Something Doing

Ragtime Happenings in the Southland

MARCH, 2005


Rose Leaf Ragtime Club February Meeting (2/27/2005)

Reported by Gary Rametta

As the last Sunday in February rolled around, about 40 Rose Leaf Club members showed up at our usual stomping grounds, the Pasadena IHOP, to take in an afternoon of classic and contemporary rags, two-steps, foxtrots, standards and even a taste of classical piano.

Gary Rametta started the meeting with David Thomas Roberts' "Camille," a lovely slow drag written in 1979 as a commission for a sheet music collector. He followed with Roberts' "Roberto Clemente," an elegy for the humanitarian baseball star. Its acknowledgement as a classic of contemporary ragtime and precursor of the Terra Verde movement is well deserved. Next, Bill Mitchell came up and joined Gary for a duet of Joplin's 1901 classic, "Peacherine."

Bill began his solo set with a Percy Wenrich tune from 1908, "Rainbow, An Indian Intermezzo." As was the case with other rags at the time, the use of "Intermezzo" here was intended to make the published sheet music more marketable to the largely white (and heavily female) buying audience. By adding the "Indian" moniker to this piece, Remick Publishing seemingly hoped to cash in on the popular craze for Indian-themed pieces. However, unlike other ragtime "intermezzos," (e.g., "The Chrysanthemum") or "Indian" tunes (e.g., "Hiawatha"), Rainbow sounds less exotic, and much more a straight-ahead basic rag in typical Wenrich style.

Bill continued with James Scott's "Quality" rag from 1911. Though it wouldn't be considered one of Scott's great rags, it has his familiar trademarks of multi-octave call-and-response figures, full right-hand chords, three sections and a recurring intro. Interestingly, the C-section is written in the same key (D-flat) and starts off with the same harmonic voicings and melody as the C-section of Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag." At any rate, "Quality" enjoyed success as a staple of the ragtime band and orchestra repertoire when the ragtime revival took off in the late 1940s and 1950s. Bill finished off with W.R. McKanlass' "A Bag of Rags," a lively two-step from 1912.

Guitar-banjoist Phil Cannon strapped on his axe and gave Wenrich's "Whipped Cream" a go. Written in 1913, this rag features a bevy of single-note runs that are well suited to the guitar. Next was a remarkable rendition of James Scott's brilliant and challenging "Efficiency Rag," published by Stark in 1917. Phil followed up with an equally impressive offering of Scott's pretty "Rag Sentimental" from 1918. After his performance, Phil was asked how he does the seemingly impossible job of transliterating ragtime piano scores to six-string guitar. Without divulging too many of his secrets, he explained his process of transposing certain rags to easier keys and taking advantage of a guitar capo when he accompanies a pianist or performs with a combo.

Nancy Kleier took over the mike, announcing to the delight of all her upcoming 42nd Wedding Anniversary. For her solo ragtime selections, she chose tunes that reflected key touch points in a 42-year marriage history. In the early years, she pointed out, everything seems to be "Honky Dory." Not to be confused with Abe Holzmann's more mundane "Hunky-Dory" from 1901, this piece by Edith Althoff is a dynamic piano conception. Published in 1922 at the height of the novelty era and the beginning of the jazz age, it has an energetic B-section reminiscent of Zez Confrey, and interesting flatted-notes similar to what Robin Frost employs in his modern-day novelty compositions. Nancy performed this piece with gusto.

Following was "Ragamuffin, Rag Two Step," which Nancy equated with the next stage of marital development: a burgeoning family of children and grandchildren. An upbeat, happy tune, "Ragamuffin" was written by 18 year-old Verdi Karns in 1899. Ragtime midi artist and researcher John Cowles has published some biographical information about Miss Karns, who was born in Wells County, Indiana to a family of music teachers. She published her first composition, a march, at age 17. In addition to "Ragamuffin," Cowles identified three other Karns pieces; two rags and a song. Karns was married in 1908 and apparently moved to New Mexico. It is not known if she composed again after she left Indiana.

To close her first set, Nancy chose Louise Guston's rhythmic "Topsy-Turvy, Two Step" from 1899, saying it mirrored the ups-and-downs a couple might expect to face over a 42-year hitch. Nancy's set was certainly a highlight of the afternoon. All pieces she performed were from a folio of cakewalks, two steps and rags by women composers, compiled and edited by Nora Hulse. Hulse, who holds a doctorate degree in music, is a featured pianist/lecturist at major ragtime festivals. She also has collaborated with Rose Leaf Club favorite Nan Bostick in preparing an upcoming lexicon of ragtime's women composers.

Assuming the hot seat next was Les Soper. His first solo was on F. Henri Klickmann's "Smiles and Chuckles" rag from 1917. Klickmann was primarily a tin-pan alley arranger, and this piece reflects his particular "big city" bent on ragtime. The A-section sounds like a reworking of the C-section of Joseph Lamb's "Cleopatra Rag," though not as light or elegant. Considering Klickmann's m?tier, the piece's uniform tempo and volume suggest more of an outdoors, carnival-like atmosphere rather than solo ragtime piano. Not inferior, just different.

One of Mr. Soper's specialties at the piano is his interpretation of Glenn Jenks rags. First was "Nutcrackers," to which the audience clacked spoons in sections where Jenks employs stop-time. Certainly not one of Jenks' heavyweights, the tune was nonetheless enjoyable. Perhaps it could be called a ragtime "divertissement." By contrast, Les' rendition of Jenks' "Elegiac" was, in keeping with the high quality of that composition, soul stirring. Following the initial musical statement in the left hand, "Elegiac's" main theme has an ascending chord progression and melodic line that are breathtakingly beautiful. As usual, Les' performance of this piece came deep from within. By the time the final diminuendo faded, the room was utterly still and silent.

Back from a two-month sabbatical was Stan Long. Stan hit the Yamaha studio upright running with a solid essay of Charles N. Daniels' first big hit, "Margery" his prize-winning two-step from 1898. Next was Stan's own "Haunting Accident" rag, a 3-section composition he wrote in 2003. Rooted in the folk rag concepts exploited by Trebor Tichenor and Tom Shea, it has a repeating dominant-seventh/sharp-ninth chord that gives it a "haunting" quality and unique flavor. To close his set, Stan brought up Les Soper on washboard to accompany him on his "My Ditty," a collage of musical ideas underscored by a heavy bass and ragged rhythm.

As we broke for intermission, Yuko Shimazaki came up and performed exquisitely on the opening movement of Beethoven's "Moonlight" Sonata. Bill Coleman followed, taking us through the remainder of the recess with his ever-improving medley of cakewalks, standards and popular tunes from the early part of the 20th century.

Gary opened the second half with his third David Thomas Roberts selection of the day, "For Kansas City," a multi-faceted and demanding piece from 1980.

Shirley Case, our next performer, noted that in addition to being Black History Month, February marked the birth month of ragtime great Eubie Blake (2/7/1883). It's always a thrill to listen to Shirley perform Blake; she has an excellent feel for his style and her technique is first rate. For her first number, she played Galen Wilkes' "Baltimore Rag." Wilkes is a well-known ragtime historian, lecturist and composer. In addition to writing a number of well-regarded and widely performed rags (e.g., "Last of the Ragtime Pioneers," "The Oyster Shimmy," "Creeks of Missouri"), he's composed a series of "authentic" rags in the various styles of several ragtime greats. In "Baltimore Rag," which Shirley executed flawlessly, Wilkes attempts to capture Blake's pianistic idiom. He does this most successfully in the first strain, where he makes clever use of rhythmic displacements in the left hand. In the B- and C-strains, however, Wilkes opts for derivation rather than originality, quoting a figure from Blake's 1949 "Dictys on Seventh Avenue" rag a number of times. Blues pianist Fred Longshaw used this same figure about 25 years earlier in "Tomato Sauce."

Shirley followed up with Blake's great "Chevy Chase" from 1914. Subtitled "foxtrot," its B-section starts with a catchy arpeggio built on an F 6/9 chord. The C-section is a pure, joyous ragtime stomp. Shirley closed with a marvelous rendition of "Eubie's Classical Rag," written by the master when he was approaching 90 years old!

The next group of rags came courtesy of Bill Mitchell and Les Soper on duo pianos. They opened with "Ballin' The Jack," by James Burris and Chris Smith. The tune was introduced in a stage revue called "The Passing Show of 1915" and became a huge dance hit thereafter. Next was a James Scott gem, "Kansas City Rag" from 1907. Two Joplin classics followed, first "Pine Apple Rag" from 1908 then "Maple Leaf Rag" from 1899. The duo closed an eminently satisfying set of ragtime piano with Scott's seminal "Grace and Beauty" from 1909.

Nancy Kleier returned for a second set, continuing with her anniversary theme. First was a ragtime homage to her husband's novelty necktie (assorted red jalape?os on a black background), "Red Pepper, A Spicy Rag" by Henry Lodge. Next was a rarity, "Eatin' Chocolates," a 1903 rag composed by band leader T. Fred Henry as a commission for the Purity Candy Company in Des Moines, IA. Her set concluded with "Rubies and Pearls," an essay in popular ragtime from 1911 written by Harry Austin Tierney.

Fred Hoeptner took charge of the piano with another quintessential James Scott rag, "Victory Rag," published by Stark in 1911. He finished with Max Morath's "One for Amelia," written in 1964 as a tribute to the wife of ragtime giant Joseph Lamb.

Yuko Shimazaki, Phil Cannon and Les Soper brought the meeting to a close with a superlative rendition of "Cascades," one of Joplin's undeniable masterpieces.

NOTE: Although March 27th is Easter Sunday, the club decided to hold our March meeting as usual. Start time and location will be the same as always, 2:30 PM at the Pasadena IHOP, 3521 E. Foothill Blvd.

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