Something Doing

Ragtime Happenings in the Southland

DECEMBER, 2001

NUMBER 68

Rose Leaf Ragtime Club November Meeting (11/25/2001)

Reported by Gary Rametta


Our post-Thanksgiving and post-West Coast Ragtime Festival meeting featured, once again, a lot of wonderfully played piano, ragtime guitar/banjo, and even a couple of piano/vocal duets. In short, a very satisfying way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Thanks to all who attended. This month, our meeting falls on Sunday, December 30th. We hope you can join us...there are plenty of rags written in celebration of the holiday season, probably some you haven't heard before!

By most accounts, Scott Joplin's birthday is recorded as November 24th, 1868. With that in mind, most of November's program focused on Joplin compositions. To start, Gary Rametta opened the meeting with one of Joplin's most famous pieces, "Pine Apple Rag," written after Joplin had left Missouri and moved to New York. Gary followed up with another piece from Joplin's New York period, "Sugar Cane Rag," then closed with one of his personal favorites, the inventive "Scott Joplin's New Rag."

Bob Pinsker took over the keys, treating us to a first-rate performance of the Prelude to Act II of "Treemonisha," Joplin's folk opera. In a word, beautiful. Next, he moved to a much later piece of rag-influenced piano, Willie the Lion Smith's "Zig Zag," which Bob transcribed from a 1949 recording by the Lion. It was a veritable feat of transcription, considering the complexity of the Lion's piano conception. Bob did a memorable job playing it, too.

Next was Phil Cannon, who performed two early Joplin rags on his guitar/banjo. First was "Palm Leaf Rag," in which Joplin's muse is open and naïve, sweet, a bit sad, and wholly charming. Next was "The Chrysanthemum – An Afro-American Intermezzo." It has a totally different character, with more of a European classical structure into which are interweaved folk melodies, harmonies and syncopations. Together, these compositions reflect the depth and versatility of Joplin's genius and originality. Phil did a great job on both and received enthusiastic accolades.

Our next performer was Yuko Shimazaki. Yuko's command of classical technique and her interpretation skills enable her uncover the pristine beauty of Joplin's ideas. There are as many ways to play Joplin rags as there are pianists who perform them, but Yuko's renditions capture a certain pathos that eludes other players who perform at faster tempos. Phil Cannon joined her on duet versions of Joplin's lovely "Solace – A Mexican Serenade" and "Rose Leaf Rag."

Next up was Nancy Kleier, who gave us a bit of a different spin on Joplin. For her first number, she chose contemporary composer Hal Isbitz' "The Russian Maple Leaf Rag." I'd seen the sheet music before, but Nancy's performance was the first time I'd heard it played. Quite an interesting composition, it uses Eastern European scale tones to restate Joplin's piece. As a follow-up, she played contemporary composer Jack Rummel's re-authoring of Maple Leaf, this time using the Tennessee folk rag style of Charles Hunter. It turned out to be another very engaging rag. Finally, Nancy closed her set with a Scott Joplin original, "Pleasant Moments," one of his excellent waltzes. Thanks, Nancy!

Ron Ross kept things going, first with "Joplinesque – A Gringo Tango" a rag/tango that he penned last year. It's quite well constructed and a real treat to listen to. Next was Ron's own "Ragtime Song," a very lyrical rag poem that might not have words attached, but which still sings sweetly a ragged tune. It appears on Ron's new CD, which, if you don't yet have, you'll want to add to your collection right away.

Ron stayed at the keyboard to invite Penny Fleming, a recent club regular that up 'till now hadn't performed, in a piano/vocal version of another cut from his CD. This time it was "Good Thing Going," which was recorded by Ron and the talented Janet Klein. Penny delivered a fine performance of this humorous story of love gone awry.

Martin Choate came up next, choosing the old Gulbransen upright and expressing his fondness for its jangle piano-type sound. He gave it a workout on his expansive "Ragga con Dolcezza," which boasts a strongly romantic trio section. He continued by asking Ron back up to duet with him on his novelty piano/vocal number "I Done Left My Hip Boots in the Other Car." As always, it was lots of fun.

Stan Long kept the Joplin celebration going with renditions of "Elite Syncopations," "Magnetic Rag" and "Maple Leaf Rag." Stan claims he doesn't read music, and if that's so, then his ear is highly developed and his knowledge of harmony thorough. These are tough tunes to work out even with the "training wheels" of sheet music. Putting them together by ear is a daunting task, and Stan is certainly meeting the challenge!

Young Ruby Fradkin took the stage, first announcing a couple of upcoming gigs at which she'd be featured. She then delved into some standards, playing with her special brand of bounce and clarity. First was "Camptown Races," then "Pick a Bale of Cotton," followed by "Tom Dooley."

The first half of our program went way overtime, so we decided to forego the break and forge ahead with more music. Bob Pinsker kept his exploration of Willie the Lion Smith going with "Echo of Spring," one of the composer's masterpieces, and "Conversation on Park Avenue." The Lion's music is great to listen to, and Bob's playing of this difficult material is impressive.

Les Soper then came aboard to offer up a variety of beautifully played ragtime. First off was Imogene Gillis' "Red Peppers," then Joseph Lamb's "Ragtime Bobolink," played with compassion and restraint, then Joplin's "The Chrysanthemum."

Gary Rametta added more Joplin to the program, first with the cheerful but tricky "Peacherine Rag," then the lovely "Bethena, a Concert Waltz."

Nancy Kleier returned for a second set, consisting of "The Turkey Trot," and "Good Gravy," both no doubt in honor of the Thanksgiving holiday.

Les then came back up to play another solo, this time totally captivating us with his performance of Glenn Jenks' "Elegiac Rag," a tremendously moving piece which Les played brilliantly.

Bob Pinsker then asked the audience to name any Joplin rag and he would play it. "Wall Street Rag" got a couple of votes but the choice turned out to be "Weeping Willow." Bob gave it a good ride.

To close out our program, Ruby Fradkin was joined by Phil Cannon and newcomer James Patrick from Glendale (on drum skin) in trio versions of "Babyface" and "St. Louis Blues," the latter to which Ruby added a variety of tasteful and bluesy improvisational touches.

Ron Ross and Alan Breiman took us to the finish line with "Hello My Ragtime Gal." With that, we had to shut the pianos and say "Goodbye My Ragtime Friends" as the meeting went about 30 minutes overtime. Hey, it was like a Thanksgiving dinner. Maybe we could've stayed all night and had our fill, but what would the occasion be without leftovers?

We promise to have a full course of ragtime on hand this month to help make your holiday season merry and bright!


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