Something Doing

Ragtime Happenings in the Southland

JUNE, 2006


Rose Leaf Ragtime Club May Meeting (5/28/2006)

Reported by Bill Mitchell

We wondered if the Memorial Day weekend would diminish the number of listeners and performers at the May 28 meeting. As it turned out, we had a goodly number of attendees, although several of our regulars were in Sacramento attending the annual Dixieland festival, or otherwise out of town. Since Gary and Yuko were among the latter, Phil Cannon undertook the duties of emcee and fulfilled them very capably.

Phil invited Steve Hurst to open the day's festivities. Steve has been researching Arthur Marshall, Scott Joplin's turn-of-the-century protégé in Sedalia, Missouri, and he gave us a capsule biography of this somewhat neglected composer before playing his 1908 rag, "Ham and!" It is an intriguing rag, and one that is rarely heard, unlike the often-performed "Swipesy Cakewalk."

Phil, as it happened, had been working on Marshall lately, and after strapping on his banjo he gave us a solo performance of "Kinklets," and then with Bill Mitchell accompanying him on piano, he played "Swipesy."

Thirteen-year-old Vincent Johnson, currently our youngest member, opened his set with the first three strains of "Peacherine Rag," an early (1901) composition of Scott Joplin. He continued with the Johnny Maddox adaptation of "Five Foot Two," by Ray Henderson. This was one of the most popular songs of the 1920s, and has remained popular for over 80 years. Vincent concluded with the 1921 novelty classic by Edward Elzear "Zez" Confrey, "Kitten on the Keys." Jasen and Tichenor consider this "the Maple Leaf Rag of the Novelty rags."

Phil invited Gene Oster to come up to the piano and "knock our sox off." Gene, who was for five years the pianist with the "Hot Frogs," proceeded to do so. He had chosen some contrasting material, opening with Joe Lamb's haunting "Ragtime Nightingale." From the 1920s he played James P. Johnson's "Charleston." Then came something entirely unexpected: J. S. Bach's "Invention #13," with some extra touches. (Gene has a classical background and is fond of Bach's preludes and fugues.) He concluded with James Scott's "Honey Moon Rag," a 1915 Stark publication.

Gene is a hard act to follow, but Fred Hoeptner rose to the occasion with two of his fine originals, "Dalliance," and "Aura of Indigo." These are beautiful and intricate compositions, and Fred performed them masterfully. He wound up his set with Max Morath's bittersweet "One for Amelia," dedicated to Amelia Lamb, Joe Lamb's widow.

Stan Long opened with "Hiawatha," by Charles N. Daniels, great-uncle of our June guest performer, Nan Bostick. Stan pointed out that this piece was named for the town in Kansas, not Longfellow's Indian maiden, although the piece was published as an "Indian Intermezzo." He continued with a medley of "St. Louis Blues" and "The Birth of the Blues." The latter is not really a blues, but a great pop song from 1926 by Ray Henderson.

Coming all the way from San Diego, Bob Pinsker entertained us with some rare items from the Harlem pianists. He opened with "Spanish Rag," from an unpublished manuscript by Willie "The Lion" Smith. He continued with Fats Waller's "Jitterbug Waltz," a charming and graceful piece that belies its odd title. (Jitterbugs, for the benefit of you youngsters, were frenzied dancers from the swing era.) A dedicated researcher into the Harlem greats, Bob played Cliff Jackson's "Hock Shop Blues," transcribed from a 1926 piano roll. In conclusion he left Harlem for Minneapolis, where "Town Talk," by Elmer Olson, was published in 1917.

Midway through the meeting, Phil declared a 15-minute break, during which Bill Coleman entertained at the piano with an extended medley of popular standards, as is his wont.

Opening the second half, Bill Mitchell played Scott Joplin's "Original Rags," one of the numbers Jelly Roll Morton included in his 1939 album, "New Orleans Memories." Bill put in a touch or two of Morton's embellishments. He continued with Percy Wenrich's most successful rag, "The Smiler." He closed his solo set with his all-time-favorite, "Grace and Beauty," by James Scott.

Frank Sano, up from San Clemente, invited Bill to join him in a duet set of standards from the 1920s, beginning with Richard Rodgers' "The Blue Room," followed by George Gershwin's "I Got Rhythm," and concluding with a medley of "I Want to Be Happy," by Vincent Youmans, and "My Honey's Lovin' Arms," by Joseph Meyer.

Les Soper opened with Joe Lamb's "Champagne Rag," one of Lamb's lighter works, and then turned to a couple of compositions by the contemporary ragsmith Glenn Jenks. "Elegiac Rag" is a soulful piece from 1987. "The Wrong Rag" (also from 1987) is in a peppier mood. As always, Les gave his material precise and decisive readings.

As the meeting wound into its final half-hour, Phil called some of the performers up for encores as time permitted. Phil led off with a banjo solo rendition of Joplin's "The Ragtime Dance," with the savvy audience stamping their feet during the breaks, as indicated in the composer's score. Gene Oster gave us his version of Handy's "St. Louis Blues," and James P. Johnson's "Carolina Shout." Fred Hoeptner favored us with another of his compositions, "Ragging through Town." Bob Pinsker played "Chicago Stomps," a Jimmy Blythe blues with a walking bass. The meeting concluded with a four-man jam involving Phil, Bill, Bob, and Les on "Maple Leaf Rag."

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