Something Doing

Ragtime Happenings in the Southland



Rose Leaf Ragtime Club August Meeting (8/27/2005)

Reported by Gary Rametta

Another landmark was reached on August 27th as the Rose Leaf Ragtime Club celebrated its 10th Birthday. What better way to honor the occasion and our founder, P.J. Schmidt, than seeing the banquet room filled to near-capacity (I counted 70 attendees) and having guest performer Patrick Aranda, who was one of the original ticklers P.J. featured in the club's early years.

The afternoon of music began, appropriately, with Scott Joplin's "Rose Leaf Rag," rendered on dual pianos and banjo by the talented trio of Yuko Shimazaki, Nancy Kleier and Phil Cannon.

Ron Ross invited Phil and Bill Mitchell to join him in presenting "The Rose Leaf Way," his composition from 1999 that recognized P.J. Schmidt's vision and efforts, and the joys of ragtime. Mark Ross handed out copies of the sheet music to everyone in the room, and we all joined Ron in singing an extended version of what has become our theme song.

Ron continued with a solo piano rendition of "Acrosonic Rag," an original composition he put together a few years ago while working out the keys of his Acrosonic spinet at home. This particular piece has a very nice "B" section in the relative minor key.

Following Ron was a new performer, teenager Vincent Johnson from nearby Sierra Madre. Vincent clearly has a "thing" for syncopation and ragtime/blues/early jazz piano stylings. This was evidenced in his delivery of the Stephen Foster standard "Swanee River," in which he made use of rolling thirds, fifths and octaves in the right hand. He then played a nice arrangement, in similar style, of "You've Got a Friend in Me," the Randy Newman composition from the Pixar/Disney animated film "Toy Story." The members and guests were certainly appreciative of Vincent's talent, and we hope he continues to ply his wares at the Rose Leaf Ragtime Club!

Next, the crowd enthusiastically welcomed our guest performer Patrick Aranda. Pat is a gifted pianist thoroughly experienced in the ragtime, stride, Tin Pan Alley and jazz repertoires. In addition to entertaining audiences at Disneyland, Universal Studios and all the ragtime festivals on the West Coast for the past several years, he's also a horn player in various Dixieland and Salsa bands. Pat's also composed a number of ragtime pieces, and is on the staff at Chaffey College in Rancho Cucamonga, CA, where he serves as a professor of music.

In introducing him, I noted that at the very first Rose Leaf meeting I attended, shortly after the club moved to its current digs at the IHOP, I was treated to my first-ever live solo piano performance of Jelly Roll Morton. Pat was cranking out "Grandpa's Spells," and I, never having heard it before, was mesmerized. The originality, joy and singular genius of Morton's music was imprinted forever in me from that moment. I have Pat to thank for it.

Perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised then, when Mr. Aranda decided to begin his set by "warming up" with Jelly Roll's "The Fingerbreaker." Considered by Morton to be "the most difficult piece of jazz piano ever written," (and who's to say it wasn't back in the early 1900's when he composed it), "Fingerbreaker" is usually used as a finale or penultimate number to wow audiences. That Pat chose to begin with it showed not only his fearlessness, but also his intimacy and comfort with Jelly Roll's music.

Next was J. Russel Robinson's 1909 "Sapho Rag," named after an exotic dancer in New Orleans and published by John Stark. The first two strains demonstrate Robinson's ability to develop and expand upon a clever seven-note hook that begins the piece. As momentum builds, familiar ragtime devices are employed. The third strain is the highlight of this rag and the most original.

Pat changed gears and selected one of his own pieces, a rag-tango entitled "Tequila Shots." He prefaced it by noting Jelly Roll Morton's coining of the term "Spanish tinge," the habanera-like rhythm he used in many of his compositions. In addition to evoking the elegant lines that typified Morton's Latin sound, "Tequila Shots" also displayed the approach of Jesse Pickett, whose "Dream Rag" tango is more muscular and heavily scored. Along the way, Pat included some remarkably played 16th (or was it 32nd?) -note octave runs.

Changing gears again, Pat performed a clever and enjoyable piano/vocal medley consisting of Fats Waller's "It's a Sin to Tell a Lie," and Lerner & Lane's "How Could You Believe Me When I Said I Love You When You Know I've Been a Liar All My Life?" He spiced up the piece with some very nice jazz improvisation.

Continuing, Pat offered up some more prime piano playing: first, a great rendition of Jelly Roll Morton's classic "Original Jelly Roll Blues," then an equally impressive "Keep Off the Grass," the first rag written by James P. Johnson, the "father of Harlem stride piano." He followed up with an original, "Sunday Evening at the Foxes," written in honor of the Foxes Inn, a Bed-and-Breakfast in Sutter Creek, CA where he (and several other Rose Leaf members) performs at the annual ragtime festival.

To finish off his first set, Pat delivered a flawless, blazing rendition of "Charleston Rag," Eubie Blake's first (and arguably best) ragtime composition. His final chord was met with roaring appreciation from the audience, which by now had swelled to its maximum.

Once the excitement had settled a bit, Bill Mitchell continued the program. Bill had a set of James Scott in store, featuring two of Scott's most exquisite numbers: "Grace and Beauty" and "Ragtime Oriole." Also included was "Quality Rag." From a pianist's point of view, all three rags are tricky to play, as they require precise fingering, comfort with playing in the key signatures of Db and Gb, large hands to grab Scott's full chords, and the quickness and concentration to handle the frequent octave jumps that Scott employs.

Of course, Rose Leaf Club members know that Bill can always be counted on to deliver the goods, and invoke head-bobs and foot tapping to the audience in the meantime.

Our next player was Andrew Barrett, who brought an off-the-beaten-path trio of tunes to play. First was novelty pianist Roy Bargy's excellent "Omeomy" (pronounced oh-me-oh-my) from 1920. Next was a sleepy rendition of the standard "Garden in the Rain," a 1928 tune from Massachusetts native Carroll Gibbons, a pianist and bandleader who lived and worked most of his life in England. Andrew closed his set with another standard, Blake/Lawlor's "Sidewalks of New York" from 1894. The highlight of this selection was Andrew's break into a hip, stride piano interpretation as he capitulated the third strain.

Nan Bostick was on hand bringing as she always does a dose of high energy and good cheer, and ratcheting up everyone's spirits too. She chose a set of pieces named after towns in the State of Kansas. Stan Long joined her on "Hiawatha," the popular 1901 rag-march written by her great-uncle Charles N. Daniels under one of his pen names, Neil Moret. "Hiawatha" served as the impetus for a string of popular "Indian-themed" tunes for the next decade or more, even though, as Daniels said, he'd written it during a train ride while passing through Hiawatha, Kansas. An interesting note is that this piece remained a favorite of New Orleans jazz bands for the next fifty years. It is written that, at least as far as the New Orleans jazz repertoire was concerned, the tune became known as "Lizard on a Rail."

Next, Nan asked Nancy Kleier to join her on Charles L. Johnson's "Iola" from 1904. It was named after the Kansas town, but when lyrics were added two years later (written by James O'Dea), they told the story of a sweet 16 year-old Indian girl who was the standoffish love ideal of "a copper colored aboriginee."

Nan closed her set and the first half of the afternoon with an obscurity called "Topeka," written by Harry Jones and published by the Jerome Remick Company in 1907. Throughout Nan's set and at many subsequent points in the afternoon, Les Soper provided the rhythmic foundation with his outstanding washboard playing.

During the intermission, we sand "Happy Birthday to Us" and enjoyed partaking of a multi-layered chocolate cake that Ron Ross had picked up. We also got to enjoy Bill Coleman's laid-back piano medley on a nice assortment of standards of venerable pop tunes from the Golden Age.

The second half began with Patrick Aranda picking up where he left off. His first piece, a spirited original called "The Monkey Boy Romp," He followed with a stunning, true-to-the original "Viper's Drag," Fats Waller's brilliant composition that's just as pleasing whether it's done as a piano/vocal or stride piano solo.

Pat continued with a contemporary pianist and composer William Bolcom's most endearing ragtime composition, "Graceful Ghost, written in 1971. He followed with some very impressive soloing and improvising on "Curse of an Aching Heart," published in 1913 and written by the team of Henry Fink and Al Piantadosi.

Another original followed, this time a hilarious piano/vocal novelty number called "I Want to Be a Rap Star," during which Pat wore a baseball cap sideways on his head and punctuated the lyrics with a variety of sound effects, hip-hop attitude and assorted witticisms. For his encore, he chose another original called "The Russian Dragon, A Firebreathing Rag." Pat said his idea with "Russian Dragon" was to imagine classical composer Peter Tchaikovsky as a black man from Harlem who played stride piano. A dramatic and dizzyingly complex rag ensued.

Bob Pinsker came up to solo on Joplin's "Rose Leaf Rag," playing it mostly in classic rag style. To everyone's delight, he then announced the formation of the Heliotrope Ragtime Orchestra in the San Diego area. We'll keep our eyes and ears open for the orchestra's performance dates and programs and pass those on in future issues of Something Doing.

To finish up his set, Bob chose two rags that reflected the increasingly popular "animal dance" craze that swept the country in the early teens of the 1900s. First was a piano/vocal rendition of Gene Greene's 1912 hit "Stop That Bearcat, Sadie," followed by Jules Buffano's 1921 "Tucker Trot," written in honor of the pioneering entertainer Sophie Tucker.

Heading down the homestretch, we welcomed Stan Long back to the keys. This time, Stan brought his five year-old grandson Kaden with him to perform some syncopated duets. With Stand providing accompaniment and Kaden handling the melody, the duo pumped out "Hong Kong," a 1930s tune, and "When the Saints Go Marching In." Just as he did several months ago when he played for us, Kaden displayed a knack for ragged rhythm and a good ear for melody. After the show, he eagerly sought out the piano so he could play "The Entertainer."

We closed with a series of early jazz standards courtesy of Frank Sano and Bill Mitchell on pianos, Phil Cannon on banjo, and Andrew Barrett on mini-washboard. The ad-hoc combo combined their talents on "Waiting for the Robert E. Lee," "Sunday," "Ballin' the Jack" and "Toot-Toot-Tootsie."

Thanks to all for the great showing in support of Pat Aranda and the club. We'll be back at it Sunday, September 25th at 2:30 PM. Our scheduled featured artist is Bob Pinsker, a bravura talent at the keys and a fountainhead of knowledge about early 20th century music. It's certain to be another great Sunday!

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