork and Beans" from 1913. Definitely an advanced rag, Yuko breezed through its complex fingerings, octave runs and stride bass figures. Lots of fun to listen to and, when it's played by a talented pianist, sounds clean, logical and easy. But I challenge you to look at the sheet music and try it out at home if you think it's as easy as it sounds!

Yuko stayed at the keys and was joined by Stan Long in a good-time duet of "Maple Leaf Rag."

Stan's solo set included Joplin's tricky "Elite Syncopations," followed by a unique and humorous improvisation, featuring a conglomeration of themes that he worked into a boogie-woogie solo: Beethoven's "Für Elise," which segued into Sousa's "Stars and Stripes," which moved to the TV advertising song for the car dealer Cal Worthington ("Go See Cal"), and concluded with the Disney song "It's a Small World." Stan's creativity and self-effacing manner are indeed affecting!

Ruby Fradkin returned to the Yamaha for a few more numbers. First, the Hoagy Carmichael standard "Stardust," which she plays very well. Next, "Tom Dooley" the traditional ballad that started the folk boom in the 1950s. After, Stan joined Ruby in a long and extended 12-bar blues duet. Ruby closed out her second set in a duet of Joplin's "Cascades" with Phil Cannon.

Fred Hoeptner came back up to play a couple of his compositions. First was "Dalliance, a Ragtime Frolic," which won the composition Grand Prize award at the 2000 Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival. Next was Fred's beautiful "Idyll of Autumn."

Coming down the home stretch, Nancy Kleier played one of Galen Wilkes' romantic pieces, "Wisteria Rag," in celebration of Wisteria Festival held in Sierra Madre. Next, she referenced the Academy Awards show later in the evening, with May Aufderhide's "Blue Ribbon Rag," (1910). She then played a piece by contemporary Swiss Ragtime composer Martin Jåger, "Baroque Rag," which has touches of classical influence. By request, Nancy finished with Charles Johnson's great three-over-four rag, "Dill Pickles Rag" (1906).

Nancy and Gary closed out the meeting with a duet of the brilliant Scott Joplin/Scott Hayden masterpiece, "Something Doing" (1903). With that, the guests departed and the promise was made for another gleeful get-together in April. We hope you're there to share it with us!

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