Rose Leaf Ragtime Club April Meeting (4/27/2003)
It was a pleasure to get back in the saddle after a month away from the Rose Leaf club. Around 30 guests were in attendance at the start of the meeting, but by the end of the first half of the show I counted 51. As usual, the 30-plus piano rags performed were thoroughly enjoyable. By the time 5:30 p.m. rolled around and talented 15 year-old Andrew Barrett struck the final chord of an amazingly played "Lion Tamer Rag," it was tough to call an end to the proceedings.
I opened the program with Joseph Lamb's masterful "Excelsior Rag," one of the few (if not the only) classic rags written in the keys of Db and Gb. Despite the challenge presented by its key signatures, "Excelsior's" sonic majesty makes it a true joy to play. I followed up with one of my favorite rags by David Thomas Roberts, his lyrical and reflective "Through the Bottomlands."
Bill Mitchell next took up the keys, starting out with James Scott's "Evergreen Rag," a lightly syncopated and march-like composition that, like Lamb's "Champagne Rag" and "Bohemia," seems a perfect dance number. He continued with St. Louis composer Harry Belding's folksy "Good Gravy Rag," subtitled "A Musical Relish." Bill concluded with Jelly Roll Morton's "New Orleans Blues," whose essence he never fails to capture.
Phil Cannon took over with his guitar/banjo, accompanied by Bill on piano. They played duet versions of two Joe Lamb classics, "American Beauty" and "Ragtime Nightingale." As always, Phil's recreation of the tune was praiseworthy, and Bill's accompaniment added depth and richness to the pieces. Continuing, Phil invited Andrew Barrett to accompany him on Joplin's "Palm Leaf Rag." They turned in a fine performance, realizing the restraint and sweetness of Joplin's composition.
Andrew stayed on at the piano, soloing on Joplin's "Weeping Willow," which sounds like a companion piece to "Palm Leaf"; both were written and published only months apart. He followed up with a well-played version of Jean Schwartz's "April Fool Rag," seamlessly incorporating descending arpeggiated chord runs in the final strain, a la Mimi Blais. For his third solo, he chose Fresno composer Gil Lieby's "Goldenrod Rag."
Ron Ross spoke about the lengthy article about him written by David Reffkin and published in the April 2003 issue of The Mississippi Rag. The article stems from an interview conducted several months ago when Ron appeared on David's ragtime radio show. Also included in the newspaper was Mr. Reffkin's complimentary review of Ron's "Ragtime Renaissance" CD. Ron played two selections from his CD, the multifaceted "Joplinesque, A Gringo Tango" and "Mirella," a haba?era ballad distinguished by its lovely harmonies.
Les Soper then came up to express his pianistic artistry on three gorgeous rags: first Joplin's "Gladiolus," followed by Lamb's "Cottontail" and Glenn Jenks' "The Black Preacher." Les's touch, phrasing and dynamic range are noteworthy, as is his facility in translating the stories told by these rags.
Giving us a bit of a preview to his upcoming two-man show with Robbie Rhodes at the Old Town Music Hall, "Harlem Giants," Bob Pinsker performed three splendid pieces by New York stride master Willie the Lion Smith. Smith one of the "Big Three" of the New York Harlem stride piano sound, along with James P. Johnson and their prot?g? Fats Waller. Over his nearly 60-year career, Smith penned many classic works that have become part of the standard repertoire for stride and jazz players.
Bob gave us examples of Smith's varied compositional and performing style on "Lament of the Lioness," a novelty-like piece published in 1940, "How Could You Put Me Down?" a song he co-penned with James P., and "ZigZag," an early jazz-sounding work written by Tin Pan Alley composer Mitchell Parrish. Bob's performance of this adventurous piece was based on his own transcription of a Smith-recorded solo.
Following Bob was Shirley Case, a welcome addition to our player roster. Shirley hails from the Laguna Beach area, and she possesses outstanding technique and touch. Her first selection was "Sweet Pickles," an influential 1907 folk rag from Missouri composer Theron Bennett. She followed up with James Scott's "Frog Legs Rag" from 1906, the first Scott piece to really catch on with the public. It contains all the characteristic modulations, melodic and harmonic devices that made Scott's music distinctive, and which he subsequently used in his best works.
Shirley closed her set with the haunting "Heliotrope Bouquet," a Louis Chauvin/Scott Joplin collaboration from 1907. The A and B sections, from Chauvin, are melancholic yet rhythmic, striking in their beauty and originality. Joplin wrote the final two sections, in which he carefully preserved the mood and pulse established by Chauvin. With her interpretation and tastefully applied improvisation, Shirley made each of these rags her own, a fact not lost on the appreciative audience.
Bill Mitchell returned for a brief second set, cleverly complementing some of the music previously heard. First was Charles Johnson's famous "Dill Pickles," followed by New York stride man Luckey Roberts' "Music Box Rag."
After a short intermission during which Yuko Shimazaki played brilliantly on Frederic Chopin's Nocturne 19 in E minor, Les Soper performed one of James Scott's later rags, "Pegasus," and Joe Lamb's "Ragtime Bobolink," one of the 12 superb pieces from the posthumously-published "Ragtime Treasures" folio.
Ruby Fradkin then sat at the Yamaha upright and immediately dove into an engaging warm-up/intro/etude that featured a variety of blues scales, patterns and runs. After effortlessly wowing the guests with this, she segued into bouncy renditions of Joplin's "Elite Syncopations" and followed with "Maple Leaf Rag."
Bob rejoined the musical offerings with another dazzler by The Lion, "Carnival on the Keys," a "modernistic piano novelty" that Smith had reportedly forgotten he'd written. Next was "Mo'lasses," a selection from Luckey Roberts' 1923 show "Go-Go." Bob's expert playing of this piece was based on the printed, rather than published, version.
To finish off another memorable gathering and take us home was Andrew Barrett, playing George L. Cobb's "Cracked Ice Rag" from 1918, followed by the aforementioned spectacular performance of Mark Janza's (a.k.a. Al Marzian's) "Lion Tamer Rag."
We hope to see you this month for another few well-spent hours of musical enjoyment!
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