Rose Leaf Ragtime Club July Meeting (7/28/2002)
The dog days of summer might be upon us, but that never stops die-hard ragtimers from stepping out to enjoy some entertainment from the golden age of American music.
Our July meeting opened with about 40 guests in attendance. By the end of the first half of the gathering, the number had grown. Ron Ross assumed the MC duties initially, and kicked off the show with a rendition of Joseph Lamb's dance-like "Cleopatra Rag." As pianist David Buechner noted in his early 1990s recording of this tune, it exhibits true dance hall characteristics, right down to even a wolf whistle at the end of the first section. Ron continued with a new haba?era he worked out over the past several months, called "La Rosa." If it sounded familiar to some, that's because Ron has played it before, under the title of "Green River." He told me he changed the name to better match the tune's Latin sound.
Bill Mitchell came up next and played a thoroughly enjoyable medley of Shelton Brooks tunes: "Cosey Rag," "Walkin' the Dog," "Darktown Strutters' Ball" and "Some of These Days." Next, he gave Joseph Lamb's "Ragtime Nightingale" a decidedly raggy treatment. Following his solos, Bill made a couple of announcements, one being for a get together of the Orange County Theatre Organ Group at the Plummer Auditorium in Fullerton on Saturday, September 8. The gathering is a potluck affair with open time for playing.
Following Bill was Phil Cannon, who chose two classic rags in the minor keys on which to showcase his talent. First was a revisit of Lamb's "Ragtime Nightingale," followed by James Scott's "Rag Sentimental," one of only a few Scott rags composed in a minor key. Phil did more than justice to both pieces.
Ragtime wunderkind Andrew Barrett, that rarest of today's teens with true ragtime chops and a growing knowledge of the extensive literature in the genre, strode to the fore of the stage and delighted the audience with Herbert Ingraham's 1908 "Poison Ivy" rag. He did quite nicely on the numerous trills, running eighths and stop-time effects that give the piece its playful character. Next, he gave Joplin's challenging "Scott Joplin's New Rag" from 1912 a whirl. It goes without saying that Andrew's talent, study and enthusiasm for ragtime are deeply appreciated and enjoyed.
Gary Rametta then took to the keys with St. Louis Ragtimer Trebor Tichenor's "Show Me Rag, a Missouri Defiance." This composition has Mr. Tichenor's signature all over it, and captures the feel of numerous influences: country hoe-down, bluegrass, blues, folk and straight-ahead ragtime. Gary then asked Bill Mitchell to join him on duo pianos for Frank French's "Belle of Louisville," Jelly Roll Morton's "The Pearls" and James Scott's "Grace and Beauty."
Fred Hoeptner then played solo on two terrific numbers, first, David Guion's exquisite "Texas Fox Trot" from 1915--hardly a "fox-trot" per se, but a marvelous composition nonetheless--and his award-winning "Dalliance (A Ragtime Frolic)," which took top original composition honors at the Sedalia Ragtime Festival in 2000.
Next, the members welcomed Les Soper back to the stage. It had been a few months since he played for us and, as his opening chords reminded us, we really missed him. His first solo was on F. Henri Klickmann's "Smiles and Chuckles," a lively one-step from 1917. Les's tempo was bright, and his playing displayed the kind of full, round sound that only comes from years of experience. Les followed up with a solo version of James Scott's "Grace and Beauty," performing it at a relaxed tempo that allowed its romanticism to come through.
Stan Long rose to entertain the members on George Botsford's classic "Black and White Rag" from 1908, then added his singular touch with a very nicely conceived trifecta: Old McDonald Had a Farm-The Entertainer-Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog. Very creative and humorous but it all worked well.
Bill Coleman entertained the troops during the intermission with a well-played collection of popular and semi-classical tunes.
Part II began with Ron Ross serving up Scott Joplin's 1909 homage to the stock market, "Wall Street Rag." Ron thought it was doubly appropriate at this time, since the current stock market had been so crazy combined with the fact that he himself is a stockbroker, and is caught in the middle of it. It was Ron's first public performance of this rag, and by some accounts, he did a pretty good job of it. Next Ron played "Digital Rag" from his CD "Ragtime Renaissance."
Les Soper came back for a second go-round, this time with his little washboard to accompany a Robin Frost tune called "Three Lost Bodies" from Robin Frost's "Hot Kumquats" CD, arranged for MIDI by John Roache. Following that, Les played Joe Lamb's popular "Bohemia" from 1919.
Phil Cannon, on his guitar-banjo, delivered a jaunty and delightful arrangement of James Scott's "Frog Legs Rag," followed by "Felicity Rag," the Joplin/Scott Hayden collaboration.
Ruby Fradkin showed up late but made up for her tardiness with a fabulous rendition of her first original composition, "Ruby's Boogie," complete with walking bass and marvelous treble work to go with it. A terrific new contribution to boogie. It's always a pleasant surprise when Ruby gets going. You never know what you're going to get, but you know you're going to enjoy it.
She mentioned that she will be opening the Whittier College's Jazz Series on September 28 with a 90-minute concert, and passed out flyers later to those who were interested. (See the ragtime calendar section of this issue for further information.)
Then Ruby invited Bill Mitchell to the other piano and they played an inspired duet of "Swipesy," the Joplin/Arthur Marshall piece, with Ruby playing the basic piece and Bill doing some inspired improvising as counterpoint.
Finally, Ruby took over the solo piano with a new, very inventive version of the standard "All of Me." Her intro alone was worth the price of admission, as they say.
Bill Mitchell returned to play "The Smiler," by Percy Wenrich, with Les Soper accompanying on mini-washboard. The two of them then played the old ragtime song, "Ballin' the Jack," by Chris Smith.
Andrew Barrett's next contribution was "Weeping Willow" played very gently at first but with a rousing and well-played fourth strain to end the piece. Then he ended his final set with a "barnburner" (as he put it), "Lion Tamer Rag" by Mark Janza (1913). Andrew told me that Dick Zimmerman's research indicates that the name Mark Janza might have been a pseudonym for the tune's publisher, Albert Marzian.
Fred Hoeptner did an excellent job on his composition "Idyll of Autumn" and when asked to play another, replied, "I'd better quit while I'm ahead."
Ruby Fradkin returned to close out the formal part of the session with a new version of "Bicycle Built for Two," following this with the Grand Finale which is fast becoming a tradition at the Rose Leaf Club. This time, the group consisted of Ruby and Bill Mitchell at the pianos, Phil Cannon on the guitar-banjo, and Les Soper on the mini-washboard. As usual (but it's never usual when Ruby plays) they brought the house down with "St. Louis Blues." Every now and then Ruby would call out "Bill" or "Phil" and they would take turns doing solos. A great time seemed to be had by all, especially including the audience, which was about 10% smaller than usual but equally as enthusiastic. One attendee remarked to me afterwards that he thought it was "the best session we've ever had."
I was certainly impressed with Ruby's new pieces, Andrew's inspired playing, and Stan Long's recovery from last month's difficulties, by giving us excellent renditions of the classic rags with other influences thrown in, as only he can do.
Some of our irrepressible musicians could not let go of an opportunity to play, so after the formal session, Stan Long and Andrew Barrett did a neat duet on "Maple Leaf Rag" and it went on like that for at least another 20 minutes.
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