Something Doing

Ragtime Happenings in the Southland

MAY, 2004


Rose Leaf Ragtime Club April Meeting (4/25/2004)

Reported by Bill Mitchell

A sunny, warm, cloudless April Sunday afternoon-excellent beach weather, but it didn't deter some forty-plus members and guests from attending an extended, variety-packed afternoon of ragtime and its offshoots.

Our emcee for the day was one of our most dedicated members, Ron Ross. Publicist, actor, stockbroker, composer, pianist, he opened the program with the Joseph F. Lamb favorite, "Ragtime Nightingale," the score of which includes quotations from Chopin and Ethelbert Nevin. Ron continued with a recent composition of his own, "Akrosonic Rag."

Bill Mitchell was invited to entertain, so he thought "The Entertainer" might be appropriate. This early Joplin rag achieved immense popularity 70 years after it was written, when it was included in the award-winning movie, "The Sting." Bill followed up with James Scott's "Grace and Beauty" (his favorite rag) and Jelly Roll Morton's "The Pearls."

Phil Cannon was the next performer, treating us to his banjo/uke solos on a couple of Joplin numbers: "Bethena - a Concert Waltz," and "The Sycamore - a Concert Rag." It is amazing how Phil captures so much of the piano scores in his arrangements, which he plays impeccably. "Bethena" contains passages of intricate chord changes which must be quite difficult to manage on a stringed instrument. His third offering of the day was Ted Snyder's "Wild Cherries," which he had been hoping to do as a duet with Nancy Kleier, but since she was unable to be present, we will look forward to hearing the duet at a later meeting.

Up next was Stan Long, playing "Black and White Rag," one of the most popular items in the rag bag. He then departed from ragtime to vocalize on a number by the 1960s satirist, Tom Lehrer: "The Wild West Is Where I Long to Be." He topped off his set with what he called his "Pretty Medley," which included "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows," "New York, New York," and "Someone to Watch over Me."

"Ragtime Nightingale" was Fred Hoeptner's opener, followed by Max Morath's "One for Amelia." This haunting and bittersweet rag was dedicated to Amelia Lamb, widow of the composer of "Ragtime Nightingale." Fred concluded his set with "Grace and Beauty," one of the truly great rags of all time.

Andrew Barrett chose Joplin's "Weeping Willow" as his first selection, giving it the gentle, nostalgic treatment the piece calls for. He then had a few words of praise for the New York pianist, Dick Hyman, one of the most gifted and versatile of contemporary jazz pianists. Hyman has written several original compositions in the styles of ragtime and jazz giants, from Joplin to the present. Andrew played one of these for us, "Ivory Strides," dedicated to Fats Waller. James Scott's "Efficiency Rag" is not often performed at the Rose Leaf Club, and that is understandable, because it is just about the most difficult of the composer's efforts. Andrew's "chops" were in evidence as he gave it a clean and frisky reading.

Robby Gennet is the first to admit he does not play classic ragtime, but he avers that his style, which gravitates more to boogie-woogie and modern jazz piano, is greatly indebted to ragtime. He opened with "Boogie-woogie in C," and followed up with a vigorous improvisation with skittering lines he called "The Passion of the Crust." He explained that a piano player needs to keep his hands strong, and he did that by strenuously kneading pie dough. (Groan!)

Frank Sano was called upon next, and he in turn invited your reviewer to duet with him on some oldies: "Ain't She Sweet," "Five Foot Two," "Waiting for the Robert E. Lee," and "Hard-Hearted Hannah (The Vamp of Savannah)." Since neither of us are singers, the funny lyrics to this last one went unheard.

For his second set, Ron Ross played three of his original compositions. The first, "Sutter Creek Rag," was written to commemorate the Sutter Creek Ragtime Festival in the Gold Country. He mentioned that he had revised the original version somewhat. The other two numbers, "Obediah's Jumpsuit" and "Digital Rag," are a couple of outstanding numbers from his CD, Ragtime Renaissance.

Andrew Barrett invited Phil Cannon to accompany him on banjo/uke for the first two numbers of his second set, both composed by Joe Lamb. The lovely "Cottontail Rag" was published posthumously. "Sensation Rag" was the first Lamb rag published John Stark. Andrew recounted the interesting story of how this came about. He concluded his set with the catchy "Frequent Flyer Rag," which he wrote in 2003.

At this point we took a break of a few minutes, during which Bill Coleman kept the piano warm with some standards and cakewalks.

The Albany Nightboat Ragtimers held forth for the next 45 minutes or so. They are a quartet led by your editor on piano, Hal Groody on banjo, Art Levin on tuba, and Frank Sano on drums. The group was founded by Frank Sano a few seasons back. Originally a New Yorker, Frank remembered that the excursion boats out of Albany on the Hudson River typically used small bands to entertain the passengers, and thus came his inspiration for the group's name.

The ANR's set included a couple of tunes by Shelton Brooks ("The Darktown Strutters' Ball" and "Some of These Days"), a couple of Scott Joplin rags ("The Easy Winners" and "Pineapple Rag"), a couple of Percy Wenrich compositions ("Put On Your Ole Gray Bonnet" and "The Smiler"), Irving Berlin's "Alexander's Ragtime Band," Jelly Roll Morton's "Milenburg Joys" (with Art on the vocal), Frank French's "Belle of Louisville," James Scott's "Evergreen Rag," George Botsford's "Grizzly Bear Rag," "It's a Long Way to Tipperary" (a 1912 pop song, with Art Levin featured on the vocal), J. Russel Robinson's "Margie," and a popular number of 1950 by one Cy Loben called "The Old Piano Roll Blues." Frank played second piano on this one.

The special guest artist of the day, Brad Kay, arrived at six, all warmed up from his regular afternoon gig at The Unurban in Santa Monica. He held forth for a little over an hour with amusing and enlightening commentary. He began by demonstrating how ragtime evolved into jazz. He played part of the 1899 cakewalk, "Smokey Mokes," and showed how the characteristic cakewalk syncopation was incorporated into Fats Waller's "Turn on the Heat," and even Cole Porter's "Anything Goes." He then turned to Scott Joplin, whom Brad places head and shoulders above all other ragtime composers. He began with "Elite Syncopations," taken at an unusually brisk tempo. (Brad believes, and with some evidence from the very early recordings of ragtime, that ragtime in general was originally played much faster than most pianists in recent decades have played it.) He entertained us with another Joplin piece of which he is especially fond, "Eugenia," and then the last Joplin of the afternoon, the elegant "Fig Leaf Rag."

Brad then visited the music of Duke Ellington in his Cotton Club days of the 1920s. Brad has worked out piano solo versions of some of the old band recordings, and chose a trio of rather obscure but intriguing numbers: "Move Over," "Blues of the Vagabond," and "Jubilee Stomp." These were enhanced by some wordless vocal effects. How shall we put it? Laid-back scat singing, perhaps.

He then introduced a surprise guest, Pamla Eisenberg, whom he accompanied as she sang "I've Got the Blues for My Old Kentucky Home," "Take Me to the Land of Jazz," and "Like a Bird You Flew Away." Brad sang an old comic song, "If I Gotta Die, I'm Gonna Have Some Fun."

Brad discussed Jelly Roll Morton at length, pointing out that although he was known as a braggart, he usually could back up his claims. He was a jazz genius. His contention that he "invented jazz" in 1902, or whatever, was really over the top, but he undeniably had a lot to do with its development. Brad played one of Jelly's most famous pieces, "The Pearls," in a free but idiomatic manner. It was a fascinating performance.

It was now 7:00 p.m. and my party regretfully had to leave. I am told that Brad played an extra fifteen minutes, a bonus for those able to stay.

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