Rose Leaf Ragtime Club November Meeting (11/25/2001)
Our post-Thanksgiving and post-West Coast Ragtime Festival meeting featured, once again, a lot of wonderfully played piano, ragtime guitar/banjo, and even a couple of piano/vocal duets. In short, a very satisfying way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Thanks to all who attended. This month, our meeting falls on Sunday, December 30th. We hope you can join us…there are plenty of rags written in celebration of the holiday season, probably some you haven’t heard before!
By most accounts, Scott Joplin’s birthday is recorded as November 24th, 1868. With that in mind, most of November’s program focused on Joplin compositions. To start, Gary Rametta opened the meeting with one of Joplin’s most famous pieces, “Pine Apple Rag,” written after Joplin had left Missouri and moved to New York. Gary followed up with another piece from Joplin’s New York period, “Sugar Cane Rag,” then closed with one of his personal favorites, the inventive “Scott Joplin’s New Rag.”
Bob Pinsker took over the keys, treating us to a first-rate performance of the Prelude to Act II of “Treemonisha,” Joplin’s folk opera. In a word, beautiful. Next, he moved to a much later piece of rag-influenced piano, Willie the Lion Smith’s “Zig Zag,” which Bob transcribed from a 1949 recording by the Lion. It was a veritable feat of transcription, considering the complexity of the Lion’s piano conception. Bob did a memorable job playing it, too.
Next was Phil Cannon, who performed two early Joplin rags on his guitar/banjo. First was “Palm Leaf Rag,” in which Joplin’s muse is open and naïve, sweet, a bit sad, and wholly charming. Next was “The Chrysanthemum – An Afro-American Intermezzo.” It has a totally different character, with more of a European classical structure into which are interweaved folk melodies, harmonies and syncopations. Together, these compositions reflect the depth and versatility of Joplin’s genius and originality. Phil did a great job on both and received enthusiastic accolades.
Our next performer was Yuko Shimazaki. Yuko’s command of classical technique and her interpretation skills enable her uncover the pristine beauty of Joplin’s ideas. There are as many ways to play Joplin rags as there are pianists who perform them, but Yuko’s renditions capture a certain pathos that eludes other players who perform at faster tempos. Phil Cannon joined her on duet versions of Joplin’s lovely “Solace – A Mexican Serenade” and “Rose Leaf Rag.”
Next up was Nancy Kleier, who gave us a bit of a different spin on Joplin. For her first number, she chose contemporary composer Hal Isbitz’ “The Russian Maple Leaf Rag.” I’d seen the sheet music before, but Nancy’s performance was the first time I’d heard it played. Quite an interesting composition, it uses Eastern European scale tones to restate Joplin’s piece. As a follow-up, she played contemporary composer Jack Rummel’s re-authoring of Maple Leaf, this time using the Tennessee folk rag style of Charles Hunter. It turned out to be another very engaging rag. Finally, Nancy closed her set with a Scott Joplin original, “Pleasant Moments,” one of his excellent waltzes. Thanks, Nancy!
Ron Ross kept things going, first with “Joplinesque – A Gringo Tango” a rag/tango that he penned last year. It’s quite well constructed and a real treat to listen to. Next was Ron’s own “Ragtime Song,” a very lyrical rag poem that might not have words attached, but which still sings sweetly a ragged tune. It appears on Ron’s new CD, which, if you don’t yet have, you’ll want to add to your collection right away.
Ron stayed at the keyboard to invite Penny Fleming, a recent club regular that up ‘till now hadn’t performed, in a piano/vocal version of another cut from his CD. This time it was “Good Thing Going,” which was recorded by Ron and the talented Janet Klein. Penny delivered a fine performance of this humorous story of love gone awry.
Martin Choate came up next, choosing the old Gulbransen upright and expressing his fondness for its jangle piano-type sound. He gave it a workout on his expansive “Ragga con Dolcezza,” which boasts a strongly romantic trio section. He continued by asking Ron back up to duet with him on his novelty piano/vocal number “I Done Left My Hip Boots in the Other Car.” As always, it was lots of fun.
Stan Long kept the Joplin celebration going with renditions of “Elite Syncopations,” “Magnetic Rag” and “Maple Leaf Rag.” Stan claims he doesn’t read music, and if that’s so, then his ear is highly developed and his knowledge of harmony thorough. These are tough tunes to work out even with the “training wheels” of sheet music. Putting them together by ear is a daunting task, and Stan is certainly meeting the challenge!
Young Ruby Fradkin took the stage, first announcing a couple of upcoming gigs at which she’d be featured. She then delved into some standards, playing with her special brand of bounce and clarity. First was “Camptown Races,” then “Pick a Bale of Cotton,” followed by “Tom Dooley.”
The first half of our program went way overtime, so we decided to forego the break and forge ahead with more music. Bob Pinsker kept his exploration of Willie the Lion Smith going with “Echo of Spring,” one of the composer’s masterpieces, and “Conversation on Park Avenue.” The Lion’s music is great to listen to, and Bob’s playing of this difficult material is impressive.
Les Soper then came aboard to offer up a variety of beautifully played ragtime. First off was Imogene Gillis’ “Red Peppers,” then Joseph Lamb’s “Ragtime Bobolink,” played with compassion and restraint, then Joplin’s “The Chrysanthemum.”
Gary Rametta added more Joplin to the program, first with the cheerful but tricky “Peacherine Rag,” then the lovely “Bethena, a Concert Waltz.”
Nancy Kleier returned for a second set, consisting of “The Turkey Trot,” and “Good Gravy,” both no doubt in honor of the Thanksgiving holiday.
Les then came back up to play another solo, this time totally captivating us with his performance of Glenn Jenks’ “Elegiac Rag,” a tremendously moving piece which Les played brilliantly.
Bob Pinsker then asked the audience to name any Joplin rag and he would play it. “Wall Street Rag” got a couple of votes but the choice turned out to be “Weeping Willow.” Bob gave it a good ride.
To close out our program, Ruby Fradkin was joined by Phil Cannon and newcomer James Patrick from Glendale (on drum skin) in trio versions of “Babyface” and “St. Louis Blues,” the latter to which Ruby added a variety of tasteful and bluesy improvisational touches.
Ron Ross and Alan Breiman took us to the finish line with “Hello My Ragtime Gal.” With that, we had to shut the pianos and say “Goodbye My Ragtime Friends” as the meeting went about 30 minutes overtime. Hey, it was like a Thanksgiving dinner. Maybe we could’ve stayed all night and had our fill, but what would the occasion be without leftovers?
We promise to have a full course of ragtime on hand this month to help make your holiday season merry and bright!
BILL COFFMAN (October 4, 1926 – December 7, 2001)
The ragtime community lost one of its best friends with the sudden passing of Bill Coffman early this month. Bill was proprietor (with his business partner, Bill Field) of the Old Town Music Hall in El Segundo.
Opening for business in 1969, this establishment offered over the years a varied menu of classic films, both silents and talkies, and frequent musical concerts featuring many different types of music, but favoring ragtime pianists and orchestras. Over the years such artists as Eubie Blake, Knocky Parker, John Guarnieri, Dick Zimmerman, Robbie Rhodes, Jim Turner, Kathy Craig, Pat Gogarty, Dorothy Coates, David Thomas Roberts, Bob Milne, Alex Hassan, Robin Frost, Mimi Blais, and many other fine players have performed on the superb grand pianos (Bosendorfer and Steinway) that, along with the Mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ, grace the stage at the OTMH.
Bill was born in Mena, Arkansas, where he taught himself to play as a youngster by following the movements of the keys on a player piano. Later he had some formal instruction, and after moving to California, he played for 16 years in a piano bar in Wilmington, a suburb of L.A. In the 1950s, he studied under Jesse Crawford, the renowned theater organist. In 1958, Coffman and Field purchased the Mighty Wurlitzer that had been installed in the Fox Theater in Long Beach in 1925, when organ accompaniment was customary in major theaters. For a few years, they carted it around to play for special occasions until they found an old neighborhood theater in El Segundo as its permanent home. Thus, the OTMH came into being.
Typically, Bill would introduce each concert with a few jocular and whimsical remarks of greeting before presenting the artists of the evening. We will miss his “How many of you are here for the first time? (Pause) How many of you are here for the last time?” And “The pharmacy will be open during intermission for your macaroons.” He liked to josh with his regular customers, and he had many loyal fans that attended every concert.
No services were scheduled, but there will be a memorial open house at OTMH on Sunday, Jan. 6 from 1:00-9:00 p.m. His many friends and fans will be dropping in at various times to play music and reminisce about Bill. Refreshments will be served at this informal gathering.
The Los Angeles Times obituary page of Dec. 14 carried an interesting story on Bill, including a picture of him at the organ console in 1982. The article is accessible on the Internet: http://latimes.com/news/local/la-000099300dec14.story.
Memorial donations may be made to the Old Town Music Hall.
The second meeting of the Orange County Ragtime Society will be held at Steamers Café in Fullerton on Saturday, Dec. 29. From 12:30 – 4:00 p.m. the public is invited to hear several ragtime pianists who will drop in to entertain at the superb Kawai grand piano. Admission is free. Steamers offers a full luncheon menu and beverages. Pianists are invited to come and play, and fans to listen. The first meeting was held Nov. 10 at Steamers, featured such fine players as Eric Marchese (founder of the society), Sonny Leyland, Bob Pinsker, Ron Ross, and Paul Kosmala
Sundays, 2:05-3:30 pm PT, “Syncopation Station,” KDHX St. Louis MO 88.l and www.kdhx.org; host, Jan Douglas.
Sundays, 4-6 pm PT, “Rags to Wishes”. KAZU, Pacific Grove CA 90.3 and www.kazu.org; host, Mike Schmitz.
Sundays, 8-10 pm PT, “The Ragtime Show”, KSBR Mission Viejo CA 88.5 and www.ksbr.net; host, Jeff Stone.
Mondays, 9-10 pm PT, “The Ragtime Machine”, KUSF San Francisco CA 90.3; host, David Reffkin. The KUSF stream is temporarily down because of the current dispute over licensing fees for Internet broadcasting.
Thursdays, 7-8 pm PT, “Ragtime America,” KGNU Boulder CO 88.5 and www.kgnu.org; host, Jack Rummel.
Brad Kay Sunday afternoons, 2-4 p.m. at The Unurban, 3301 W. Pico Boulevard, Santa Monica. Coffee, etc. No cover charge
Jerry Rothschild Fri. and Sat., 7-10 p.m. at Curley’s Restaurant, corner Willow & Cherry, Signal Hill.
Orange County Ragtime Society, Sat., Dec. 29, 12:30-4:00 p.m., Steamers Café, 138 W. Commonwealth Ave., Fullerton (714) 871-8800. No charge. Lunch menu available.
Bill Coffman Memorial Open House, Sunday, Jan. 6, 2002, 1:00-9:00 p.m. Old Town Music Hall, 140 Richmond St., El Segundo. Admission free.
Ragtime Trioarama, Jan. 13, 2002, 7 p.m. Robbie Rhodes, Bill Mitchell, and Bob Pinsker. Solos, duets, and trios featuring ragtime and jazz piano. Old Town Music Hall. Old Town Music Hall, 140 Richmond St., El Segundo. Admission $20. Phone 310-322-2592. E-mail oldtown;firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ron Rhodes, Theater Organist from Phoenix, Jan. 20, 7:00 p.m. Old Town Music Hall. (See above.)
Mimi Blais, Ragtime Pianist from Montreal, Feb. 14, 7:00 p.m. Old Town Music Hall (See above.)
I’d like to extend warm holiday greetings to all of you, and thank you for supporting Something Doing for another year. It happens that most subscriptions expire in December, so if you’ve enjoyed the newsletter these past months your prompt renewals will be appreciated. (The expiration date of your subscription is always shown above your name and address.)
Bill Coffman’s sudden death (while napping) came as quite a shock. He was so completely involved with the Old Town Music Hall that it is hard to imagine it without him. However, Bill Field is planning to carry on with the good work, and Coffman would be pleased to know that OTMH will survive and continue to provide films and concerts. One of these, the Ragtime Triorama scheduled for Jan. 13, will be dedicated to his memory. The three participants (see above) met in mid December to plan and rehearse the program, which will feature several numbers that were among Bill’s favorites.
Those of you who are coming to the Rose Leaf Club meeting Dec. 30 will be receiving a holiday gift from The Mississippi Rag. The editor of this fine publication has sent me a box containing 40 or 50 copies of the August 2001 issue, featuring a lengthy article on the great ragtime composer Joseph F. Lamb. They will be given out on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Bill Mitchell, Editor (714) 528-1534 Fax (714) 223-3886 E-mail <email@example.com>