Something Doing

Ragtime Happenings in the Southland



Rose Leaf Ragtime Club January Meeting (1/29/2006)

Reported by Gary Rametta

What a great way to start out 2006: a packed house of over 60 in attendance, squeezed tight and thoroughly entertained by our featured guest, Bob Pinsker, and our lineup of Rose Leaf regulars.

Bill Mitchell got the ragtime music rolling with a trio of tunes from Charles L. Johnson, the prolific Kansas City composer whose 1906 "Dill Pickles" became one of the most popular of all rags. Bill noted that he's lately been on a Charles L. Johnson kick, having a lot of fun playing his rags; that spirit was evident in his bright and upbeat renditions of "Scandalous Thompson," "The Golden Spider" and "Cloud Kisser" (credited to Raymond Birch, one of Johnson's aliases).

Ron Ross opened his set with Scott Joplin's great "Fig Leaf Rag," one of the composer's most highly regarded works, and one whose "C" section is among the most difficult of all his passages to play. Proceeding with a slow march tempo through the first strain, Ron built momentum to the finish. A very nice effort indeed. Next, Ron performed his piano/vocal entitled "Afternoon TV," a witty, satiric, R-rated commentary on the kind of dysfunctional families you might find on such TV shows as "Jerry Springer."

Yours truly introduced our guest performer Bob Pinsker, who indicated his tenure as a Rose Leaf club performer by joking that he's been playing for us since before he could read sheet music without wearing glasses! To begin his set comprising pieces he said he was able to play "reasonably well," Bob chose Joplin's "Searchlight Rag" from 1907 then Eubie Blake's "Baltimore Todolo," both of which featured nice left-hand embellishments and improvisations.

Bob's next selection was vaudevillian Gene Greene's "Stop That Bearcat, Sadie," a humorous piano/vocal from 1912 whose lyric recounts a father's discomfort while witnessing his daughter display the latest animal dance from San Francisco.

Bob then delved into some excellent Harlem stride-style piano solos, starting with Willie "The Lion" Smith's "Zig Zag," which features an outstanding left-hand vamp and a middle section reminiscent of "Echoes of Spring." Next was The Lion's "Karnival on the Keys," an impressionistic novelty from 1945. More stride ensued with Fats Waller's "Palm Garden," a never-recorded piece that Bob found in a rare folio from 1941 called "Piano Antics."

Bob reserved some of his best playing for a Eubie Blake solo from the mid-1930s called "Blue Thoughts," a semi-classical piece with Gershwin-like breaks. Next was a taste of Chicago blues with James P. "Jimmy" Blythe's "Armor Avenue Struggle," named after a major thoroughfare on the outskirts of the Windy city.

That led to another stride solo, this one on James P. Johnson's "Eccentricity Waltz." Bob noted that the version he chose was not from the 1918 piano roll, but from a later 1921 recording that Johnson preferred. Easy to tell why he liked this one, as it is full of complexities and intricacies, and requires advanced technique. As a side note, Bob mentioned that the new North Coast Symphony Orchestra in Oceanside would be performing "Eccentricity" at its premiere concert on March 25th.

To finish off his set, Bob chose two more from Eubie Blake, first "I'd Give a Dollar for a Dime," originally written for a show, then the showstopper "Charleston Rag." The guests were unanimous and generously appreciative in their applause as he exited the stage.

Andrew Barrett had the unenviable honor of following Bob, but he did so in fine fashion, offering up a lively, pro-sounding version of James Scott's "Efficiency Rag." Next, he introduced a contemporary piece called "Bird Bath Rag" from northern California composer Ron O'Dell. To close, he chose a rare exotic sounding piece from 1920, Ethel Bridges' "Ching-a-Ling Jazz Bazaar." That led to intermission and a set of solo standards and pop tunes from Bill Coleman.

Nancy Kleier opened the second half with "To D.C. from Chicago," a 2001 rag from John Partridge. Next was Charley Straight's "Black Jack Rag" from 1917. The show continuing on fast forward, we brought up Vincent Johnson, the self-taught middle schooler who presented a nifty, self-arranged medley consisting of "Alley Cat," "The Entertainer," "Over the Waves" and Joplin's "Weeping Willow." Vincent added a rendition of "Frankie and Johnny" to top things off.

Our first combo of the afternoon featured Frank Sano and Phil Cannon leading an eight-member group (two pianos, two washboards, three banjos and one tuba) in feel-good renditions of "I Want to be Happy" and "Alabama Jubilee."

Nan Bostick kept the guests enthused with an enjoyable solo set consisting of Charles Cooke's "Such Is Life," Charles N. Daniels' "Pretty Wild Thing" and "Chloe (Song of the Swamp)" written by her Uncle Charlie as Neil Moret.

Les Soper returned from a few months' hiatus with tuneful solos on the Joplin/Marshall classic "Swipesy Cakewalk" and Joseph F. Lamb's "Bohemia." Next was Doug Haise with his usual wonderful playing on "Everybody Tango," a one-step from 1914 by Paul Pratt, and "Evolution Rag" from 1912 by Thomas S. Allen.

Bob Pinsker came back up to put the wraps on a great meeting with two more James P. Johnson classics, "Carolina Shout," which he referred to as "the national anthem of Harlem stride piano," and the incredibly difficult "Harlem Strut."

Thanks to Bob for his terrific performance, to all the players who performed, to the many guests who came to show their support, and to the continuing volunteer efforts of Bill Mitchell, Fred Hoeptner, Phil Cannon, Ron Ross and John Tulley. We hope to see you at our next meeting, Sunday February 26 at 2:30 p.m.

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