Rose Leaf Ragtime Club June Meeting (6/26/2005)
"Thanks so much..." "The best meeting ever!" "What a treat!" "Great job!"
These were just a few of the many gleeful accolades I accepted following our June meeting. The thanks, of course, was well deserved; by our special guest performer Tom Brier, and by the host of players who contributed their artistry to make the afternoon a joyful musical experience.
A filled-to-capacity room of guests, no doubt buoyed by the opportunity to hear Brier perform live, settled in as Ron Ross opened the program with Joseph Lamb's "Patricia," a gem of a rag published in 1916. Ron followed with an original, "Rickety Rag," from the late 1990s. This was his first ragtime composition and is a stylistic precursor to many of his subsequent pieces. It features a blend of straight-eighths in 2/4 time and a gently swinging habanera rhythm in the middle section.
Andrew Barrett took over the keys with a nicely varied set starting with a late rag, Max Kortlander's "Red Clover" from 1923. Kortlander was a noteworthy piano roll arranger, composer and performer during the heyday of the QRS Piano Roll Company in Chicago. "Red Clover" was surely influenced by the stylings of some of the artists whose rolls he produced, namely Fats Waller and Zez Confrey. Andrew played the difficult left hand part without a hitch, easily handling its leading tones and stride-like reaches. Next was an original composition, "Elastic March and Two-Step," co-authored by Andrew and his dad. To close his excellently played set he chose "Blue Goose Rag," a lighthearted excursion in popular ragtime written by Charles L. Johnson (as Raymond Birch) circa 1916.
Next was the first solo set by special guest Tom Brier. Tom, who resides in Sacramento, has been one of the top ragtime pianists in the U.S. for years, but this was his first appearance at the Rose Leaf Club. Judging by his performance, and by the overwhelming response from the 60 or so attendees, it was worth the wait. He warmed up the keys with "Blue Ribbon," a lesser-played rag written by Indianan May Aufderheide in 1910. As with some of her other rags, e.g., "The Thriller," "Dusty," it makes use of clever off-rhythm accents in the melody, creating a very "raggy" feeling. Next was "Hot Hands," a commercial rag from 1916 by Charley Straight. The keys now thoroughly warm, Tom set them afire with an original called "Razor Blades," featuring an amazing 2nd section with rapidly ascending chromatic octaves in both hands. This device created an effect that sounded like a musical equivalent to "slicing" or "shearing." Definitely razor-like. The interlude and 3rd section were likewise intriguing, with some very hip rhythmic displacements that keep the listener's interest.
Tom stayed on to accompany our next performer, Nan Bostick. Nan introduced the duet she had in mind, Tom's own "Sundown," written during his teens. Before agreeing to the tune's march tempo, Tom experimented with the introduction in 2/2, 3/4 and 6/8 time. Once past this humorous display of showmanship (and skill), the two combined on what was a sweet-sounding and musically thoughtful composition.
Nan held serve and welcomed another duet partner, Shirley Case. The two combined their talents on two great early rags by women, Grace Bolen's "Smoky Topaz" from 1901 and Irene Giblin's "Chicken Chowder" from 1905. Nan's solid interpretations of both were augmented by Shirley's tasteful accompaniment and embellishments, which added depth to the rags. Together, Nan and Shirley produced music that was pure joy.
Eric Marchese provided a change of gears with a fine tune previously unknown to me, "Oklahoma Oilfield Blues," written by the songwriting team of Randolph and Carroll and published in 1920. Eric referred to it as a blues-foxtrot, but I don't think it would be inaccurate to call it a "rag" that employs blues and boogie elements. However you call it, it was a great find by Eric and well played too. Continuing, Eric gave us a Scott Joplin waltz from 1905, "Binks Waltz." He finished up by inviting Tom for a pair of duet. The two turned up the tempo, volume and heat on "Come Across" and "Humpty Dumpty," much to the audience's glee.
Bob Pinsker provided another change of pace with one of James P. Johnson's intricate, exuberant rags, "Fascination." The first strain introduces a lovely theme with diatonic resolutions, followed by second strain marked by unexpected modulations and harmonies. Again, a quite lovely rag that Bob played with feeling and facility. Next was a Bob and Tom Brier duet on Tom's "Idaho Rag." Another fine Brier composition, I particularly liked the dark, dramatic and chromatic ending to the A section. Tom provided expert accompaniment to Bob's lead. The gents stayed on for another duet, this time with Bob on violin and Tom on piano. The tune was "Moonshadows," a full-length waltz by Tom that lends itself nicely to violin/piano treatment.
Unanimously appreciative, the audience showed its enthusiasm until Tom (who had to leave early for his gig at the Old Town Music Hall) agreed to play a couple more solos. He couldn't have chosen a better way to wow the guests than with two more excellent compositions of his own: "Golden Eye Rag" from 1999 and "Squish It," a 180-mph virtuosic novelty showpiece he wrote in 1997. We couldn't have asked for more, as we'd long since passed the halfway point of the program and had to pause for an intermission.
Bill Coleman provided a soothing backdrop of sounds, working through his extended medley of cakewalks, standards and pop tunes spanning the past 100-plus years.
An abbreviated second set began with Bill Mitchell, freshly arrived from a gig of his own, combining on duets with Gary Rametta (Joplin's "Original Rags" from 1899), and Phil Cannon (Joseph Lamb's "Patricia Rag" and "American Beauty Rag."). He continued with a solo of James Scott's "Pegasus," one of his last-published rags from 1920.
Nancy Kleier conjured an interesting three-rag set whose common element was sky-bound phenomena. All three tunes were written by contemporary ragtime composers. First was Eric Marchese's "Borealis Rag," a 2002 composition firmly rooted in the classic rag style. This piece seamlessly blends stylings of ragtime's "Big Three" (Joplin, Scott and Lamb) into an intricate, fully developed original rag. Next was Tom Brier's sprightly "Rising Star," written in 1991 and recorded by Tom on his first CD of the same title. Nancy closed with "Aurora Borealis March," written by legendary ragtime evangelist, historian and performer Bob Darch.
We closed the meeting with another duo performance, courtesy of Bob Pinsker on piano and occasional attendee Eric George on trumpet and vocals. Bob laid the groundwork while Eric provided vocals and horn soloing on Harry von Tilzer's "Please Go Away and Let Me Sleep," from 1931 and J. Fred Helf's "If Money Talks, it 'Ain't on Speaking Terms With Me," from 1902.
That put the bookends on another fantastic, memorable Rose Leaf Club meeting. We're sure to experience more of the same on July 31st at 2:30 PM, when another established pro, multi-talented Pat Aranda, will be our special guest performer. Get there early!
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