RAGTIME HAPPENINGS IN THE SOUTHLAND
MARCH 2000 NUMBER 48
The afternoon of Sunday, February 27 saw quite a bit of rain in Pasadena, and we wondered if many people would venture forth to the Rose Leaf Club meeting. We needn't have feared, however, as we had what may be a record attendance of 67 devout ragtimers. Nothing is going to deter us syncopation seekers, right?
Thanks to Gary Rametta for contributing a splendid, comprehensive review of the Mimi Blais concert. I would like to remind all readers that any reviews of concerts, festivals, CDs, cassettes, etc., are always welcome. Or if you have a ragtime opinion you would like to air, please feel free to do so.
Thanks also for those of you who are renewing your subscriptions when the time comes. That's what makes this newsletter possible.
We hope to see you at the March 26 meeting. Ron Ross reports that Les Soper, a fine pianist, is returning after an absence of five years. (He used to come to the Maple Leaf Club meetings.) Les has been working on some washboard licks to share with us in addition to his piano playing.
Bill Mitchell, editor Tel. (714) 528-1534 Internet <email@example.com> Fax (714) 223-3886
ROSE LEAF CLUB FEBRUARY MEETING (2/27/00)
Our MC, Gary Rametta, opened the proceedings with a trio of Scott Joplin pieces: "Sunflower Slow Drag," "Gladiolus Rag," and "Peacherine Rag." (The first of these was a collaboration with Scott Hayden, his pupil, who probably deserves most of the credit.)
San Diego's Bob Pinsker was on an Artie Matthews kick. He played "Pastime Rag #2," "Weary Blues," and "Pastime Rag #5." It is an oddity that #5 (1918) was published before #4 (1920). Matthews included the admonition "Do not fake" on the sheet music to his rags, but Pinsker didn't take that too seriously, and his embellishments were interesting and appropriate. (Paul Lingle and Wally Rose didn't mind a little faking in the Pastimes either.)
Bill Mitchell played a set of bird rags. "The Meadow Lark" (1916) was a lyrical gem by Thomas Pitt, a Barbary Coast (S.F.) pianist. "Ragtime Oriole" is one of James Scott's finest. "Bird Brain Rag" (1964) was a product of Joseph F. Lamb's later years.
The piano duo of George McClellan and Lee Roan gave us some amusing novelties from the 1920s: "Yes, We Have No Bananas," "Hard Hearted Hannah (the Vamp of Savannah)," and "Take Your Girlie to the Movies," which was one of Eddie Cantor's eye-rolling specialties as I recall.
Our youngest performer, nine-year-old Ruby Fradkin, played her neat versions of "Tell Me Why?" "Baby Face," "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah!" and "Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooly."
Nancy Kleier, the self-designated "The little old rag lady from Pasadena," anticipated St. Patrick's day with three Hibernian selections. Euday "12th St. Rag" Bowman wrote "Tipperary Blues" and "Shamrock Rag."
Both are vintage of 1916. Galen Wilkes is the composer of "Leprechaun Rag"(1981).
Ron Ross played two of his own compositions, "Digital Rag" and "Retro Rag."
Jack Christopher chose three oldies but goodies: "A Shanty in Old Shantytown," "Five Foot Two," and "After You've Gone."
Stan Long played something called "The Ditty," followed by the ever-popular (at least with Rose Leaf members) "Swipesy Cakewalk" by Marshall and Joplin. He concluded with a Tom Lehrer protest song, "Wild West Is Where I Want to Be."
George McClellan played and sang "When the Midnight Choo-Choo Leaves for Alabam," and followed up with a witty parody on this song: "How It Really Was."
Bob Pinsker returned to do another Matthews number, "Pastime Rag #3." He concluded with "Jimmy's Blues," by Jimmy Blythe, a Chicago pianist of the 1920s. (Perhaps Bob will complete the Pastimes at the next meeting by playing #1 and #4).
Bill Mitchell played "Wintergarden Rag" (Ohlman) and "Chicago Breakdown" (Morton).
Jim Lentz performed a Joplin non-rag number that we don't often hear: "Combination March." He concluded his set with two Joplin-Hayden compositions, "Felicity Rag" and "Something Doing."
"Autumn Idyll" and "Dalliance" were two lyrical rags played by their composer, Fred Hoeptner. He then played Adeline Shepherd's 1906 hit, "Pickles and Peppers.
Ruby Fradkin returned to play "The Saints," "On the Good Ship Lollypop," "Playmates," and "Alouetta."
The meeting was closed with Gary Rametta and Nancy Kleier duetting on "Grace and Beauty" and "Maple Leaf Rag."
MIMI BLAIS AT OLD TOWN MUSIC HALL, FEBRUARY 14, 2000
By Gary Rametta
On an evening for Valentines, ace Canadian pianist Mimi Blais breezed into El Segundo's Old Town Music Hall and whisked away the hearts of an enraptured audience, showing once again why she's been called the new "Queen of Ragtime." Putting to work her dazzling technique and natural showmanship, Ms. Blais charmed listeners with her exciting, moving and sometimes humorous renditions of classic and contemporary rags and novelty tunes.
Mimi's OTMH appearance was part of a West Coast swing during which she also performed in San Francisco and Danville. Her loyal fan base is solid, and it was apparent from those attending her El Segundo concert that she's also drawing enthusiastic support from newcomers. A gentleman seated next to me was so intrigued by what he'd heard about Mimi Blais that he drove all the way from Bakersfield to see the show. He, like everyone else in the audience, remained until the final thunderclap from the Mighty Wurlitzer faded away when Mimi closed her set with a couple of classic Joplin rags, "Maple Leaf" and "Swipesy," performed with emcee Bill Coffman (at the organ) in duet fashion.
It has been said that ragtime is by nature "player's music," that the printed score is merely a launching pad from which great pianists can take off into improvisations that showcase their musicianship and experimental ability, all the while keeping the melody, tone and development of the piece essentially intact. If that definition is true, then it's right up Mimi's alley. Hearing her make the 9-foot Bosendorfer sing was a true joy. One of the largest grand pianos in the world, the OTMH's Bosendorfer has been tickled by the crème de la crème of ragtime pianists, including the great Eubie Blake. Eubie was duly represented in Mimi's repertoire, as she performed "Eubie's Classical Rag," "Memories of You" (clearly one of her favorites as evidenced by the depth of her emotional interpretation), and "Kitchen Tom." Blake was also remembered by Mimi in her terrific performance of Galen Wilkes' sad and yearning "Last of the ragtime Pioneers." The audience was so captivated by this piece that you could hear a pin drop.
A Valentine's Day tone was immediately established when Mimi opened her set with local pianist and composer Kathy Craig's tender and evocative "Romantic Rag." Afterwards, Mimi announced that she and Kathy--a regular featured performer at the Southern California ragtime Festival in June--will appear together at OTMH this coming November.
Next, Mimi delved into some classic rags, beginning with Tom Turpin's "Harlem Rag" which she wrapped around "Ragtime Nightmare." She followed up in similar style with "Remember 'The Sting'": Joplin's "The Entertainer," leading into the third and fourth strains of "Solace," then back to the first theme of "The Entertainer" as a coda.
Mimi then served up some more crowd pleasers with stride pianist Charles Luckeyth Roberts' delightful "Music Box Rag" and tricky-to-finger "Pork and Beans." In that number, Ms. Blais handled the difficult trio and final strains with Liszt-like dispatch.
Mimi also played one of her own compositions, "Monkey Rag, dedicated to a family member. It has fun, circus-like rhythms, breaks and chords while at the same time recalling "Music Box Rag" with its air of naiveté.
Since the subject of love was apropos, Mimi played and sang--in both English and French--Cecil Macklin's "Tres Moutarde (Too Much Mustard)," which likens love to food.
George Gershwin got the virtuoso Mimi Blais treatment in what I believe was "Rialto Ripples."
Mimi closed out the first half of her set with frank French's "Belle of Louisville," a popular 1990 tune that's been called "The Maple Leaf Rag of the 1990's." The name comes from a historic sternwheeler steamboat that's featured in "The Great Steamboat Race," held each year in Louisville at Kentucky Derby time.
At intermission, the audience was called on to determine the second-half of Mimi's show by voting for their favorite numbers from a poster board listing thirty or so tunes from her repertoire.
Mimi picked up right where she left off, drawing cheers with her version of George Botrsford's "Black and White Rag." She then gave the Bosendorfer a workout with Willie Eckstein's "Musical Massacre," a ragged reinvention of Frederic Chopin's "Fantaisie Impromptu."
Moving back into classic ragtime, Mimi played one of Arthur Marshall's best works, "The Pippin," a sentimental rag that proved ideal for the occasion. This was followed up by the Joseph Lamb classic," Ragtime Nightingale," which Mimi performed with equal parts brilliance and heartfelt emotion.
In addition to classic rags, Ms. Blais has also championed Canadian ragtime music to U.S. audiences, specifically the works of Jean-Baptiste Lafreniere. Though he's referred to as "the Canadian Strauss," Lafreniere's career closely paralleled that of the ragtime era in terms of the genre; his upbeat "Taxi Rag" and crystalline "Valse Miroir" that Mimi performed reflect the spirit and vitality of the music and are worthy additions to the repertoire.
Mimi hit the homestretch of her musicale with a thoroughly enjoyable "April Fool rag," written in 1911 by Jean Schwartz. She then closed out her solo set with Zez Confrey's "Kitten on the Keys." For good measure, she kept her fingers going and thrilled all with "Dizzy Bumblebee Fingers," which combined the Confrey novelty classic "Dizzy Fingers" with "Flight of the Bumblebee," some Mozart outtakes, the dirge from Chopin's "March Funebre" and comedic antics that could only come from Mimi Blais.
WEBSITES FOR RAGTIME FANS
http://www.ragtimers.org/ragtimers (Mary Haley's ragtime site)
http://members.aol.com/ragtimers/index.html (John Roache's MIDI Ragtime files)
http://www.ragtimemusic.com/SCRS/ (West Coast Ragtime Society)
http://mp3.com/RealRagtime (American Ragtime Company)
http://www.rag-time.com/cgi-bin/miva?Merchant2/merchant.my+ (Ragtime Store)
Members.tripod.com/RoseLeafRag/. (Rose Leaf Ragtime Club)
http://www.trad-digital.com (Bill Mintz)
http://www.nswest.com/organ/oltmhl.html (Old Town Music Hall)