Rose Leaf Ragtime Club June Meeting (6/29/2002)
Now that the hot months of the year are upon us, it's always a bit of a dare each month to see how we'll fare, comfort-wise, in the back room of the Pasadena IHOP. Happily, the air conditioning system there has been working like a champ. Fittingly, the 50-plus members who attended our gathering the last Sunday in June not only got to roll up their sleeves and relax, but also enjoy yet another three-plus hours of terrific ragtime music.
Bill Mitchell and Gary Rametta opened the meeting with duo piano renditions of Scott Joplin's "Original Rags" (his first published rag, dated 1899), the toe-tapping Joplin/Scott Hayden collaboration "Something Doing," and Joseph Lamb's elegant and original "American Beauty."
Next, Andrew Barrett, a 14 year-old ragtime pianist prodigy, delivered great solo versions of two less well-known but nonetheless outstanding compositions, Joe Jordan's "That Teasin' Rag" (1909) and Charles L. Johnson's folksy "Crazy Bones Rag," (1913). Both rags were popular in their day, Jordan's being covered in part by the Original New Orleans Dixieland Jass Band, and Johnson's by the John Philip Sousa orchestra.
Ron Ross then played two of his excellent original ragtime compositions, "Retro Rag" and "Joplinesque (A Gringo Tango)." The former is a light, humorous and inventive excursion into the ragtime form, while the latter is a flowing, sophisticated and lyrical piece that moves effortlessly between a straight two-four beat and a haba?era rhythm. It's a truly wonderful four-minute musical journey, one of my favorites off his "Ragtime Renaissance" CD, and certainly one of Ron's best pieces.
Phil Cannon followed, contributing two classic Joseph Lamb rags, "Topliner" and "Cleopatra," on his guitar/banjo. One can't commend Phil's artistry highly enough. His arrangements are true to form, capturing the compositions' every nuance and subtlety, and his technical ability is simply amazing.
Bill Mitchell returned to the Yamaha studio upright and, picking up on Andrew Barrett's Charles L. Johnson theme, delivered joyous, upbeat versions of two of Johnson's best rags, "Porcupine" (1909) and Snookums (1918), both of which teem with Missouri folk influences. Bill's enthusiasm for Johnson's work is evident in his bright and syncopoated interpretations.
Ruby Fradkin was our next performer. No doubt the word about Ruby has been getting around town. A camera crew from the Los Angeles Time's local cable TV station had arrived earlier and was set up to record her performance. Ruby started out with Joplin's challenging "Cascades" from 1901, playing it with bounce and precision, and much to the crowd's delight. For her next piece, she was joined by Bill Mitchell in a thoroughly good-time rendition of Joplin and Arthur Marshall's timeless "Swipsey Cakewalk." If we're not careful, she's going to make us famous...
Making her first appearance at the Rose Leaf Ragtime Club piano was our next performer, Sally Todd (Becky Todd's mom). I'd heard Sally play after our May meeting and was floored by her playing of a couple of jazz standards arranged with complex stylings, ? la Carmen Cavallero. When I saw her sitting with Becky and Mr. Todd during our June meeting, I eagerly asked her to play for us. During her introduction, Sally said she was so taken with Fred Hoeptner's lovely "Idyll of Autumn" (which he played at our May meeting), that she had to learn it. Anyone who's tried to play Fred's compositions knows how intricate and technically difficult they are. With only two weeks preparation, Sally did a great job on "Idyll," capturing its mood, pulse and dissonances, and generously expressing its inner beauty and effervescence.
To close the first half of the show, the club welcomed guest pianist David McAllister from North Carolina. Dave was vacationing in the area, and learned of our meeting in the American Rag newspaper. Dave's forte is Stride Ragtime piano (Fats Waller in particular), and he set the keys ablaze with masterful performances of Waller's "Honeysuckle Rose" and "Lookin' Good But Feelin' Bad." In addition to flawlessly performing many Wallerisms, David treated us to some first-rate improvisation.
During the break, Bill Coleman played intermission piano, doing very nicely on some early rags and cakewalks, including Joplin's "The Entertainer."
Opening the second half of the program was Bill Buell, who frequented the former Maple Leaf Club before it joined with the Rose Leaf Club. For his selections, Bill chose "Peach Blossoms," then Wallie Herzer's best-known work, "Everybody Two-Step." This piece was reportedly the first piano rag every recorded, by Mike Bernard in 1912. Bernard was a New Yorker said to possess a flashy, classically-trained technique. The ragtime history books show he apparently "dethroned" Kentucky's Ben Harney (who claimed to be the creator of ragtime) as "Rag Time King of the World" in a piano contest in the early 1900s.
Following an announcement by Bill Mintz regarding an upcoming event for LP collectors called "Vinyl Records Day," (to be held next month in San Luis Obispo), Gary Rametta played solo on Joplin's "Peacherine" rag, a classic from 1901.
After Stan Long played a couple sections of Joplin's "Elite Syncopations," the club welcomed banjo artist Jim Jones to center stage. A Palos Verdes resident, Jim is a longtime player of Tin Pan Alley and Dixieland music, and is an active member of the National Sheet Music Society. He recalled his playing days with the "Salty Dogs" of Purdue University in the late 1950s, and gave us a brief history of the group and some of its alumni. The group's theme song was Lew Pollock's 1914 rag "That's a Plenty," on which he accompanied the duo pianos of David McAllister and Bill Mitchell. He also led the trio in a rendition of "Runnin' Wild" (I'm not certain if this was the "Runnin' Wild" composed by James P. Johnson from the Broadway show of the same name). That notwithstanding, Jim's set was enthusiastically received by the Rose Leaf attendees.
Bill and David stayed on, giving us a gem of a duet; this one on Fats Waller's "Keepin' Out of Mischief." David was true to the Waller style with lots of tenths in the left hand, while Bill improvised beautifully.
Andrew Barrett returned to the keys for another solo, "Hot House Rag," written in 1914 by his favorite composer, Indiana native Paul Pratt, a vaudeville pianist and forerunner of novelty piano.Next up was Yuko Shimazaki. Yuko got her fingers warmed up with "Maple Leaf Rag," accompanied by Bill Mitchell, then soloed on "Fig Leaf Rag," one of Joplin's undeniable masterpieces from his New York period. Yuko and Bill's performance of "Maple Leaf" was exciting, and her solo of "Fig Leaf" featured her exquisite touch, phrasing and interpretation.
In recognition of the upcoming Independence Day festivities, Phil Cannon returned to perform a patriotic set. He chose two of Sousa's best-known and best-loved marches, "Stars and Stripes" and "Semper Fidelis." His playing was, again, fantastic and met with much appreciation.
Ron Ross then returned to the keys, this time with a new piano/vocal number he penned in honor of Miss Fradkin, called "When Ruby Plays the Blues." With its catchy melody and clever lyrics, the tune expressed Ron's (and our) fondness for young Ruby and wonderment of her talent.
The club applauded Ron and his composition, then, with much ovation, welcomed Ruby back to the keys. She soloed on a patriotic set of her own, performing a nicely-arranged medley of George M. Cohan's "You're a Grand Old Flag" and "Yankee Doodle Dandy." Following her solo, she asked Stan Long to join her in a four-hands rendition of Disney's "Zippity Doo-Dah." The duo played with verve and genuine foot-stomping appeal. To close the show, Ruby asked Bill Mitchell to join her on W.C. Handy's classic "St. Louis Blues." Bill contributed his always-great accompaniment, while Ruby displayed her increasingly learned improvisation skills.
In all, it was another memorable gathering. If you missed us in June, make sure to mark your calendar for this coming Sunday, July 28, at 2:30 PM. We hope to see you there!
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