Rose Leaf Ragtime Club September Meeting (9/30/2001)
Thanks to all who attended the September meeting of the Rose Leaf Ragtime Club. Even with the events of September 11 fresh in everyone's minds, a near-full house of performers and guests showed up at the Pasadena IHOP to partake in our celebration of ragtime, the music that brings us together and expresses the optimism, ingenuity, fortitude and idealism of America. It turned out to be one of the most satisfying shows we've ever had. Thank you again for your support.
A quick note before the September meeting summary: Our November meeting is scheduled for the last Sunday of that month, the 25th-that's one day after Scott Joplin's 133rd birthday (November 24, 1868). In the past, it's been proposed that we make some of the meetings theme-oriented. If that sentiment still holds, I think it would be worth considering making November's meeting a celebration of Scott Joplin. In short, all the performances would be of Joplin tunes. I'd like to bring this issue up for discussion at our October meeting to see if others are interested in pursuing it. In the meantime, perhaps it would be a good idea for all performers who plan to make the November meeting to dust off their Joplin repertoire and be ready to treat us to their interpretations of works from the ragtime master.
Gary Rametta kick-started what turned out to be a great September meeting by playing "French Vanilla," a great rag composed in 1995 by our founder, P.J. Schmidt. Gary dedicated his performance to the memory of P.J., who passed away in September of 1999.
Phil Cannon took over the mike and played two Joplin rags for us on his guitar/banjo. First was the tricky "Elite Syncopations," then the lovely "Searchlight Rag." As usual, Phil's playing was exemplary. It's unbelievable how he captures all the nuances of the rags with his instrument.
Yuko Shimazaki then gave us another one of her masterful performances, putting her technical and interpretive skills to the test with Joplin's classic "Cascades" from 1904. I have to say that Yuko's classical piano training certainly gives her an advantage. Played correctly, "Cascades" is one of Joplin's more technically demanding compositions to work out. It requires the kind of disciplined fingering that can either give one a permanent crease in their brow, or conversely, be so natural that the music seems to flow joyfully and effortlessly from the fingertips. Yuko's performances fall into the latter category.
Bill Mitchell came up and gave us two solos, first "Bolo Rag," a signature piece by Albert Gumble from 1908. It's a thoroughly enjoyable rag, particularly in the C section. Bill knows this tune probably better than anyone in the ragtime world. If you missed it, you can still find it on his "Ragtime Recycled" cassette, which is in our club lending library or available for purchase from Mr. Mitchell. Bill's next performance was a James Scott rag by request: "Quality Rag." Never one to refuse a request, Bill forged ahead, despite not having played it for a couple of years. His playing was outstanding on this full-handed, thickly textured, octave-jumping rag.
Next up was Nancy Kleier, who chose a "peace" theme for her selections. First was "Pacific Coast Rag," a meditative work from contemporary composer Glenn Jenks of Maine. She followed up with another modern-day ragtime composition, "Pacific Waltz" by Tom Brier of Merced, CA. Nancy played both rags with conviction, grace and heart.
Gary returned to the keys for another solo, this time on the sweetly haunting Joplin/Louis Chauvin collaboration from 1907, "Heliotrope Bouquet."
Next up was Ron Ross. He noted that his CD, titled "Ragtime Renaissance," was completed and a couple weeks away from shipping. We'll make sure to have some on hand in the club library. You can also purchase the CD from Ron directly. Ron's first piece was a new composition, "Fun in the Sun." It has a happy, open sound, the result of Ron's skillful use of sixth and major-seventh chords. Next, Ron played "Moscow Rag," another one of his creative gems, and one that earned a spot on his CD.
Following Ron was Bob Pinsker, who always has rarely heard, brilliantly played rags up his sleeve. His first selection was contemporary composer Bill Rowland's "Elizabethan Rag," an exciting, advanced rag named for the composer's daughter, Elizabeth. Bob kept the standard high with "Old Adam," a selection from contemporary composer William Bolcom's 1971 "Garden of Eden" ragtime suite. Both pieces allowed Bob to display his prodigious talent, much to the delight of the audience.
Ruby Fradkin then stepped up to the Yamaha, first plugging two gigs at which she'd be featured: October 14th at the Old Town Music Hall in El Segundo, performing with the Dave McKelvey harmonica trio, and October 21st, headlining at Kulaks Woodshed in North Hollywood. Ruby's first solo was the A and B sections of Joplin's "Elite Syncopations" from 1901. It will be a thrill to hear her get this rag under her fingers. She closed her set with "Baby Face," wowing us with a total improvisation of the main theme on a repeat.
Visiting from Indiana was Doug Haise, a terrific player who's kind enough to drop by when he's in town. Doug's first performance was a name-that-tune number, an early rag foxtrot that featured several tempo breaks, lots of dynamic variation, and great overall execution. The only one who seemed to know the title was Bill Mitchell (of course, Bill must know at least 500 rags by heart). The piece was "By Heck," composed by S. R. Henry. Next, Doug gave a barn-burning rendition of Charles Straight's "Hot Hands" rag from 1916.
Heading to the break, we welcomed back Brenda Brubaker. For her third appearance at the Rose Leaf Club, she gave us a leisurely stroll through Robert Hampton's great "Cataract Rag," a work that's played all too seldom at our club. It was great to hear her play it. I'm hoping Brenda continues her exploration of this classic. Next, she soloed on a patriotic march entitled "Flag of Freedom," by Mildred Brown. Brenda told us she uncovered the venerable sheet music in her piano bench.
During the break, we conducted our monthly raffle and sang happy birthday wishes to Phil and Ruby.
Stan Long kicked off the second half of the show with a great first run at Joplin's masterpiece "Magnetic Rag," one of his most challenging to interpret. He followed up with a medley of patriotic tunes that he called "American Pride." It was definitely an appropriate choice and expressed our common sentiments.
Les Soper followed Stan, and recalled his first encounter with Glenn Jenks' music. It was some 10 years ago at the West Coast Ragtime Festival in Fresno. Les explained how awestruck he was with Jenks' compositions, especially "The Black Preacher," which Les went on to perform with distinction. He followed with another Jenks solo, called "Elegiac," playing it with restraint and beauty. Les closed with a piano/vocal number from Great Britain, composed during World War II: "The White Cliffs of Dover." He commented that it was written to build up the spirits of the British after the bombardments of England by Germany. It was clearly relevant to what is happening now as we mourn for the victims of September 11 and feel concern about the future. Les' vocal delivery and the song's message brought tears to my eyes.
After a few quiet moments, Bob Pinsker returned to the keys, clutching his music composition notebook. The notebook contained his first ragtime composition, "Alyssum Rag," written in 1975 when he was but a teenager. Bob recalled meeting composer William Bolcom in 1978 and asking the maestro to give him feedback on his rag. Bob said Bolcom reviewed it and was "reasonably encouraging." Bob went on to premier it for us. I found it to be a remarkable composition-spirited and original. Bob finished with another great solo effort, this time on Max Morath's "Bowery Gulch."
Next up was Fred Hoeptner, who chose two ragtime classics, one from James Scott, the other from Joseph Lamb. First was Scott's wonderful "Victory Rag," a work titled by Stark publishing that probably referred to the end of World War I. "Victory" displays the inimitable pianistic brilliance that Scott contributed to ragtime. Next was Lamb's "Ragtime Nightingale." The highlights of this lush piece are its B and C sections. Fred did a commendable job on both!
Nancy Kleier came up for an encore, first with "Goodbye Rag," a 1920 composition by Carlton Colby-another rag I hadn't heard before and am looking forward to hearing again. She concluded her set with Jerome Hartman's "'Neath the Starry Flag" from 1900, a fine tune that reaffirmed our spirit of nationalism. Nancy's sight-reading skills are beyond compare, the result of innate talent and years of dedication.
Bill Mitchell, Phil Cannon and newcomer Mary Ann Sereth on stand-up bass turned in the only combo performance of the afternoon. The ad-hoc trio came forward and did a great job on "Breeze" (1920), then the Walter Donaldson standard "My Blue Heaven," and two from Jelly Roll Morton's playbook, "I Thought I Heard Buddy Bolden Say" and "Ballin' the Jack." All four tunes featured excellent soloing, comping and strutting. What a pleasure to listen to! I trust Mary Ann will return again and again…her bass playing was fantastic- it added breadth and depth to the music.
We finished off a memorable September meeting with Yuko Shimazaki at the Yamaha in a dazzling rendition of Joplin's "Magnetic Rag." Kudos to Yuko for her performance, and to all the players who helped make our gathering a three-plus hour highlight reel.
Thanks once again to all of you who came out to support the club and enjoy the music. It's you who make it all worthwhile. Let's do it again in October…that would be Sunday the 28th. See you there.
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