Something Doing

Ragtime Happenings in the Southland

MAY, 2001


Rose Leaf Ragtime Club April Meeting (4/29/2001)

Reported by Bill Mitchell

Those of you who were able to attend the April meeting enjoyed a wide variety of ragtime entertainment with occasional forays into ragtime-compatible jazz, blues, novelty, and pop, while enjoying gustatory selections from the IHOP menu.

Since our regular emcee, Gary Rametta, was unable to attend this time, Ron Ross very ably tended to the hosting and announcing tasks. He opened the program with a rendition of his wittily titled and ever popular "Digital Rag."

Bill Mitchell was invited to continue the proceedings. He had planned to play a duet with Gary on "Queen of Love," that neat Charles Hunter romp, but that had to be postponed. In the meantime, so as not to neglect royalty, he played three other "queen" rags. "The Prairie Queen" was written by a young Midwesterner, Tom Shea, in 1963, and published by the Ragtime Society of Canada. Shea had discovered ragtime, but found that there was practically no rag sheet music in print at that time, so that he had to write his own material (fortunately for us). His rags show a melodic folk flair. "The Queen Rag" was written by Floyd Willis, and named after the Island Queen, a riverboat operating out of Cincinnati on the Ohio River. "Queen Raglin" was published in 1902 by the H. A. French Company in Nashville. Composed by A. E. Henrich, it is in the frisky Nashville tradition (think of Charles Hunter and Thomas Broady).

Nancy Kleier introduced her set by asking for a show of hands of people intending to travel to the Sedalia Festival this year (there were a few hands raised). She chose to play some Sedalia-related material, beginning with Jack Rummel's "Lone Jack to Knob Noster." It celebrates a scenic stretch of highway between two oddly named hamlets you pass through on the jaunt from Kansas City to Sedalia. This rag is appropriately jaunty. "The Creeks of Missouri," by Galen Wilkes, is a bit more soulful. It was inspired by the numerous creeks Galen noticed as he traveled the "Show Me" state. Hal Isbitz is the composer of "Lazy Susan, a Ragtime Rondo," which has no titular reference to the Sedalia theme, but was included because it took second place in a ragtime composition contest at the Sedalia Joplin Festival.

Fortified by a strawberry waffle, Phil Cannon treated us to some solo work on his six-string banjo/guitar. He opened with Joe Lamb's "Patricia Rag," one of the composer's favorites (and mine too). I would have thought it impossible to adapt this expansive number to a stringed instrument, but Phil did it, playing it cleanly and gracefully. He followed this with an adaptation of Ron Ross's "Sweet Is the Sound," which certainly lived up to the title. Phil rounded out his solos with the Marshall/Joplin collaboration, "Swipesy Cakewalk." Phil then invited Bill M. to provide some piano accompaniment to his banjo/guitar on "Maple Leaf Rag," a number that never seems to grow old.

Lee Roan and Nancy Kleier joined forces at the two pianos to play some classic popular songs, leading off with "Smiles," by Lee Roberts. This 1917 hit is one of the few popular songs where the verse is as interesting musically as the chorus. The duo continued with "Swanee," a 1918 song by George Gershwin. It has to be one of his earliest compositions. It was a vehicle for Al Jolson in the Broadway musical, Sinbad. Lee and Nancy wound up their set with a 1914 song, "Can't You hear me Callin', Caroline?"

Tom Handforth opened with "Flapperette," a 1926 piano novelty by Jesse Greer. It is one of those endearing ditties like "Nola" and "Stumbling" that are so characteristic of 1920s piano. Traveling yet further back a couple of decades, Tom played Scott Joplin's "The Cascades," written to commemorate the aquatic centerpiece of the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904. This number is one of the more technically demanding of Joplin's masterpieces.

Our youngest ragtimer, Ruby Fradkin, has been branching out a bit, opening with a neat 12-bar blues with a boogie beat. She followed this with Stephen Foster's "Camptown Races," a 19th century favorite. Leaping up a hundred years or so, she played what is probably the most popular song of the 20th century--you guessed it, Hoagy Carmichael's "Stardust." She concluded with "Baby Face," a snappy 1920s favorite. And did you dig, as I did, the nifty blues riff that Ruby used to bring the number to an end?

Just before intermission Ron Ross made a few acknowledgments, thanking Lee Roan for handling the sound system, Bill Mitchell for editing the newsletter, Bob Kirby and Becky Todd for overseeing admissions and the raffle, Chris Fradkin for publicity, and George, the IHOP manager, for his cooperation with the club. Ron announced that subscription rates for Something Doing will have to be raised because of drastically higher printing costs and the imminence of another postage hike soon. On behalf of the club, Ron wished Prentice Bacon a happy birthday, his 92nd. As you may remember, Prentice knew ragtime composer Theron Bennett during the latter's senior years in Los Angeles.

Ron kicked off the second half with a couple of his own compositions, "Sunday Serendipity," and "Joplinesque - a Gringo Tango." Don't you love his titles? And the music is amiable too.

Bob Ross set a challenge for himself by improvising a couple of rags on the spot. He titled the first of these "Bob's Rag," and since the second had no name, let's call it "No Name Rag." He rose to the occasion by cobbling together a number of ragtime "tricks" (as Eubie Blake used to call them) into rousing performances.

Coming all the way from Simi Valley, Les Soper opened his set with F. Henri Klickman's "Smiles and Chuckles," a jolly rag if there ever was one. Then, in great contrast, he played Glenn Jenks's pensive and beautiful 1988 piece, "Sosua," named after a tranquil beach in the Dominican Republic. Like William Bolcom's "Graceful Ghost," or D. T. Roberts's "Roberto Clemente," "Sosua" takes ragtime into the realm of what used to be called "serious music." Les has taken up washboard playing in recent years, and he brought along his custom-made board. After a brief run-down on its features, he put on his special thimbles and accompanied Robin Frost (on tape) on a couple of Frost's originals: "Roger's Favorite Toy," and "Alligator Gravy." He announced that he would be giving a free concert "…celebrating 70 years of loving life and loving music" on May 19th in Simi Valley, and invited club members to come.

Next up was an ad hoc trio of Don Rose (trumpet), Phil Cannon (banjo/guitar), and Bill Mitchell (piano), improvising on some pop tunes of the 20s: "Coquette," "Sweet Georgia Brown," and "Avalon." They had fun and hoped the audience liked it. No tomatoes were thrown, at least.

Phil had been given a copy of Ron Ross's "Digital Rag," and had worked it out for his banjo/guitar. He called Ron to the piano and the two of them gave us history's first duet version of "Digital Rag."

Ruby Fradkin returned for an encore on "Tom Dooley," and then invited Phil to join her on Joplin's "Cascades." This nicely performed duet brought the meeting to a close.

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