MAY 2001NUMBER 61
ROSE LEAF RAGTIME CLUB APRIL MEETING (4/29/2001)
Reported by Bill Mitchell
Those of you who were able to attend the April meeting enjoyed a wide variety of ragtime entertainment with occasional forays into ragtime-compatible jazz, blues, novelty, and pop, while enjoying gustatory selections from the IHOP menu.
Since our regular emcee, Gary Rametta, was unable to attend this time, Ron Ross very ably tended to the hosting and announcing tasks. He opened the program with a rendition of his wittily titled and ever popular "Digital Rag."
Bill Mitchell was invited to continue the proceedings. He had planned to play a duet with Gary on "Queen of Love," that neat Charles Hunter romp, but that had to be postponed. In the meantime, so as not to neglect royalty, he played three other "queen" rags. "The Prairie Queen" was written by a young Midwesterner, Tom Shea, in 1963, and published by the Ragtime Society of Canada. Shea had discovered ragtime, but found that there was practically no rag sheet music in print at that time, so that he had to write his own material (fortunately for us). His rags show a melodic folk flair. "The Queen Rag" was written by Floyd Willis, and named after the Island Queen, a riverboat operating out of Cincinnati on the Ohio River. "Queen Raglin" was published in 1902 by the H. A. French Company in Nashville. Composed by A. E. Henrich, it is in the frisky Nashville tradition (think of Charles Hunter and Thomas Broady).
Nancy Kleier introduced her set by asking for a show of hands of people intending to travel to the Sedalia Festival this year (there were a few hands raised). She chose to play some Sedalia-related material, beginning with Jack Rummel's "Lone Jack to Knob Noster." It celebrates a scenic stretch of highway between two oddly named hamlets you pass through on the jaunt from Kansas City to Sedalia. This rag is appropriately jaunty. "The Creeks of Missouri," by Galen Wilkes, is a bit more soulful. It was inspired by the numerous creeks Galen noticed as he traveled the "Show Me" state. Hal Isbitz is the composer of "Lazy Susan, a Ragtime Rondo," which has no titular reference to the Sedalia theme, but was included because it took second place in a ragtime composition contest at the Sedalia Joplin Festival.
Fortified by a strawberry waffle, Phil Cannon treated us to some solo work on his six-string banjo/guitar. He opened with Joe Lamb's "Patricia Rag," one of the composer's favorites (and mine too). I would have thought it impossible to adapt this expansive number to a stringed instrument, but Phil did it, playing it cleanly and gracefully. He followed this with an adaptation of Ron Ross's "Sweet Is the Sound," which certainly lived up to the title. Phil rounded out his solos with the Marshall/Joplin collaboration, "Swipesy Cakewalk." Phil then invited Bill M. to provide some piano accompaniment to his banjo/guitar on "Maple Leaf Rag," a number that never seems to grow old.
Lee Roan and Nancy Kleier joined forces at the two pianos to play some classic popular songs, leading off with "Smiles," by Lee Roberts. This 1917 hit is one of the few popular songs where the verse is as interesting musically as the chorus. The duo continued with "Swanee," a 1918 song by George Gershwin. It has to be one of his earliest compositions. It was a vehicle for Al Jolson in the Broadway musical, Sinbad. Lee and Nancy wound up their set with a 1914 song, "Can't You hear me Callin', Caroline?"
Tom Handforth opened with "Flapperette," a 1926 piano novelty by Jesse Greer. It is one of those endearing ditties like "Nola" and "Stumbling" that are so characteristic of 1920s piano. Traveling yet further back a couple of decades, Tom played Scott Joplin's "The Cascades," written to commemorate the aquatic centerpiece of the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904. This number is one of the more technically demanding of Joplin's masterpieces.
Our youngest ragtimer, Ruby Fradkin, has been branching out a bit, opening with a neat 12-bar blues with a boogie beat. She followed this with Stephen Foster's "Camptown Races," a 19th century favorite. Leaping up a hundred years or so, she played what is probably the most popular song of the 20th century--you guessed it, Hoagy Carmichael's "Stardust." She concluded with "Baby Face," a snappy 1920s favorite. And did you dig, as I did, the nifty blues riff that Ruby used to bring the number to an end?
Just before intermission Ron Ross made a few acknowledgments, thanking Lee Roan for handling the sound system, Bill Mitchell for editing the newsletter, Bob Kirby and Becky Todd for overseeing admissions and the raffle, Chris Fradkin for publicity, and George, the IHOP manager, for his cooperation with the club. Ron announced that subscription rates for Something Doing will have to be raised because of drastically higher printing costs and the imminence of another postage hike soon. On behalf of the club, Ron wished Prentice Bacon a happy birthday, his 92nd. As you may remember, Prentice knew ragtime composer Theron Bennett during the latter's senior years in Los Angeles.
Ron kicked off the second half with a couple of his own compositions, "Sunday Serendipity," and "Joplinesque - a Gringo Tango." Don't you love his titles? And the music is amiable too.
Bob Ross set a challenge for himself by improvising a couple of rags on the spot. He titled the first of these "Bob's Rag," and since the second had no name, let's call it "No Name Rag." He rose to the occasion by cobbling together a number of ragtime "tricks" (as Eubie Blake used to call them) into rousing performances.
Coming all the way from Simi Valley, Les Soper opened his set with F. Henri Klickman's "Smiles and Chuckles," a jolly rag if there ever was one. Then, in great contrast, he played Glenn Jenks's pensive and beautiful 1988 piece, "Sosua," named after a tranquil beach in the Dominican Republic. Like William Bolcom's "Graceful Ghost," or D. T. Roberts's "Roberto Clemente," "Sosua" takes ragtime into the realm of what used to be called "serious music." Les has taken up washboard playing in recent years, and he brought along his custom-made board. After a brief run-down on its features, he put on his special thimbles and accompanied Robin Frost (on tape) on a couple of Frost's originals: "Roger's Favorite Toy," and "Alligator Gravy." He announced that he would be giving a free concert "…celebrating 70 years of loving life and loving music" on May 19th in Simi Valley, and invited club members to come.
Next up was an ad hoc trio of Don Rose (trumpet), Phil Cannon (banjo/guitar), and Bill Mitchell (piano), improvising on some pop tunes of the 20s: "Coquette," "Sweet Georgia Brown," and "Avalon." They had fun and hoped the audience liked it. No tomatoes were thrown, at least.
Phil had been given a copy of Ron Ross's "Digital Rag," and had worked it out for his banjo/guitar. He called Ron to the piano and the two of them gave us history's first duet version of "Digital Rag."
Ruby Fradkin returned for an encore on "Tom Dooley," and then invited Phil to join her on Joplin's "Cascades." This nicely performed duet brought the meeting to a close.
REMEMBERING EUBIE BLAKE
By Bill Mitchell
It was over thirty years ago that I first met Eubie Blake, one of the earliest and greatest of the East Coast ragtimers. His "Charleston Rag," originally titled "Sounds of Africa," dates back to 1899, the year that Scott Joplin's "Original Rags" and "Maple Leaf Rag" were published. Born in 1883, he lived to be arguably the most famous centenarian in the country. I felt myself fortunate to see him in person on a few occasions, and will share with you some of the remarks I included in my diary following a couple of parties for Eubie.
July 21, 1969
July 7, Monday evening, there was a reception for Eubie Blake at Milt Larsen's home theater in Los Angeles. Present were Mr. And Mrs. Eubie Blake, Shelton Brooks, and Maple Leaf Club musician-members: Dick Zimmerman (emcee), Dave Bourne, Bob Bradford, Chuck McCluer, Walter Colvin, Pat Gogerty, Robbie Rhodes, Jim Hession, Kathy Backus, Rod Miller, Park Mathe, W. C. Chester, myself, and host Milt Larsen.
Eubie and Shelton engaged in much hearty repartee and reminiscence. Both men are 86. After the MLC musicians had each played a couple of numbers, Eubie and Shelton played. Eubie performed "Charleston Rag," "The Dream Rag," "Eubie's Boogie," "Swanee River" (a concert arrangement), snatches of "Fizz Water" and "Chevy Chase," "Memories of You," Chaminaud's "Scarf Dance," "Stars and Stripes Forever," and "I'm Just Wild About Harry."
Shelton treated us to his familiar compositions, "Darktown Strutters' Ball," "Some of These Days," and "Walkin' the Dog."
Eubie regaled us with anecdotes: boyhood and his mother's strictness, early music lessons, Baltimore street parades, learning to write songs, Don Lambert's spectacular performance at the Newport Jazz Festival on "Tea for Two," and Jim Europe, who was a big man physically as well as musically.
January 9, 1973
Last night Ethel and I had the good fortune to be invited to a party for Eubie Blake and his wife, Marion, who arrived by train from New York Sunday evening. They are in L.A. for a filming of a Duke Ellington special Wed. night at the Shubert Theater. This will be shown on network TV in February.*
The party was hosted by Floyd and Lucille Levin at their Studio City home. Also present were Leonard Feather, Barry Martyn, and a few other personal friends of the Levins. There was a buffet supper and conversation at this delightful, informal reception.
We talked at length with Eubie - I should say listened, for he is an indefatigable talker, and loves to reminisce. He spoke of the early years he was in show biz, and of the collaborators he had worked with. Noble Sissle is still living, but is quite senile half the time, Eubie says. In fact, most of his friends are senile, and Eubie keeps from that state by regular daily practice (two hours, till he starts making mistakes and starts cussing; then his wife stops him) and by frequent public appearances. He will be ninety in February, and is remarkably spry and alert for his age. As we left he complemented Ethel on her dress. Ethel said she wore it because it is the warmest thing she owns. Quipped Eubie, "Even warmer than your husband?"
Eubie spoke of Irving Berlin, "Izzy," as his friends call him, who is still alive, but never appears in public anymore.
He had high praise for him as a songwriter, although not as a pianist. "He plays in six flats usually, and sometimes five flats, and isn't any better in five flats."
*I don't recall anything about the Ellington special in which Eubie was supposed to appear. I don't even know if it ever came through. Maybe it did, maybe it didn't ever get off the ground.
(To be continued in the next issue)
Eubie spoke of being accused of stealing famous songs. "Gypsy Blues" from Victor Herbert's "Little Gypsy Sweetheart," for example. He said he "writes around" songs, but that is not stealing. "Memories of You" he frankly acknowledges to be written around "To a Wild Rose," at least in part.
I brought along a copy of Max Morath's "Giants of Ragtime" folio, and Eubie looked over the rags in it. He said he didn't like "Chevy Chase" and "Fizz Water," but was pleased with "Tricky Fingers" and "Dictys on Fifth Avenue." He explained that a "dicty" was someone like Martin Luther King, Julian Bond, etc., a distinguished Negro. He said "Tricky Fingers" was difficult to play. He commented that the Lucky Roberts rags were greatly simplified and put in easy keys. He said he didn't know many of Joplin's rags.
I presented him with a copy of my "Ragtime Recycled" LP, for which he was very grateful. Later in the evening when the Levins were playing their copy and "Maple Leaf Rag" came up, Eubie commented to Ethel, "That sounds like it's in F. I usually play it in A-flat." Thus Eubie revealed that he had perfect pitch, for he was absolutely correct. I had recorded it in F for a lark, a la the Lu Watters band version.
Eubie is lively, and laughs frequently in genuine amusement at the things he tells. He is a good mimic, and in his stories of old cronies he often imitates the way they sound.
The only real sign of age in Eubie is the inability to recall names spontaneously. He is only too aware of this, and apologized for not being able to come up with the name he wants immediately. However, he invariably recalls the name a few minutes later and gives it.
Eubie drinks neither alcholic beverages nor coffee. However, he smokes cigarettes and has a sweet tooth. He especially enjoyed the cake and candies that were offered last night. He has never traveled by airplane. When he went to Germany for an appearance he sailed. When he comes to California, he always takes the train, although the delays and inconveniences sometimes annoy him. His hearing is sharp, and also his vision.
He spoke warmly of Dave Bourne, who was unable to be present last night. Dave is a grand fellow, well loved by all musicians and fans. Talking with Leonard Feather, I asked if he knew Dave. He didn't as yet, but had arranged over the phone for Dave to guest lecture in his course on jazz. Feather had just flown in from England, where he attended his father's funeral. I told him I had enjoyed his review of the film "Lady Sings the Blues," and had seen it. He said he had to admit Diana Ross did a good job of acting, although he still contended that the movie might just as well been called something like "Sadie Jones Sings the Blues" for all that it had to do with Billie Holiday. Leonard is a neighbor of the Levins, living just down the street.
It will be interesting to see how much attention Eubie gets on the TV special. He and Marion are becoming skeptical; Willie "The Lion" Smith was canceled, as were some others, and the producers seemed quite casual about rehearsals, telling Eubie to show up Tuesday.
Eubie spoke lovingly of Ferde Grofe's "Grand Canyon Suite." Marian said they were going to look up William grant Still, but he wasn't listed in the phone book. Possibly he's in the Musicians" Directory.
·* * * * *
Notes: I don't recall anything about the Ellington special Eubie was supposed to appear in. I don't even know if it ever came through. Maybe it did, maybe it didn't even get off the ground. William Grant Still was a distinguished black composer. He wrote "An Afro American Symphony," and even did a few of Artie Shaw's big band arrangements in the early forties.
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 Refkin.
Sundays, 8-10 p.m.KSBR-FM 88.5, Mission Viejo. Host: Jeff Stone.
CONTINUING GIGS AND UPCOMING EVENTS
Brad Kay Sunday afternoons, 2-5 p.m. at The Unurban, 3301 W. Pico Boulevard, Santa Monica.
Jerry Rothschild Fri. and Sat., 7-10 p.m. at Curley's Restaurant, corner Willow & Cherry, Signal Hill.
Bill Coffman & Bill Field, piano and organ program. Two shows: Sun, May 27, 2:30/7:00 p.m. Old Town Music Hall.
140 Richmond Street, El Segundo. Admission $20. Phone 310-322-2592 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ophelia Orchestra with Morten Gunnar Larsen, from Oslo, Norway. College of Notre Dame Theatre, Belmont, Calif. June 15,, 2001 at 8:00 p.m. General Admission $24.00. For details and information call (408) 395-7972 or visit www.pjconerts.com.
Twenty-sixth Annual Ragtime Festival, with Robbie Rhodes, Jim Turner, Kathy Craig, and Alex Hassan. June 23 (2:30/8:15 p.m.) and June 24 (2:30 p.m.). Old Town Music Hall, 140 Richmond St., El Segundo. Admission $20.
Phone 310-322-2592 E-mail: email@example.com.
THE RAGTIME MACHINE MAKES RADIO HISTORY
David Reffkin's unique radio program will celebrate its twentieth anniversary with the regular broadcast scheduled for July 2, 2001. Each week for two decades Mr. Reffkin has conducted his hour-long Monday night show which has featured thousands of performances and hundreds of interviews with a veritable Who's Who of ragtime luminaries. These well-conducted and informative interviews are often printed in The Mississippi Rag (mississippirag.com), a major trade paper for fans of ragtime and traditional jazz. Congratulations, David, for this impressive marathon of programs without a single rerun.
Thanks to all of you who have been prompt in renewing your subscriptions. The expiration date appears over your mailing address, so you will know when the time comes for renewal. (I will also probably remind you.)
The costs of printing and postage have gone up (particularly the former), and it is likely that a new subscription and renewal rate will be announced in the next issue or two. I'd like to keep this newsletter self sustaining.
Bill Mitchell, Editor (714) 528-1534Fax (7114) 223-3886E-mail <firstname.lastname@example.org>