MARCH 2001NUMBER 59
ROSE LEAF RAGTIME CLUB FEBRUARY MEETING (2/25/2001)
Reported by Gary Rametta
Hello once again, ragtime aficionados…
Well, another month has gone by, so here's a reminder to join us for this month's Rose Leaf Club ragtime musicale. Sunday the 25th of March will be our next get-together, at 2:30 PM sharp. Based on the attendance over the past several months, it might be advisable to arrive a bit early. Last meeting, Bob Kirby counted the heads of 80 attendees. Wow! And on a rain-soaked afternoon. Just proves what Bill Mitchell said is true: ragtimers are a partisan, zealous bunch.
After some repositioning of the two pianos-the old Gulbransen upright and the exquisite, nearly-new, Yamaha upright that the club recently purchased (thanks to Yuko Shimazaki and her extremely generous friend Kasugo), Bill and yours truly dueted on a few old favorites to get things rolling. First was the Scott Joplin/Scott Hayden classic "Sunflower Slow Drag." Next was Charles Hunter's Tennessee folk rag "Tickled to Death," followed by Joplin's first published rag, "Original Rags."
Gary stayed at the Yamaha for one more, "Scott Joplin's New Rag," one of the great composer's more unusual, original and forward-looking pieces. Wish I had done it more justice…had just returned from a vacation and the fingers were noticeably rusty. Ugh. Sorry! L
Bill came back up and got things back on the right track, beginning with "Snookums," by the ubiquitous ragtime composer Charles L. Johnson. Next, he played a great rendition of Jelly Roll Morton's "Chicago Breakdown," a hot number that was also recorded by Louis Armstrong. By the way, it was also known as "Stratford Hunch," when Jelly attached a four-measure intro to it. The intro also served as a bridge into the third section.Bill finished his set with the Joplin classic "Cascades."
The platform was then turned over to Ruby Fradkin.Ruby came up and introduced the five numbers she had on her play list for the meeting. First was her bouncy warm-up number, Alouette, then Joplin and Arthur Marshall's "Swipsey," followed by "Babyface," then a really nice version of Hoagy Carmichael's "Stardust." Ruby's set concluded with "Tom Dooley."
Next was Nancy Kleier, who had decided to use the rain as a theme. She chose three numbers, each providing a different ragtime "twist" on the theme. First was Tom Brier's "Wellington Rag," a title Nancy made analogous to putting on one's Wellington rain boots. Next was Brier's 1992 "Rainy Day Blues". Nancy put the finishing touches on her set with Lew Pollack's 1914 "That's A Plenty." Ragtime authors Jasen and Tichenor noted in their book on ragtime that Jackie Gleason used "That's a Plenty" as a musical theme on his show ("…and awwaaaaay we go!"), and that, even though the piece was written as a rag, it soon became a staple of the New Orleans Dixieland repertoire.
After Nancy's set, Ron Ross took over the mike. For his first number, he brought up friend, RLRC member and pianist/composer Martin Choate. The two dueted on Martin's recent composition "I Done Left My Hip Boots in the Other Car," an upbeat, fast and syncopated novelty number that was hugely entertaining.
Ron then soloed on two of his own pieces; first, a new rag entitled "Nostalgia," then, an older composition called "Rickety Rag." He said both would be on his upcoming CD, which he is currently recording.
San Diegan Bob Pinsker was in attendance with his wife Judy and two guests from British Columbia, Sondra and Barry (Barry joked that he had brought Vancouver weather with him). Bob hit the keys with a "Name that Composer" set-three numbers that ranged from completely obscure to somewhat recognizable. The first was an untitled rag/show tune from a 1913 pencil-manuscript. No one had a clue who wrote the tune or what it was called. The second had a familiar strain here and there, but it too was difficult to pin down. Bob later informed us that it was called "Betty Washboards Rag," and was written in the early part of the 20th century, but not finished until 1970. His last piece, "Blue Thoughts," featured some magnificent playing. The piece had some definite Gershwin-like octave runs and harmonies. Gershwin was my guess, but it was incorrect. After Bob gave everyone a couple of clues, club member Stan Long nailed the answer: Eubie Blake! Bob went on to explain the origin of these rare pieces.
After a short break, the playing resumed, first with Tom Handforth playing Joplin's "Strenuous Life." Next up was Fred Hoeptner, who entertained us with James Scott's "Victory Rag" from 1921, then "Red Peppers, A Spicy Rag" by Henry Lodge.
Yuko Shimazaki was our next performer. She displayed deep sensitivity on Joplin's "Solace-A Mexican Serenade," playing it at a slow tempo which brought out the piece's pristine beauty and aching sadness. Then, for a total change of pace, she jumped right into Joplin's final masterpiece, "Magnetic Rag." Her playing exuded joy and precision. It was one of the best performances of the entire afternoon.
Following Yuko was the genteel Stan Long. Stan gave us a nice rendition of Joplin's "The Entertainer," which included his own musical ideas. He then segued into a nice, extended boogie-woogie improvisation. He does very well in the boogie-woogie idiom, keeps good, steady time, moves along at a nice clip and employs numerous blues, jazz and raggy figures in the right hand. For his closing piece, Stan invited Gary to join him in a duet of Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag." There was a little improvising on the part of both of us. Stan used some ideas he gained from the fourhanded Disneyland team of Miller and Thompson. Gary used improvisations that came from Joplin's own piano roll performance of MLR.
Next up was guitar/banjoist Phil Cannon. Phil explained that he recently borrowed a cassette tape of Joseph Lamb compositions from the club library. He was really taken with them and decided to weave a medley of Lamb tunes together. For nearly 10 minutes, Phil wowed us with a beautiful tapestry of Lamb compositions (or sections of compositions). Included in the medley were "Sensation," "Ethiopia Rag," "Patricia Rag," "Excelsior Rag," "American Beauty" and "Ragtime Nightingale." It was marvelous to hear Lamb in this context. Phil concluded his set with Joplin's "Rose Leaf Rag," our club's theme number, of course.
Bill Mitchell returned to the keys and invited friend and tuba player Chuck Rimmer to join him on "Maple Leaf Rag," "Ballin' the Jack" and "Dill Pickles." The duo sounded great together.
Afterward, Ron Ross, Ruby Fradkin and Alan Bramer gave us an audio/visual presentation of "The Great Romanovich," with Ron at the slide projector and cassette tape player, Ruby at the mike reading copy, and Alan encouraging the both of them. I'm not exactly sure of the origins or meaning of the great Romanovich, but it appears as though he was a dinosaur or similar-looking bipod who lived around the time of the dinosaurs, and enjoyed a swinging lifestyle seemingly akin to Dino in The Flintstones. The exception, of course, being his use of that odd language, some strange cross of Russian, French, Slavic, English and gibberish. In all, the show was, at the same time, hilarious, creative and frightening.
Bob Pinsker came back up and worked through a magnificent, seldom-heard Willie the Lion Smith piano solo called "Between Sharps and Flats."
Ron Ross encored with, by request, two of his vocal/piano songs, "Good Thing Going" and "Studio Sensation."
With that, the symbolic gavel fell on another meeting.
MIMI BLAIS AT THE OLD TOWN MUSIC HALL
Reviewed by Bill Mitchell
For its first ragtime concert of the twenty-first century the Old Town Music Hall presented Mimi Blais on the evening of February 14, Valentine's day. Montreal's gift to ragtime regaled an audience of aficionados with an ambitious program that ran close to three hours.
Mimi came on stage costumed in an eye-filling gauzy black dress and hat with black feathers, a revealing outfit that suggested a resident of an early 20th century sporting district. And indeed, she indulged in a little role playing by introducing herself as a ragtime pianist of 1919 who had been around the block. She began reminiscing about Tom Turpin's Rosebud Café in St. Louis, which lead her into playing a couple of Turpin's compositions, "Harlem Rag" and "A Ragtime Nightmare."
She recalled Joplin as "the Mozart of ragtime," then wittily playing some of "Maple Leaf Rag" in a delicate Mozartian
Style. It wasn't long before she switched gears and the MLF emerged in full-blown syncopated glory.
Joseph F. Lamb was dubbed "the Chopin of ragtime." We were treated to a fine version of "Ragtime Nightingale," in which Lamb did actually include a quote from that composer in the rag's first section.
For a change of pace Mimi played a medley of Joplin waltzes, including "Bethena" and "Bink's Waltz." She commented that Joplin might additionally qualify as "the Strauss of ragtime."
To illustrate the use of the piano as accompaniment to silent films she performed George Botsford's "Black and White Rag" in both ¾ and 2/4 time (depending on what might have been appropriate to the action on the screen).
Ms. Blais, a champion of the Montreal composer Jean Baptiste Lafreniere, played two of his pieces. "Valse Miroir" was a somewhat lengthy but melodious waltz. "Taxi Rag," fast and furious, brought us to intermission time.
We were in for a surprise when Mimi came back on stage after a change of outfit (and gender), impersonating an early 20th century sport with straw hat, striped blazer, and handlebar mustache which she twitched frequently in Chaplinesque fashion.
Progressing to the era of novelty piano, she whipped out a dazzling arrangement of "Kitten on the Keys" (Zes Confrey) and segued into a slow "Memphis Blues" (S. C. Handy). She spoke of the early George Gershwin and played his "Rialto Ripples," written when he was still a teen-ager. She commented that Gershwin was the only white person at Scott Joplin's New York funeral. She then interpreted a more reflective later composition of George Gershwin: "Summertime," from Porgy and Bess.
Willie Eckstein's "Musical Massacre" came across as a real show-stopper. Like Lafreniere, Eckstein was a Montreal performer/composer, outstanding virtuoso performer, and piano roll artist of the 1920s.
Returning to the New York scene, Mr. Blais served up a tasty helping of "Pork and Beans," a rag by that master of Harlem stride, Luckey Roberts.
Assuming the role of a song-plugger, Mimi performed "Goodby Broadway, Hello Montreal."
A short tribute to Eubie Blake included his wonderful standard, "Memories of You," and the frisky "Eubie's Classical Rag." (Or was it "Kitchen Tom?" I didn't catch the title and am making a semi-educated guess on this one.)
Mimi briefly discussed ragtime's origin, and after turning on a tape of some African drums followed by a hummed "Amazing Grace," she dashed backstage for a few moments and emerged in yet a third costume. This time she had on black slacks, a colorful blouse, no hat, and was barefoot (with green toenails). She was outfitted for the concluding third of the 20th century in ragtime, an era that began with "The Sting" in 1970, a hit movie that included music by Scott Joplin. Mimi played two of the pieces featured in that film: "The Entertainer" and "Solace."
Then, to include the new ragtime, she played what she deemed the most important rag since "The Sting" was released. You guessed it, "Roberto Clemente," by David Thomas Roberts. She followed with one of her own contemporary pieces, "The Streets of San Francisco."
Mentioning the new ragtime offshoot called "terra verde," she played another of her own compositions in this idiom. Dedicated to Scott Kirby, one of the exponents of terra verde, it was a pensive, romantic piece in a minor key. I did not catch the title, unfortunately.
Mimi concluded her program with her musical trademark, "Dizzy Fingers," a version which includes a bit of everything ("Rhapsody in Blue," "Flight of the Bumble Bee," "Polonaise," etc.).
Encores consisted of two duets with Bill Coffman on the Mighty Wurlitzer, "Swipesy Cakewalk" and "Black and White Rag."
As anyone who has ever heard her knows, Mimi Blais is an immensely talented pianist with powerful, impeccable technique, wide emotional range, and a great comic sense. Her popularity is well deserved
CLASSIC JAZZ - A Personal View of the Music and the Musicians, by Floyd Levin. University of California Press, 2000. 337 pp. Reviewed by Peter Vacher in Jazzwise Magazine, London, England.
(Editor's note: I am including this review because it contains much material of interest to ragtimers. There are fascinating sections on James P. Johnson, Dink Johnson, Jelly Roll Morton, Brun Campbell, James Reese Europe, and Pat Gogerty. I highly recommend this book.)
This is an old fashioned jazz book. No pages of annotated sources or references, no in-depth analysis or musicological explanation - just a series of recollections of past encounters with jazz musicians and their associates from the traditional revival period.
Levin is a businessman who conceived an admiration for New Orleans jazz which led him to a parallel life as a reporter, entrepreneur, and jazz activist. Along the way, he founded the Southern California Hot Jazz Society, headed up a project to place a statue of Louis Armstrong in his home town of New Orleans, and devised a touring jazz show "A Night in New Orleans."
The author also became the intimate friend of a whole host of displaced New Orleanians who had located in Los Angeles and was on hand to act as principal cheer leader of Kid Ory and company when the revival hit town in the mid-1940s. He amassed a treasure trove of information, a stockpile of artifacts, and a treasure chest of memories, much of it now mined for this collection of his journalistic pieces. Levin has been Jazz Journal International's U.S. correspondent for the past four or more decades and publishes often in that venerable English magazine.
His writing is always affectionate and invariably well informed. After all, he has had access to some pretty vital primary sources. If you want to know the ins and outs of pioneer bassist Ed "Montudi" Garland's life and more about James P. Johnson or Jelly Roll Morton's wife Anita Gonzalez, then this is a book you will want. Elegantly produced, flecked with fine pictures, this book is a pleasure-evoking account of one man's love affair with jazz and its practitioners.
Levin is generous to others (he was unstinting in his help to me with my book about Joe Darensbourg) and clearly his many musical friends rated him pretty high too.
(Peter Vacher's book, JAZZ ODYSSEY, THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF JOE DARENSBOURG, is published by Louisiana State University Press.)
For those of you on the Internet, you can find a list of informative ragtime websites by visiting the Rose Leaf Ragtime Club's webpage at http://roseleafrag.tripod.com/links.html
For back issues of Something Doing, you can access the archives at http://roseleafrag.tripod.com/archive.html
Mondays, 9-10 p.m.The Ragtime Machine, KUSF-FM 90.3, San Francisco. Host: David Reffkin.
Sundays, 8-10 p.m.KSBR-FM 88.5, Mission Viejo. Host: Jeff Stone.
CONTINUING GIGS AND UPCOMING EVENTS
Brad KaySunday afternoons, 2-4 p.m. at The Unurban, 3301 W. Pico Boulevard, Santa Monica.
Jerry RothschildFri. and Sat., 7-10 p.m. at Curley's Restaurant, corner Willow & Cherry, Signal Hill (562) 424-0018.
Ian Whitcomb in Another Cozy Concert in L.A. Sat., Apr. 21, 8:00 p.m., at Boulevard Music, 4316 Sepulveda Boulevard,
Corner of Sepulveda & Culver. Admission $10. Reserve your seat by
calling 310-398-2583 but not before Apr. 7.
All Banjo Band of San Fernando ValleyTwo shows: Sun., Apr. 29, 2:30 & 7:00 p.m. Old Town Music Hall, 140 Richmond St., El Segundo. Admission $20. Phone 310-322-2592