Something Doing

Ragtime Happenings in the Southland

JUNE, 2004

NUMBER 98

Rose Leaf Ragtime Club May Meeting (5/30/2004)

Reported by Gary Rametta


A crowd that ranged between 35 and 40 guests and performers showed up at the Pasadena IHOP for our May meeting. As usual, the gathering produced an eminently satisfying mix of folk, classic and contemporary ragtime, as well as a breadth of blues, boogie-woogie and other syncopated styles.

Gary Rametta christened the meeting with a selection from the classic rag portfolio, James Scott's "Efficiency Rag." Published by Stark in 1917, it is a bright, up-tempo piece that contains all of Scott's compositional trademarks, e.g., octave-jumping call-and-response figures, two-fisted chords, an active bass clef and unexpected harmonic resolutions.

Next, Gary turned the clock forward with David Thomas Roberts' "For Kansas City." Written in 1980 as a commission, it's an ambitious piece that blends a variety of moods and textures in a contemporary ragtime context.

As a segue to our next performer, Bill Mitchell, Gary asked Bill to join him in a two-piano rendition of Joplin's playful "Peacherine Rag."

Bill took over the keys with another ambitious piece, James Scott's "Climax Rag" from 1914. Although it bears some of Scott's typical approaches, its melodic lines and harmonic movement could also be considered avant-garde compared to the ragtime of its day. Perhaps that's why it became a favorite of early jazz bands and is still played today.

Bill continued with "Rosewood Rag," an obscure piece from 1908. I was unable to find any information about the rag or its author, Peter Heaton. Perhaps Bill can revisit the tune at a future meeting and give us some more background on it! To close his set, Bill chose Jelly Roll Morton's "Sidewalk Blues," a stomp recorded by Morton and his band, The Red Hot Peppers, during their historic 1926 sessions. Though a basic piano/vocal score was published by Melrose at that time, the tune does not appear in James Dapogny's definitive compilation of Jelly Roll piano transcriptions, which suggests that Morton never envisioned it as a piano solo. However, after Morton's death in 1941 and with the West Coast revival of ragtime spearheaded by Lu Watters' Yerba Buena Jass Band, the tune was picked up by up-and-coming jazz pianists like Paul Lingle and Burt Bales, who included it on their solo piano recordings.

Next, Phil Cannon brought out his acoustic guitar and performed great on two quintessential Joplin rags: the elegant and wistful "Silver Swan" and the march-like "The Strenuous Life." It is amazing how Phil can capture the intricacies of Joplin's carefully crafted piano scores on his guitar.

Ron Ross followed, bringing to our attention the existence of an Internet web site that streams ragtime music 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Called "Elite Syncopations," it's accessible as a link from the site: (www.live365.com). Ron then played two pieces off his "Ragtime Renaissance" CD: "Rickety Rag," the first rag he composed, and "Joplinesque (A Gringo Tango)," which alternates between a two-four beat and a habanera-like rhythm. "Joplinesque" is one of Ron's finest efforts to date and takes the listener on a beautiful musical journey.

Stan Long followed with Joplin's "The Entertainer," played in Stan's inimitable style, then "Hiawatha" from Tin Pan Alley publisher and songwriter Charles N. Daniels. "Hiawatha" and "Iola" (by Charlie Johnson) were said to have set the standard for a subsequent string of successful "Indian Intermezzos" in the early 1900's, but both were named after towns in Kansas, not after Indians, according to ragtime historians Tichenor and Jasen.

Ruby Fradkin continued the proceedings with an original ballad, basically a blues-like improvisation around tonic and dominant chords. She followed up with another blues, this one with the feel of a road house-style boogie but at a slower pace.

Fred Hoeptner performed on Adaline Shepherd's popular folk rag from 1906, "Pickles and Peppers," then James Scott's light and dance-like "Evergreen Rag" from 1915.

Robbie Gennet displayed his keyboard prowess on two loosely structured originals, "Gotta Gotta Get Back Home," a vibrant, driving solo that featured lots of walking bass, and "Brownie Boogie," a mixture of blues and boogie-woogie.

We broke for intermission, during which Yuko Shimazaki set a classy mood with a beautifully realized rendition of Franz Liszt's sparse and angelic "Consolation Number 3."

Bill Coleman took us through the remainder of the intermission with a medley of standards, cakewalks and popular tunes.

Les Soper kicked off the second half of the meeting with his usual excellent playing on two selections, first Harry Belding's "Apple Sass," a popular piano roll rag from 1914, then Joplin's eloquent 1907 masterpiece "Gladiolus Rag."

Les then brought out a custom-made, handcrafted washboard. Instead of the familiar look of cowbells and rows of gourds, his washboard featured an arrangement of wood pieces whose design reminded me of a backgammon board.

Les explained that the various woods he used are all of rare pedigree, each one carefully selected for its particular tonal quality and strategic position on the board. He then demonstrated the range and character of his instrument by donning sewing thimbles on his fingers and providing accompaniment to two Robin Frost rags, "Roger's Favorite Toy" and "Runnin' on the Rims," both off John Roache's CD, "Hot Kumquats and Other Frosty Treats." The range of sounds the washboard produced was surprising, and Les' unabashed joy when playing it shined through.

Gary Rametta returned to the keys with two more David Thomas Roberts compositions, first "Camille," a lyrical and elegant slow drag, then "Pinelands Memoir," a tuneful homage to a Mississippi town of the composer's youth.

Bill Mitchell returned for a duet with Gary on the Joplin/Scott Hayden classic, "Sunflower Slow Drag." Bill stayed on and continued with solos from his seemingly inexhaustible storehouse of rags. First, Harry Belding's "Good Gravy (A Musical Relish)," a hugely popular 1913 folk rag, then Ford Dabney's "Georgia Grind" from 1913 and, by request, James Scott's "Quality Rag" from 1911.

Back for a second set was Phil Cannon, who played two more excellent rags from the Scott Joplin folio: "The Favorite" and "Solace."

Stan Long returned to the keys with his "Haunting Accident Rag," a hard-driving, bluesy folk rag. Les Soper followed with fine renditions of Joplin's "Weeping Willow" and Joseph Lamb's "Ragtime Bobolink," one of the loveliest of all the birdcall rags.

Ron Ross capped the meeting off with a piano/vocal of "The Rose Leaf Way," his ode to P.J. Schmidt and the Rose Leaf Club.

We'll be back in action on Sunday, June 27 at 2:30 PM. Stop in and enjoy some great music with us!


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