Rose Leaf Ragtime Club July Meeting (7/27/2003)
...A special reminder before the July meeting recap: at this month's meeting (on 8/31) the Rose Leaf Club is privileged to welcome Giovanni De Chiaro for a special appearance. A renowned classical guitarist, Mr. De Chiaro is also a ragtime aficionado and has recorded the works of Scott Joplin on CD. We're in for a real treat, as he has agreed to perform a warm-up set for us in preparation for his concert later that evening at the Old Town Music Hall. Our plan is to introduce him early in the program in order to give him plenty of time to get down to El Segundo for his show. So, you'll want to arrive early to guarantee yourself a seat...
With summer at its peak, the heat radiated strongly at the base of the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains as we stepped out of our car and made our way inside the IHOP on Foothill Blvd. Once inside though, we were greeted by the refreshing blast of cool air from the restaurant's air conditioning system. The banquet room at the rear of the restaurant was suitably cooled as well.
As the members and guests rolled in, Yuko Shimazaki was getting the ragtime vibe going with a beautiful solo of Scott Joplin's "Bethena." Considered his most outstanding waltz, it contains some of his loveliest melodies. Next, Yuko offered a bit of a change-up with Frederic Chopin's posthumous Nocturne in E minor, another piece of inestimable beauty. Her playing on both was outstanding, as always.
The meeting kicked off with about 40 ragtimers present, at which time Gary Rametta launched into Joseph Lamb's "Excelsior Rag," arguably his greatest Stark-published rag. It contains many of Lamb's trademarks: subtle quotations of Joplin, wide variation in rhythm and dynamics, moments of triumph and reflection, intricate harmonies and creative mastery of the classic ragtime form.
Next we enjoyed a series of duets, the first courtesy of Bill Mitchell and longtime colleague Frank Santo, a bandleader, washboard player and pianist in his own right. With Bill at the piano and Frank on washboard, they started with "Good Gravy Rag," a popular, feel-good folk rag from 1913 by Harry Belding. Next was another old favorite, Charles L. Johnson's 1918 hit "Snookums." This was Johnson's last published rag after nearly 20 years of composing, with many bona-fide hits along the way.
Phil Cannon strapped on his guitar/banjo, which now sports an internal microphone, then led the way with Bill accompanying him on James Scott's ageless "Grace and Beauty," followed by Percy Wenrich's "The Smiler Rag" from 1907. The Wenrich tune in particular lends itself to string picking, and it sounded great in the hands of Mr. Cannon. And you can always count on Bill's excellent accompaniment in duets. Phil expertly handled the melody and changes on both tunes, while Bill added harmonic richness and melodic counterpoint.
It was good to see George McClellan back after an extended hiatus. And as always, it was an out-and-out treat to hear him perform. He and Lee Roan, whose playing has gotten much cleaner and more confident, gave us duo piano versions of three classic standards, first "Margie," the J. Russel Robinson/Con Conrad/Benny Davis collaboration, then Munson and Leonard's "Ida, Sweet as Apple Cider," and "Who's Sorry Now," the 1923 Ruby/Kalmar/Snyder tune made super-famous by singer Connie Francis in the late 1950s.
Andrew Barrett then came up for a set of two duets and one solo. Phil joined him on Joplin's great "Pine Apple Rag," followed by Joe Lamb's lush and sentimental "Topliner Rag." Next, Andrew performed his first ragtime composition, "Frequent Flyer Rag," and it was terrific! Young Andrew is doing exceptionally well. His continuing rapid progress (building a repertoire, learning the history of the genre, expanding his technique, and now composing) is a real marvel to witness. We're lucky to have him!
Ron Ross next strode up to the Yamaha upright and proceeded to delight the listeners with three originals. First was his latest work, "Sutter Creek Rag," an homage to the increasingly popular (and upcoming!) Gold Coast festival spearheaded by the tireless and enthusiastic Nan Bostick. Continuing, Ron dove into two gems from his Ragtime Renaissance CD, "Digital Rag" and "Joplinesque, A Gringo Tango." Both are excellent contributions to the contemporary ragtime genre.
Bill returned to the keys for a solo set with some Jelly Roll Morton by request. First was Jelly's incomparable "The Pearls," then his cutting-contest favorite "Grandpa's Spells," followed by his first composition, "New Orleans Blues (Joys)." Bill's fluency with Jelly Roll's music is inspiring. It's a tribute to his command of the keyboard, and to his soulful understanding of Jelly's musical language.
George returned for a solo set, this time with a medley of standards: "After You've Gone," "Five-foot Two (Eyes of Blue)" and "Second-hand Rose." George's playing style is a cross between stride, novelty and jazz. The chords he chooses, and the way in which he voices them, give his playing a big-piano sound. At the same time, his touch is smooth and lyrical and his rhythm impeccable. He's just wonderful to listen to.
Frank Santo then gave us a set of two piano solos, first the favorite, "Hello My Ragtime Gal," followed by an original composition, "Pet Dander Rag." Like its title, this rag has a fun and frolicsome quality. I hope we can hear Frank perform it again!
Ruby Fradkin gave us an update on some upcoming magazine articles in which she's featured, then performed the first three sections of "Maple Leaf Rag" with lots of bounce and without any undue effort. She continued with "Zippity Doo-Dah," which is included on her CD Warmin' Up With Ragtime Ruby, and concluded with a blues-touched arrangement of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." Ruby's confidence and skill continue to improve; each time the club meets she seems to have learned a few new tricks. This month, I noticed how her expressiveness and touch are improving as she employs more wrist action and arm movement.
Bill Coleman followed at the Yamaha, taking us through the halftime intermission with his medley of standards.
Gary continued, soloing on Trebor Tichenor's 1960-ish "Show Me Rag, A Missouri Defiance."
Next was Les Soper. He opened with a great number, too infrequently played: Joe Lamb's "Champagne Rag," which has a one-step feel that's ideally suited to ballroom dancing. It's also one of Lamb's longer pieces, which is doubly wonderful since too much Joseph Lamb is never enough. Next was David Thomas Roberts' "Roberto Clemente," a beautiful elegy that's become a well-deserved ragtime classic and represents David at his best. To conclude his thoroughly satisfying set, Les gave us a perfectly realized rendition of James White's "Original Chicago Blues" from 1914.
Andrew returned with a fine performance of George Cobb's novelty influenced "Chromatic Capers" from 1925. Continuing in the novelty vein, he followed up with his premiere performance of Zez Confrey's easy-on-the-ears (but tough-to-play) "Kitten on the Keys." He finished up a fine set with "Knice and Knifty," a Charley Straight/Roy Bargy novelty rag from 1922.
Fred Hoeptner next entertained the troops with solos on two original pieces, the playful "Dalliance" and the melancholy "Aura of Indigo," then stole the show with an absolutely stunning performance of David Guion's "Texas Fox Trot." When Fred is "on," as he was this Sunday, his touch is simply beautiful. He's able to make the piano sing in a way that few ragtime pianists can.
Ruby returned for a second set, this one starting off with Joplin's 1901 classic, "Elite Syncopations." Her rendition was highlighted by a terrific fourth section, which showcases Joplin's inventiveness with syncopated lines. Next was Ruby's own "(Still) Unnamed Original," in which she employs a plethora of bluesy riffs. Finally, it was "Ruby's Boogie, an enjoyable selection off her music CD.
The meeting was going way overtime, but as everyone remained in their seats, Les Soper came back up to give us a version of Galen Wilkes' "Oyster Shimmy," a New Orleans-style rag intended to be played "a la (Jelly Roll) Morton." It is named after an actual dance that was performed by certain ladies in historic Storyville's "Houses of Tolerance," where Jelly got his start as a piano pro.
An impromptu quartet of Bill, Phil, Frank and Gary then joined in a rousing piano/guitar-banjo/washboard performance of "Sunflower Slow Drag," the Joplin/Hayden collaboration from 1901. Phil stayed on and had Les come up to help him close another successful meeting with a sweet rendition of Joplin's "Chrysanthemum."
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