JANUARY 2002, NUMBER 69
Rose Leaf Ragtime Club December Meeting (12/30/2001) Reported by Gary Rametta
We wrapped up another year of successful Rose Leaf Ragtime club meetings on Sunday, December 30th. As usual, it was an unqualified crowd-pleaser from start to finish. The meeting was held in fond remembrance of Mr. Bill Coffman, co-proprietor of the Old Town Music Hall in El Segundo, who passed away earlier in the month. As much as anybody in southern California, Bill was a vital force in the ragtime rebirth, his support and underwriting of it going back well over 20 years. Bill will be sadly missed.
Gary Rametta opened the meeting with Scott Joplin’s sweet “Weeping Willow” rag, then moved to a contemporary (1969) ragtime composition by St. Louis’ Trebor Tichenor, titled the “Show Me Rag – A Missouri Defiance.”
Bill Coleman soloed next on “At a Georgia Camp Meeting” and Bowman’s famous “12th Street Rag.”
Following Mr. Coleman was another Bill, Mr. Bill Mitchell. Bill played some favorites that never wear out, including J. Bodewalt Lampe’s “Glad Rag” and Joseph Lamb’s “Ragtime Nightingale” and “Bohemia.” By the end of “Bohemia,” Bill had certainly gotten the room rocking and rolling.
Stan Long revisited the Joplin repertoire with two numbers, first “The Entertainer” then “Solace – A Mexican Serenade.” He then delved into a little improvisation with his own version of “Look What They’ve Done to My Song.”
Phil Cannon strapped on his guitar/banjo and performed some holiday selections. First was Arthur Fiedler’s arrangement of Leroy Anderson’s 1949 Christmas classic “Sleigh Ride.” Next was a long and beautifully played medley of several themes from Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker Suite” ballet. Phil’s technique, arrangements and imaginative expression were superb.
Ron Ross took up the ivories next, soloing on a recent composition called “Fun in the Sun.” Next, he brought Phil back to duet with him on Ron’s enjoyable “Digital Rag.”
Ragtime Nancy Kleier gave us two holiday-oriented rags, first “Holly and Mistletoe” by Geraldine Dobbins (1909), then “Hot Scotch Rag” by H.A. Fischler (1911).
It was a pleasure to see and hear Tom Handforth, who came up to the keys and performed a staple of his repertoire, Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes,” one of the best marches ever written.
Fred Hoeptner followed, putting the wraps on the first half of the program with a splendidly played piece, David Guion’s lovely “Texas Fox Trot.”
After the break, Yuko Shimazaki was heard warming up at the Yamaha upright with Joplin’s exquisite “Nonpareil.” She then performed his habanera “Solace,” interpreting it beautifully.
Les Soper came up to play two classics, first “Ragtime Betty” by James Scott, then “Cascades” by Joplin.
Eric Marchese made his first appearance at the club in quite some time. It was indeed nice to hear him solo on his own holiday rag “A New England Yuletide,” which he conceived and wrote several years ago after trips back east to his family’s home in Massachusetts. Next was his newest composition, a three-section pop rag called “Jumpin’ Jupiter.”
Gary and Bill Mitchell then duetted on Joplin’s great “Pine Apple Rag,” after which Bill stayed on to celebrate the upcoming New Year with “Scott Joplin’s New (year) Rag.”
Nancy Kleier returned with two more holiday-related solos, first Joseph Lamb’s “Champagne Rag,” then James Scott’s “Peace and Plenty.”
By request, Les strode back up to the Yamaha and gave us a terrific performance of Jack Rummel’s modern-day ragtime classic, “Lone Jack to Knob Noster,” a musical account of one of his trips by car from Colorado to the Scott Joplin ragtime festival in Sedalia, MO. “Lone Jack” is a rousing number, a great rag with a bluesy and sometimes boogie-woogie feel.
Ruby Fradkin took over the mike and commandeered a combo that included Phil on strings, James on percussion and Gwen Girvin on second piano. Ruby started things off with a couple holiday songs, “Frosty the Snowman” and “Silent Night,” then rolled up her sleeves and dove into some hearty blues, with the W.C. Handy classic “St. Louis Blues.” Ruby’s improvisation and steady use of blues figures were exhilarating. She drew, and deserved, enthusiastic applause.
Alan Breiman and Ron Ross performed the final duets of the afternoon, first with “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)” and “Hello My Ragtime Gal.”
Gwen Girvin handed out lyrics and led us in a sing-along version of “Auld Lang Syne.” With that, a 2001 that none of will soon forget came to a close for the Rose Leaf Ragtime Club. We hope you’ll be with us to help make 2002 even brighter.
WEST COAST RAGTIME FESTIVAL 2001 By Fred Hoeptner The fifteenth annual West Coast Ragtime Festival, and the fifth to be held in Sacramento under the aegis of the West Coast Ragtime Society, opened Friday, November 16, for three days at the Red Lion Hotel in Sacramento. Festival attendance seemed about equal to last year; at least, there was no significant decrease, and advance badge purchases actually increased. As usual, the festival featured concurrent performances for listening in three rooms and continuous dancing in the hotel ballroom.
Performers included ragtime pianists Mimi Blais, Jeff Barnhart, Frank French, Brian Holland, Scott Kirby, Reginald Robinson, Jack Rummel and Trebor Tichenor, all favorite regulars on the festival circuit. Missourian Nora Hulse, a retired professor of music and specialist in rags by woman composers, made her initial West Coast appearance. Nick Taylor of Colorado, fast becoming a featured ragtimer, performed impressively. West Coasters included Nan Bostick, grandniece and biographer of Charles N. Daniels, early Tin Pan Alley composer; Tom Brier, enthusiastic purveyor of ragtime obscurities; Eric Marchese, composer and performer at the Rose Leaf Club; Al Mariano, veteran pizza parlor and nightclub pianist; Bill Mitchell, regular Rose Leaf performer; Alan Rea and Sylvia O’Neill playing four hands on one piano and specializing in Gottschalk; Robbie Rhodes, ragtime and jazz pianist with the former South Frisco Jazz Band who has performed often at the Old Town Music Hall; Virginia Tichenor, Trebor’s daughter and fine ragtime pianist; and Galen Wilkes, local composer and organizer of the former Palm Leaf Ragtime Orchestra. Specialists in related styles included pianists Paul Asaro, stride specialist from Seattle; Alex Hassan, Virginian considered a leading authority on novelty piano in the Zez Confrey tradition; and Carl “Sonny” Leyland, late of the U.K. and specialist in barrelhouse and boogie woogie. Youthful ragtime pianists Neil Blaze, Marit Johnson and Sarah Roth also displayed their considerable talents. The superb ten-piece Pacific Coast Ragtime Orchestra with thrush Helen Burns, the sextet Porcupine Ragtime Ensemble, the quartet St. Louis Ragtimers featuring Trebor Tichenor, the trio Bo Grumpus, and the Fresno High School Band provided music for dancing and listening in the ballroom.
A number of innovations were introduced this year. Each day’s schedule included two to three hours of “open piano” where anyone could sign up for one or more ten-minute segments. This attracted a fair contingent of performers and listeners including the ragtimer who doubtless traveled the farthest to attend, Christoph Schmetterer of Vienna, Austria, who played some of his own compositions. Saturday’s schedule included a piano “master class” where hostess Nan Bostick had invited six intermediate level student pianists, including this writer, to have their performances critiqued by instructors Scott Kirby and Jeff Barnhart. This session attracted a large audience and both instructors made many constructive comments. Since the performance styles of the instructors differ drastically, I expected some disagreements, but this happened on only one issue. Two students swung their performances of Eubie’s Classical Rag and Magnetic Rag, respectively, each generating controversy. Kirby settled the first issue with the observation that the policy of Eubie Blake, the composer, was to play it “in between.” Kirby decried the swinging of Magnetic Rag, but Barnhart commented that he liked it. Kirby countered with the comment that one needs to be able to play it both ways. Bostick improved the ambiance of “after hours” this year by setting up tables with centerpieces and subdued lighting.
Nan Bostick had arranged a full program of seminars for Saturday. Galen Wilkes led off with a session on James Scott. Besides composing rags and songs, Scott arranged for Benny Moten’s Kansas City Orchestra. Thanks to Mike Montgomery, Scott’s papers survive in the Detroit Public Library. Jack Rummel surveyed ragtime guitar as performed both by folk performers of “country rags” such as Frank Hutchinson, Merle Travis and Doc Watson, and by urban performers such as David Laibman, Stefan Grossman and Steve Hancoff. Dave Van Ronk was the first to arrange a piano rag for guitar, St. Louis Tickle in 1963. Laibman, also a pioneer in adapting piano rags and an influential figure among guitarists, developed his own three-finger style of picking. Nora Hulse has identified 350 female ragtime composers starting with Sadie Kominsky, pianist and violinist who composed Eli Green’s Cakewalk in 1896. She reviewed the lives of some of the more prominent and played excerpts from their works.
Jack Rummel hosted a ragtime composers’ forum where a panel comprising Tom Brier, Frank French, Hal Isbitz, Scott Kirby, Eric Marchese, Reginald Robinson, Trebor Tichenor, and Galen Wilkes responded to questions from Jack and the audience. The composers provided insight on such subjects as sources of inspiration, sources of titles, selection of keys, predominance of the melodic line, scoring procedure, and use of computer assistance. Nan Bostick presented her seminar on the politically incorrect Indian song craze, which lasted from 1903 until 1921, illustrated by slides of the strikingly attractive covers.
The festival presented two featured shows. Friday night’s “Pete Clute Salute” memorialized the late pianist and member of the former Turk Murphy band who had been scheduled to play at the festival with banjoist Carl Lunsford. Saturday night’s featured show was the fortieth anniversary concert of the St. Louis Ragtimers with all four original members still going strong. Trebor Tichenor, piano; Al Stricker, banjo and vocal; Bill Mason, cornet; and Don Franz, tuba; played favorites such as Sailing Down the Chesapeake Bay, Tickled To Death, The Easy Winners, The Cascades, and Blind Boone’s Southern Rag Medley No. 2 after which an elaborate cake was presented to the group. Several duet sets generated audience enthusiasm. Jeff Barnhart and Brian Holland accompanied by Mike Schwimmer on his specially designed miniature washboard featured rapid-fire piano, ragtime songs, repartee and bad jokes. Frank French and Scott Kirby performed a variety of rags including Atlanta Rag, Frog Legs and French’s Belle of Louisville.
Memorable moments abounded. Alex Hassan charmed the audience with his elaborate arrangements of a medley of Harry Warren’s Broadway show tunes and with Billy Mayerl and Robin Frost compositions played in the novelty rag style. Reginald Robinson dedicated his composition Sweet Envy to the Rose Leaf Club’s late founder P.J. Schmidt commenting that it was P.J.’s favorite. Tom Brier performed his sets of obscure rags from the past and newly composed contemporary rags. Examples of the first group included Queen Raglin by A.E. Heinrich (1902), Dicty-Doo by Carey Morgan (1914), Black Canary by H.A. Tierney (1911), and Jolly Jingles by W.C. Powell. Examples of the latter group included his own Brier Patch Rag, Ron O’Dell’s weird but appealing Mad Scientist Rag, Man Out of Time by Reginald Robinson, Galen Wilkes’ Cakewalking Through Kansas and my Dalliance. Brier and Reginald Robinson duetted on Blind Boone’s Ragtime Jubilee. Carl Leyland followed his incredible arrangement of Little Rock Getaway with a tribute to his audience: “I wish it could be like this every day. The level of appreciation is tremendous.” In a poignant moment reflecting on September 11 Mimi Blais remarked, “To my ragtime family, I feel your love and want to say ‘thank you’”.
Kudos are due to the board of the West Coast Ragtime Society and all the festival volunteers for another exciting ragtime experience. See you in 2002!
RALPH SUTTON -- “THE KING OF 'STRIDE' PIANO” 1922 -- 2001 By Floyd Levin
“The distinctive ‘stride’ bass, adapted from left-hand patterns of ragtime, represents only one of the infinite virtuoso demands of the style, which, in general called for fast tempos, full use of the piano's range, and a wide variety of pianistic devices -- some from the classical repertory in which many Harlem pianists were trained.” The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz - Second Edition
“When I try to explain what ‘stride’ is, I tell them it's got a swingin’ left hand that you walk with -- but then I have to explain what ‘walkin’ with it means.... it’s just swing piano!” Ralph Sutton, "Loose Shoes." Jaynar Press 1994
On Sunday, December 30, 2001, a phone call from Jim Shacter shattered the cheerful holiday spirit with his announcement that famed stride pianist Ralph Sutton died that afternoon. He was 79 years old. Shacter, author of the definitive biography, “Loose Shoes, The Story of Ralph Sutton,” was relaying the dreadful news he had just received from Ralph’s wife, Sunnie Sutton.
Despite the ominous title above, this is not an obituary. It is a personal memoir of a warm friendship that began half a century ago, and it will reveal a few obscure facets of Ralph's long career. Our relationship was not unique. Ralph responded amiably to fans and colleagues throughout the world, and each possesses tender personal memories of him. After the shocking phone call, my thoughts were immediately focused on our first meeting. It was in Cleveland, Ohio about 1952. I was returning to my hotel after a business meeting. A huge snowdrift blocked the taxi driver’s direct access to the hotel, and I was dropped off about half a block away -- in front of the Theatrical Grill. A small sign by the door read: “TONIGHT - RALPH SUTTON!” An icy blast from nearby Lake Erie prompted me to enter the Grill for a warming drink -- and a chance to hear the great pianist.
The walls inside the restaurant were covered with photos of previously featured artists, including Muggsy Spanier, Wild Bill Davison, Jack Teagarden, Dorothy Donegan, etc. I knew I was in the right place. It was early, and just a few patrons were there. I followed the strains of "Honeysuckle Rose" and found a table near the piano. I was immediately impressed with his Harlem stride style and his impeccable rhythmic sense.
Sutton was then about thirty years old and had already achieved fame as intermission pianist at Eddie Condon’s club in New York, stints with Jack Teagarden, and concerts in England and Switzerland. He eventually received world wide acclaim as a master of stride piano.
Noticing that I was a new patron, he came to my table when the set ended, and I invited him to have a drink with me. I had recently started writing about jazz, and told him that my monthly column appeared in England's Jazz Journal. He was aware of the young publication and knew the editor Sinclair Traill, so we had a lot to talk about. I spent the entire evening in the Theatrical Grill. I visited with Ralph during intermissions, had a late supper with him after the show and returned each evening until I left Cleveland.
Since then, as our friendship developed, I watched the Sutton career flourish. His fame grew when he made several West Coast appearances at the Club Hangover in San Francisco, the London House in Chicago, and annually participated in Dick Gibson’s Colorado Jazz Parties. In 1968, he became a founding member of the World’s Greatest Jazz Band and remained with them until 1974.
I invited Ralph to participate in the 1975 edition of “A Night in New Orleans,” a concert series I co-produced with Barry Martyn. He shared the “Keyboard Giants” billing with Jess Stacy, a pianist he greatly admired. I recall a wonderful afternoon seated in Jess’s back yard in Laurel Canyon listening to the two great pianists chatting amiably for several hours.
Based on the success of our Los Angeles concert, we took Ralph with us when the show toured Europe the following year. Our cast also included Benny Carter, Barney Bigard, Red Callender, Cozy Cole, Clyde Bernhardt and Barry Martyn’s Legends of Jazz.
Every night, in a different European city, I introduced Ralph as “The King of Stride Piano!” After a concert in a giant Munich beer hall, when a young Fraulein approached him for an autograph, she said, “Until I saw you tonight Mr. Sutton, I always thought ‘stride piano’ meant playing the instrument with a leg on each side of the bench!”
When a Japanese producer asked me to recommend a stellar American pianist to appear in his annual Tokyo jazz concert, I immediately suggested Ralph. He was so successful, the producer has invited him back every year since. I have received a series of attractive Japanese post cards from Ralph during the past dozen years - each thanking me for the gig!
He eventually made annual tours of England, Canada, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, France, Australia and New Zealand – usually accompanied by his beautiful wife, Sunnie. My file also includes a stack of colorful post cards with Ralph’s warm greetings from those foreign lands. Although he never met Fats Waller, he was the foremost interpreter of his music. In Ralph's hands, Fat's “Jitterbug Waltz” became an emotional experience-- a pianistic concerto. I wrote the following paragraphs many years ago. They are still accurate assessments of Ralph Sutton’s tremendous skills.
“Sitting almost sphinx-like, the implacable Ralph Sutton extracts a fervent swing from his keyboard. When the tempo rises, his grin broadens as he bolsters the rhythm with an exhilarating stride that provokes a throbbing pulse. He has played ‘Honeysuckle Rose’ a zillion times, yet he finds a freshness that makes Fats Waller’s masterpiece always seem new. Sutton transforms the familiar bridge (‘So sweet when you stir it up’) into a launching pad that explodes into a romping chorus.”
I am proud to be included among the countless friends and fans throughout the world who will miss Ralph’s boyish grin, his affable manner, and his lifelong efforts to perpetuate the music of his mentors, James P. Johnson, Fats Waller, and Willie “The Lion” Smith, the originators of stride piano.
This year's March of Jazz, the annual jazz party sponsored by Arbors Records, was scheduled to celebrate Ralph's 80th birthday. Arbors' President, Mat Domber, has announced that the event will instead be a celebration of his life. Over 50 world class musicians will appear during the weekend of March 15, 16 and 17 at the Sheraton Sand Key Resort in Clearwater, Florida.
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.
CONTINUING GIGS AND UPCOMING EVENTS
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., Feb. 9, 12:30-4:00 p.m., Steamers Café, 138 W. Commonwealth Ave., Fullerton (714) 871-8800. No charge. Lunch menu available.
Janet Klein and her Parlor Boys, at the Atlas Supper Club, 3760 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. Showtime 7-10 p.m. Reservations (213) 380-8400
Mimi Blais, Ragtime Pianist from Montreal, Feb. 14, 7:00 p.m. Old Town Music Hall, 140 Richmond St., El Segundo. Admission $20. Phone 310-322-2592. E-mail email@example.com.
The Bill Coffman Memorial Open House at the Old Town Music Hall on January 6 ran from 1-10:30 p.m., during which time around 500 of Bill’s friends (not all at the same time, fortunately) came to reminisce and celebrate his life with music and song. Several Rose Leaf Club members were on hand to perform, as well as many other artists who had appeared at OTMH at one time or another. When we arrived, around 7:30 p.m., Bill Field, seated at the organ console, reminisced about Coffman and the history of OTMH. He played a number or two and turned the stage over to Janet Klein and a couple of her parlor boys. Ruby Fradkin played a while, and then Tom Bopp entertained with piano solos and vocals.
I was able to drop in for a while at the Orange County Ragtime Society meeting Dec. 29 and heard some fine ragtime by Eric Marchese (founder and emcee), Stan Long, Patrick Aranda, Ron Ross, and contributed a couple of numbers myself. You can read a full report of the meeting on the internet. <geocities.com/ragfest/December2001OCRSmeeting.html>
Rose Leaf Club stalwart Ron Ross reports that he has a small role in the new Coen Brothers film, “The Man Who Wasn’t There,” which is now in first run at selected theaters. Ron plays the part of a banker who helps Billy Bob Thornton’s brother-in-law borrow money against the family barbershop.
Bill Mitchell, Editor Phone (714) 528-1534 Fax (714) 223-3886 E-mail <firstname.lastname@example.org>