Rose Leaf Ragtime Club August Meeting (8/31/2003)
As your official meeting reporter and master of ceremonies, I would like to take this opportunity to shed any appearance of objectivity by saying that, for the past several months, our meetings have gotten better, better and better still. Which prompts me to offer this confident boast: the Rose Leaf Ragtime Club is southern California's ragtime home nonpareil!
Credit for this fact goes to all our performers, veterans as well as relative newcomers, who continue to cultivate their artistry and appreciation for the ragtime genre, to our members who show up month after month, graciously offering smiles, support, encouragement and foot-stomping enthusiasm, and who've been excellent sources of referrals to us, and the extra-mile efforts of volunteers without whose dedication and involvement our club would be much the poorer: John Tully, Bill Mitchell, Phil Cannon, Ron Ross and Fred Hoeptner.
Added thanks for helping make August's meeting one of our most special ever goes to Fred. It was through Fred's passion, diligence and legwork that we were able to sponsor and showcase a topnotch ragtime artist, guitarist Giovanni De Chiaro, and present a program that went off without a hitch. Giovanni was able to squeeze in a couple of solo sets for us before heading down to El Segundo for what turned out to be an even more outstanding concert at the Old Town Music Hall later that evening. Thanks also to Ron for his hours of work publicizing both events and preparing a souvenir program for the concert.
Yuko Shimazaki started the August meeting off with an expressively played version of Scott Joplin's "Bethena," a favorite of classically trained pianists and certainly Joplin's most exquisitely crafted ragtime waltz.
After some brief introductory remarks by Gary Rametta, Bill Mitchell turned out a retrospective of works by two key Missouri ragtimers. First was the great James Scott's aptly named "Great Scott Rag" (1909), followed by Tom Turpin's more folk-styled "St. Louis Rag," a signature piece by the father of St. Louis ragtime. It was written in 1903 to coincide with the launch of the World's Fair in St. Louis (which was delayed by a year due to financing problems). For his third solo, Bill cranked out another James Scott gem, "Kansas City Rag." One of Scott's most abbreviated compositions, each of its three sections is melodically captivating, with the brief trio being one of his most original and memorable strains.
Les Soper continued with one of the greatest rags ever written, Scott Joplin's "Cascades," another World's Fair-related composition from 1904, said to have been inspired by the fair's "spectacular water display." For his second number Les turned the clock forward 67 years, tapping into William Bolcom's folio of ragtime masterpieces with "Graceful Ghost," a soulful, reflective elegy for the composer's late father. Like Joseph Lamb's "Excelsior," it is written in five flats, modulating to six flats (plus numerous accidentals along the way) making it a challenge for pianists of any caliber to learn and play.
After the haunting and final Bb minor chord of "Graceful Ghost" faded, we welcomed Mr. De Chiaro, who had been practicing in the lobby of the restaurant since his arrival.
A consummate professional with a long list of academic, classical and publication credits, Mr. De Chiaro has long been a ragtime enthusiast. His first recording of Joplin compositions transcribed for guitar has been on the shelves of music stores for over 15 years. In the meantime, he added three additional all-Joplin recordings and has made the rounds as a featured artist at the major ragtime festivals in the U.S.
With a masterful touch that displayed both sensitivity and power, De Chiaro journeyed the audience through "The Entertainer," "Crush Collision March," "Kismet Rag," "Harmony Club Waltz" and "Elite Syncopations," all Joplin tunes, save for "Kismet," which Joplin co-penned with prot?g? Scott Hayden. In addition to providing interesting back-stories to several of the pieces, De Chiaro expertly interpreted each composition, bringing out their creative richness and beauty.
Ron Ross led the cheers as Mr. De Chiaro thanked the guests for their enthusiastic response. Before proceeding with his solos, Ron suggested that those in the audience who couldn't be able to attend Giovanni's evening concert tune in to Jeff Stone's ragtime show later that evening on KSBR 88.5 FM radio, or via the station's simultaneous Internet broadcast on its web page (www.ksbr.net).
Ron then dove into Joseph Lamb's "Sensation," bought and published by John Stark in 1908 after a chance meeting between Joplin and Lamb in Stark's New York office. Joplin invited Lamb to his home, where Lamb played it for his ragtime idol and closest friend-to-be. Joplin is said to have complimented Lamb on the piece's genuine Negro ragtime sound. Lamb accepted Joplin's offer to include his name as arranger to help market the sheet music. Like Joplin, publisher John Stark was equally impressed and offered to publish Lamb exclusively. It was a successful partnership that lasted until 1919, with the publication of "Bohemia."
For his second solo, Ron performed his newest composition, a sweet ragtime habanera called "La Rosa," named after the Rose Leaf club.
Andrew Barrett, showing a musical maturity beyond his 16 years, performed beautifully on "Downstream," by 1920s-era New York composer Eastwood Lane, from Lane's four-part piano suite called Adirondack Sketches. Though Lane wasn't a ragtime composer, it wouldn't be inaccurate to refer to his pieces as belonging to the novelty piano genre. His use of lush chord voicings, whole-tone scales and chromaticism gives his compositions a dreamy, impressionistic quality. Even though his writing was highly pianistic, his musical vocabulary and storytelling style influenced many early jazz players. Trombonist Bix Beiderbecke, for instance, was inspired by the Adirondack pieces to compose "In a Mist" and "In the Dark," two delicate piano masterpieces of his own.
Giovanni De Chiaro followed up Andrew's class act with another classy set of his own, starting with the march-like "Cleopha," in which he illustrated Joplin's use of melodic call-and-response. Next was "Heliotrope Bouquet," the Joplin/Louis Chauvin collaboration. Giovanni's interpretation was truly heart wrenching, uncovering the sadness, longing and beauty of these two great composers' musical minds. For a fitting finale and an end to the first portion of our program, De Chiaro performed Joplin's last and most autobiographical rag, "Magnetic Rag." This is the most difficult of all Joplin's compositions to interpret, as it encompasses an ever-changing spectrum of moods. The rag's vast jumps; from intellectual and romantic, to formal and melancholic, to joyless abandon, to somber darkness and back to intellectual, are perhaps reflective of Joplin's gargantuan determination to maintain mental lucidity, even as his brain was beginning to succumb to the dementia that eventually caused his death. De Chiaro captured the many nuances of this piece flawlessly, and the story revealed by his performance brought tears to my eyes.
During the intermission that followed, Bill Coleman kept the musical pulse pleasant and subdued, playing a medley that spanned cakewalks like "At a Georgia Camp Meeting," (1897) to popular songs such as "Feelings," circa 1973. What I like about Bill's playing is its honesty and innocence, its absence of guise.
Stan Long opened the second portion of the program with "A Short Boogie," an excellent improvisation that seems ideally suited to his gregarious charm and foot-tapping piano technique. For his second solo, he changed gears and took a brave stab at Robin Frost's "Uncle Herbie's Rag," a difficult novelty piece to say the least. I was particularly proud of Stan for his handling of the third and fourth strains that feature contrary motion in the right and left hands. The best analogy I can give for this Frost-employed device is its similarity to a tongue twister. Very tough to separate the opposing finger action on the keys. Kudos to Stan for bringing it off.
Making his first Rose Leaf club appearance was 20-something Dhiren Panikker, a pianist since the age of 10. Dhiren explained his affinity for the east-coast ragtime style of Harlem stride, then launched into an original composition called "Avocado Rag," which he said was inspired by a venerable avocado tree in the backyard of his parent's home. Dhiren played with flash and exuberance, employing a striding left hand and electrifying runs in the right hand. The highlight of "Avocado" was its trio, replete with Fats Waller-like stylings. He followed up with the ultimate stride composition: James P. Johnson's "Carolina Shout." Dhiren's playing is bold, bright and exciting. We hope to hear lots more from him!
The crowd welcomed Andrew Barrett for a second set in which he played Joplin's "Weeping Willow," Joseph Lamb's posthumously published masterpiece "Bird Brain Rag," and Paul Pratt's "Hot House Rag" from 1914. Next was Phil Cannon, who must have been chomping at the bit to play after listening to Giovanni De Chiaro. Phil's patience was appreciated, and the audience was equally appreciative of his performance of three classic rags: Joplin's "Nonpareil," the Joplin/Hayden collaboration "Something Doing," and Joplin's dedication to the Turpin brothers, "Searchlight Rag," named in honor of the Turpin's hometown of Searchlight, Nevada.
Robbie Genet brought another outstanding Rose Leaf club meeting to a close with an original; the tongue-in-cheek titled "Pancake Rag." This piece showcased his strong touch, blues influence and creative use of double-time. Robbie explained that "Pancake Rag" is actually a song with lyrics (about a guy who gets beaten up in a pancake house). Perhaps he saved the vocal for another time. At any rate, Rob finished up with an energetic improvisation based on blues and boogie-woogie figures.
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