Something Doing

Ragtime Happenings in the Southland

JULY, 2001

NUMBER 63

Rose Leaf Ragtime Club June Meeting (6/24/2001)

Reported by Gary Rametta


The June meeting of the Rose Leaf Ragtime Club began promptly at 2:30 p.m.on June 24th in the banquet room of the Pasadena IHOP. Quite a few guests had already arrived ahead of time. Before the end of the first solos, the room was once again nearly maxxed out.

Gary Rametta started things off with Scott Joplin's "Elite Syncopations" from 1902, a fun to play rag with a variety of melodic and rhythmic textures. Next, Gary premiered a new James Scott addition to his play list, "Ragtime Betty" (1909), a lovely piece that definitely shows Joplin's influence, but containing some of Scott's unique musical devices that he developed further over the next 10 years. Gary concluded his set with a good-time duet version of the Joplin/Scott Hayden classic, "Sunflower Slow Drag" (1901), joined by Bill Mitchell.

Bill Mitchell soloed on another 1909 James Scott piece, "Sunburst Rag," which has a totally original flavor. Its "C" section is very pop-tune like-ragtime writers Jasen and Tichenor credit it as a precursor to novelty ragtime, and even much-later pop songs like Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass' "Spanish Flea." Bill dedicated his performance to the memory of his friend Pete Clute, a former member of the San Francisco-based Turk Murphy band and one-time student of pianist Wally Rose. Next, Bill gave the keys a workout on J. Bodewalt Lampe's "Creole Belles," a famous cakewalk from 1901. Bill's set concluded with a Harry Belding rag from the mid-teens, "Apple Sass." Belding also wrote "Good Gravy Rag," another Bill Mitchell favorite.

Phil Cannon, with guitar/banjo in hand, introduced his set-a series of patriotic tunes in anticipation of the Fourth of July. First was a rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner," featuring his usual sleight-of-hand (or should I say "fingers?"), and a recapitulation of the theme in a change of key. In keeping with the ragtime spirit of the club, he played Joseph Lamb's great "American Beauty," perhaps a stretch as a patriotic piece, but a classic and highly original rag by a great American composer nonetheless. Saving his best playing for the finale, Phil performed a medley of Sousa marches, beginning with "El Capitan," segueing into "Semper Fidelis" (my favorite and terrifically played), and ending with, of course, "Stars and Stripes Forever." The only thing missing was a roman candle!

Young Ruby Fradkin charmed us next, with her always-endearing introduction and right-down-to-business approach. Ruby cranked out a complete version of Joplin's great "Cascades" rag in duet with Phil, followed by right-on-target solo renditions of "Camptown Races" and Leadbelly's "Pick a Bale of Cotton." She finished up with "Tom Dooley," keeping impeccable time and employing her constantly improving piano stylings.

Nancy Kleier had returned from the Sacramento Jazz Festival and gave a rundown on events that took place at the Festival's Ragtime Corner. She then introduced her theme-things to do in the month of June. First was an ode to graduation, with club member Eric Marchese's "Valedictory Rag." Nancy's interpretation of this piece was sweet and pensive. She continued with a nod to patriotic tunes with Merced composer Tom Brier's "Fireworks Rag," a pleasant excursion that's faithful to the classic rag form. For her finale, she chose a song to remind us of a June picnic: Cecil Macklin's "Tres Moutarde" (Too Much Mustard). This is a humorous two-step with catchy hooks. During Nancy's performance, I couldn't help but recall Canadian pianist Mimi Blais' hilarious rendition of this piece, complete with a less-than-perfect pitch vocal accompaniment.

"Too much mustard in the pot
makes the beans and rice too hot
...Cool those kisses down!"

Next up was a trio consisting of George McClellan and Lee Roan on the pianos, joined by newcomer Jim Campbell on banjo. Their first selection was the old New Orleans favorite "Hard Hearted Hanna," followed by "Lovin' Sam" (1922) and Milton Ager's "Louisville Lou"(1923). Not bad, not bad at all for a first run. As we've found with Phil Cannon's playing, a banjo or banjo/guitar really adds a folksy, down-home flavor to the old standards. Hope Jim can come back so we can hear some more. Next time, we'll try and get the sound mix a little better!

Gary segued into our next performer with a hard-charging rendition of Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag."

Next at the keys was octogenarian Tom Handforth. Tom's been working on some Joplin tunes, and gave us the master's "The Strenuous Life" rag, which he was shaping up in preparation for his Fourth of July performance at a local holiday festival. Quite appropriate, considering its decidedly march-like feel. Tom followed up with Sousa's "Stars and Stripes," a number he's really got under his fingers. I especially admired his treatment of the trio section, in which he plays the melody in the left hand and the piccolo countermelody in the right.

Ron Ross took us to the break with two of his original compositions. First was "Small Town Private Eye," a catchy ditty with a kind of Mac-the-Knife feel. For me, hearing this tune evokes visions of dark, wet, smoky streets. Ron's next solo was a recently-written rag called "Joplinesque-A Gringo Tango." In it, Ron develops the theme over a resonating habañera beat, while making nice use of augmented chords as leading tones.

Following a brief intermission, Yuko Shimazaki got the ragtime train going again with two great Joplin compositions. First was "Solace-A Mexican Serenade," a tune re-popularized by the movie "The Sting." Yuko performs this piece at a slower tempo than most other ragtime pianists, but under her fingers, the piece turns out to be much more than just a succession of notes following some sort of logical order. Yuko is able to dig deeper; she finds the story that Joplin is telling, a story that's lovely and longing, but also optimistic and resolute. Yuko gracefully transitioned from the solitary final chord of "Solace" into the composer's creative "Rose Leaf Rag." Her performance of this multi-faceted gem was soulful and well-executed.

Following Yuko was a new performer, Brenda Brubaker. She shared her enthusiasm for ragtime by performing two pieces by New York-born composer and arranger George Cobb. First was Cobb's "Russian Rag," a ragtime interpretation of Rachmaninoff's "Prelude in C Sharp minor." Brenda followed up with an arrangement of one of Cobb's popular songs, "Alabama Jubilee." She did a very good job on both pieces, particularly "Russian Rag." We hope to hear more!

Martin Choate teamed up with Ron Ross in a slightly-revised version of his piano/vocal number "I Done Left My Hip Boots in the Other Car." Definitely an enjoyable novelty piece with a touch of frivolity-it went over quite well with the audience. Next, Martin revisited his recently composed "Ragga con Dolcezza." The sweet theme stated in the "A" section unfolds into a pleasant and interesting exploration of ragtime. Very nicely done. As we headed into the final turn, Bill Coleman came up and got the ivories working on "Turkey in the Straw" and a fully-fleshed rendition of Berlin's "Alexander's Ragtime Band." Les Soper arrived late, but we definitely wanted to hear what he had in store. First was James Scott's timeless "Grace and Beauty," (1909), followed by a dazzling performance of Galen Wilkes' "Oyster Shimmy." This piece was named after a dance performed by women in the pleasure houses of New Orleans' legendary Storyville district. Wilkes-and Les-definitely captured the rollicking and raunchy texture of that scene.

As we hit the home stretch, Bill Mitchell and George McClellan played their first-ever duet at the Rose Leaf Ragtime Club. They chose a great standard, "Sweet Georgia Brown," and it was simply a delight to hear them play together. The breadth of their musical understanding and command of the keys really came through. Let's hear some more, gents!

To close out the meeting, we drafted some more players into ad-hoc combos. Nancy, Ruby, Les (with a much smaller and more portable washboard) and Phil did a wonderful job on Joplin and Marshall's "Swipesy Cakewalk" (1901). We hit the finish line with a groovin' roadhouse blues jam, with Bill, Ruby, Les and Phil combining their talents and leaving everyone with a smile on their face.

If you missed the meeting, you missed another great time. But there's always this month! We hope you can be there to join us. Our next get-together is Sunday, July 29th, from 2:30 PM - 5:30 PM


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