Something Doing

Ragtime Happenings in the Southland

AUGUST, 2001


Rose Leaf Ragtime Club July Meeting (7/29/2001)

Reported by Gary Rametta

About 45 or so ragtime fans and pianists ventured into the thick blanket of summer heat at the foothills of the San Gabriel mountains the last Sunday of July to enjoy the Rose Leaf Club's monthly celebration of ragtime. In spite of the air conditioning system going haywire early on during the meeting and us having to shut it off, the musicale proceeded with its usual bounce, courtesy of the 13 musicians who performed.

Gary Rametta and Nancy Kleier got things going amid the clattering of glasses and silverware with Charles Johnson's signature rag "Dill Pickles." Written in 1906, it's considered one of the pioneer rags to make extensive use of the "three-over-four" syncopation that became best known with the publication of Euday Bowman's "12th Street Rag."

After the duet, Gary continued with "Ragtime Reverie," an unpublished Joseph Lamb rag that ragtime scholar Joseph Scotti notated from a Lamb sketchbook about 10 years ago. As yet, I haven't seen any reference to when it was supposedly composed. Nonetheless, it's a lyrical, flowing and lovely piece in the tradition of Lamb's greatest compositions. Gary wrapped up his set with "Scott Joplin's New Rag" from 1912. Joplin was ever inventive; this is another example of his seemingly endless wellspring of melodic and harmonic creativity.

Fred Hoeptner came up next to play an abbreviated version of Lamb's haunting, richly textured "Ragtime Nightingale" (1915), a staple of the many birdcall rags in the ragtime repertoire.

Yuko Shimazaki took over the keys, treating us to her premier performance of Joplin's great "Fig Leaf Rag" (1908). Subtitled "A High Class Rag," this piece shows the composer's genius in full bloom. "Fig Leaf" bursts with all the trademarks of a great rag: wistfulness, beauty, tenderness, driving rhythm and positively. With Yuko's commanding technique, enviable touch and deep understanding of this rag, these nuances were wonderfully expressed.

Ruby Fradkin was our next performer. She's been steadily "gigging" at Kulak's Woodshed in the San Fernando Valley and her appearances have been reviewed in the local weeklies there. Also, it was announced that Ruby would be making her first appearance at the Old Town Music Hall in El Segundo this fall along with a harmonica trio. Her first selection was an arrangement of "Playmate," played with bounce and charm. She continued with a promising rendition of the "A" section of Joplin's "Elite Syncopations" rag from 1902. We've come to expect the best from Ruby; she'll no doubt continue on with the rest of the piece in similar fine fashion. Her next choice was Joplin's 1904 classic "Cascades," fingered sans octaves in the left hand, but with precision and a genuine ragtime feel nonetheless. She closed her set with the standard "Baby Face," delighting the audience with her interpretation, which included a nice blues lick at the end.

Club veteran Nancy Kleier was invited up next. Her chosen theme revolved around things that happen in summertime. For instance, our mythical ragtime couple Raggedy Alfred and Agnes venturing out on a romantic picnic. Nothing would spoil the intimate atmosphere more than a threatening hive of bees. Harry Tierney's "Bumble Bee Rag" (1909) surely put a halt to their plans but only whetted our appetites for more ragtime. Unfortunately for our raggedy friends, Mike Bernard's "The Stinging Bee" from 1908 made their afternoon even more unpleasant. We, however, were enraptured. Nancy put the final touches on another of her thoroughly enjoyable ragtime excursions with Charles L. Johnson's ominous, thickly textured "A Black Smoke" (1902). However, I get the feeling that Raggedy Alfred and Agnes went away feeling their party had definitely been pooped.

Tom Handforth endeavored to re-inject our chagrined raggedy couple with a bit of enthusiasm by performing John Philip Sousa's great "Washington Post" march, named in honor of the newspaper of the same name.

Next up at the keys was Ron Ross, who gave us an update on his forthcoming CD. Great news: he expects it to be completed and released by the end of September. We're indeed anxiously awaiting the compendium of Ross-penned tunes and will make sure to have some on hand as part of our club's lending library. Of course, you'll want to have your own personalized copy. I've been fortunate to hear a pre-release copy and I have to report that it's terrific. Ron played a couple of selections off the CD for us: "Retro Rag," and "Mirella." The former is a twisty, humorous piece that really captures the essence of the ragtime renaissance. "Mirella" is an exquisite tango, one of my favorites off the CD.

Following Ron was Bob Ross (no relation). Bob fashions himself as a "beer parlor" player. If that description's true, then no pejorative can possibly apply. Bob's timing is impeccable-his rhythms fall into a nice groove. At the same time, his melodic and harmonic treatments are eminently satisfying. He performed three originals for us. First, "Foolin' Around Rag," a loosely-structured two-part composition that follows a boogie-woogie/blues pattern the first half, then segues into a more typical two-step rag. Next was "Country Rag," an excellent piece he composed one day while sitting at the piano, working through some songs from his childhood days. His final number "Sioux City Rag," was his best. Fashioned after the old song "Sioux City Sue," it features attractive minor-second and sustained-fourth voicings.

Rousin' ragger Stan Long took us to the break, starting with his unique arrangements of some timeless standards. First was a medley consisting of "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles," "New York, New York" and "Someone to Watch Over Me." Next, he gave an excellent performance of "Maple Leaf Rag," played with true ragtime feel. For his final number, Stan broke out with "Chopsticks Impromptu," a conglomeration of boogie-woogie, stride, ragtime, pop and march figures, featuring passages from "Stars and Stripes Forever" by Sousa and "Go See Cal." As always, lighthearted but fun to listen to and well played.

After the break and our monthly raffle, Martin Choate came up to perform his expansive "Ragga con Dolcezza," an original tune with an original title and beautiful treatment of the ragtime form. I think the sweet melody in the second section is the highlight of the piece. This rag is quickly becoming a showstopper at the Rose Leaf Club meetings.

Next, we welcomed back Annette Given, who came down from Bakersfield with her mom and husband. After only a little coercing, we got to enjoy Annette's playing on three great Joplin tunes: "Weeping Willow"(1903), and two from 1907, "Heliotrope Bouquet" and "Nonpareil." "Heliotrope" was a collaboration between Joplin and the legendary Louis Chauvin, the reputed "King of Ragtime Players" in the Saint Louis music scene in the early 1900s. Chauvin provided the first two sections of the tune, and they bear an individual stamp not found elsewhere in the ragtime literature. They are supposedly the only existing examples of Chauvin's ragtime style. Annette captured the brooding but sweet essence of "Heliotrope" in her performance, and her tender, pretty rendition of "Nonpareil" was a delight to hear.

Les Soper joined us next, treating us to a well-executed and very dance-like version of Joseph Lamb's "Bohemia," the great composer's last Stark-published rag in 1919. "Bohemia's" infectious melody and rhythm belie its technical demands on the pianist. It's actually quite tricky to finger. Next, Les played a contemporary rag, Colorado dentist Jack Rummel's popular "Lone Jack to Knob Noster," a ragtime soliloquy that recounts the composer's travels through Midwestern towns en route by car to the Scott Joplin festival in Sedalia, MO. For his finale, Les offered up Joplin's elegant "Gladiolus Rag," one of his most seamless compositions and one of his best.

Seduced by the ragtime bug, Gary returned to the keys and played the first two sections of William Bolcom's "Graceful Ghost," a masterpiece of contemporary ragtime from 1971. Following Gary was Yuko again, this time offering up a taste of Latin American ragtime-or should I say "Tango Viejo"-with Domingo Peres' lovely and syncopated "Velada Criolla," from about 1900.

Ron Ross played another one of his pieces from the turn of the century-the 21st century, that is: "Sunday Serendipity," a tip o' the cap to the Rose Leaf Ragtime Club and our monthly get-togethers. He was next joined by Allen "The Great Bramanovich" Breiman, who provided the vocals to "April Showers" and "Hello My Baby." Despite his humor-filled antics, Alan has a very good baritone voice and displays good vocal delivery on the (American) standards he sings.

With the meeting drawing to a close, Nancy came back up and floored us with her performance of Zez Confrey's "Dizzy Fingers," a whirlwind excursion into novelty ragtime. Next, Ruby kept the pulse going with "Camptown Races." Finally, Ruby, Phil Cannon and Les teamed up on the Joplin/Marshall classic "Swipesy Cakewalk." Their ensemble performance was well-played, well-received, and sent everyone home with a bounce in their step and a smile on their face.

Our next musicale takes place Sunday, August 26, from 2:30 p.m.- 5:30 p.m. at the IHOP on Foothill Blvd., in Pasadena. Mark your calendar!

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