Rose Leaf Ragtime Club October Meeting (10/30/2005)
In case you're reading this and haven't attended one of our meetings in a while, perhaps you should make a point of clearing your calendar on the last Sunday of the month and penciling in the Rose Leaf club. I make this suggestion not because we're lacking attendance, but because you're missing out on some spectacular musical experiences.
The year 2005 has been an exciting one for the club, with lots of new members joining and a series of top-notch ragtime performers playing for us. Our October meeting featured special guest performer Frederick Hodges, a supremely skilled pianist specializing in novelty rags and piano pyrotechnics from the 1920s and '30s. More on his performance below.
Upon my arrival at the IHOP on Sunday the 30th, I was glad to see the Yamaha upright being tuned. Stan Long was standing alongside the tuner, who was busy with his ratchet. I said "hi" to Stan and was pleasantly surprised to find that the tuner who turned to greet me was none other than Rod Miller, the great pianist from Disneyland! I knew we'd be in for a splendid afternoon if I could convince Rod to play a few tunes for us.
The meeting got off and running with a trio comprised of Phil Cannon (electric banjo) joining Fred Hoeptner and Frank Sano at dual pianos on three standards from the 1920s: "Blue Skies," "Way Down Yonder in New Orleans" and "Sunday," the latter from 1922.
I then introduced Rod Miller who, although still hobbling a bit from back problems, was able to find a comfortable position at the Yamaha upright. He set the keys ablaze with his inimitable piano style, starting with "Bicycle Built for Two," then "Sidewalks of New York" and "Maple Leaf Rag." Rod plays in a characteristic virtuoso honky-tonk style, with blazing runs up and down the keys, marvelous improvisation and awe-inspiring left-hand work.
After Rod's set, I remarked that it reminded me of listening to a Joe "Fingers" Carr LP. Rod smiled, took the mike, then spoke at length about his friendship with Joe Fingers Carr (a.k.a. Lou Busch) before his passing, and some of the piano "tricks" he learned from Joe Fingers. Rod also revealed that he was a member of the Southern California Maple Leaf Club way back in 1969, and it was through some acquaintances at the club that he was introduced to the man who eventually recruited him for his Disneyland gig (now in his 35th year!).
Next was another out-of-town guest, violinist Julienna Okah. Julienna was in Southern California for a brief stopover before one of her cruise ship gigs, and was kind enough to play some fiddle music for us. She began with a beautiful rendition of "Come Back to Sorrento," backed by her orchestra on digital tape that was cranked through our amplified speakers. Next, she brought up Yuko Shimazaki on piano; they played a moving version of Franz Schubert's "Ave Maria." Finally, Julienna cranked up the volume and tempo with a medley of Hungarian gypsy music that sounded like Brahms on steroids!
Our special guest performer, Frederick Hodges, sat at the Yamaha upright following his introduction and immediately stepped into a stomping, stride-like rendition of Gershwin's "S'Wonderful." Frederick's technical mastery was immediately apparent, marked by a bright tone, light touch and impeccable evenness and accuracy. He moved to a 1923 novelty rag by George L. Cobb, "Piano Salad," that employs the familiar augmented 4th/major 3rd/root pattern made popular by Zez Confrey.
Next, Frederick put Gershwin's ageless "Liza" to the test, performing beautifully. He continued with another George Cobb piece, "Bunny Hug Rag," this one from 1913 and one of Cobb's lesser-known pieces. He moved to "Exactly Like You," a Jimmy McHugh piece from the vaudeville shown "Lou Leslie's International Revue." This piece had piano stylings that reminded me of Fats Waller, to which Frederick replied that it very well might have been a Waller tune—sold by Fats to McHugh. This statement is not far-fetched. In speaking about Waller, the great jazz pianist and educator Dick Hyman said that Waller had a natural gift for composing and would often sell his tunes to other composers or trade them outright for the price of a dinner, for example.
At any rate, Frederick continued with a bevy of outstanding solos on "Sailing Along," George Cobb's "Cracked Ice Rag," "The Big City Blues" by vaudeville and Broadway show writer Con Conrad, "The Breakaway" (a 1929 hit from the show "Fox Movietone Follies of 1929") and "Sweeping the Clouds Away," a hit from the 1930 show "Paramount on Parade," made famous by vocalist Maurice Chevalier.
Frederick kept the pace going full-steam ahead on "The Right Kind of Man," from the early talking picture "Frozen Justice" from 1929. He finished off his first set with a Joplin march, "Cleopha," played in very fast time and departing from the sheet music quite a bit.
The applause was resounding as we acknowledged the high level of Frederick's artistry and performance. As you'll find when you listen to his CD, his abilities are amazing. Evidence of his classical training is especially clear when he executes multi-octave eighth and sixteenth note arpeggios. He played the individual notes with such precision and speed that my jaw was hanging.
After the members' lengthy show of appreciation to Frederick, I invited a new performer, Ricardo Borges, to the piano. In his mid-teens, Ricardo chose the first two sections of the haunting Joplin/Chauvin classic "Heliotrope Bouquet." I'm happy to report that he interpreted the first strain beautifully. He still has two more sections to play for us, so let's look forward to Ricardo's return and show him the appreciation and encouragement he's due...
Another relative newcomer, Larry Evans (who happens to be Ricardo's instructor), took over the microphone and piano to acknowledge Ricardo and present another of his students (whose name I'm sorry to say I neglected to write down). She and Larry played a four-hand piano rendition of Gershwin's great rag, "Rialto Ripples," which George co-wrote with Will Donaldson when George was only 19!
We began the second half of the afternoon with Ron Ross soloing on one of Joplin's masterpieces, "Fig Leaf" rag. He then offered up a new piano/vocal number, "In the Movies." Considering the difficulty of "Fig Leaf," Ron gave a good reading. I hope he plays it again for us.
I provided a brief interlude with David Thomas Roberts' "Pinelands Memoir."
Next was Nancy Kleier, our "little 'ol ragtime lady from Pasadena." Nancy noted the time change over the weekend to Greenwich Standard time, and paid homage to Greenwich with Zez Confrey's interesting and tricky novelty piece, "Greenwich Witch." Continuing, she gave an interpretation of two "Halloween"-styled rags, G.L. Trombley's "Harem Scarem" and Julius Lenzberg's "Haunting Rag" from 1911.
Bob Bradford offered up the Arthur Marshall/Scott Joplin rag "Swipesey Cakewalk," noting that he had the opportunity to meet and interview Mr. Marshall back in the 1970s. Bob also introduced his special guest, Carla Laemmle. Ms. Laemmle, niece of Universal Pictures founder Carl Laemmle, has a list of movie credits that include "The Phantom of the Opera" from 1925 and "The King of Jazz" from 1930.
Mr. Hodges began his second set with the Luckey Roberts classic "Pork and Beans" from 1913. Next was "Dancing the Devil Away" from the 1930 musical "The Cuckoos," written by Kalmar and Ruby. Next was "Turn on the Heat" (also the title of Frederick's outstanding CD) from the 1929 Fox musical. Heading down the homestretch, Frederick offered up some prime Fats Waller with a brilliant solo rendition of "Honeysuckle Rose." He continued in the same vein by finishing with Gershwin's great "I Got Rhythm."
To close off the musicale, Robbie Gennet played a hybrid boogie-woogie/jump piano and vocal number he wrote called "I Need You."
Sorry if you missed out on this show; it was another in a string of great performances we've been lucky to host over the past couple of years. We'll be at it again this coming Sunday, November 27th, 2:30 - 5:30 p.m. at the Pasadena IHOP. Hope to see you there!
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