Rose Leaf Ragtime Club June Meeting (6/29/2002)
Now that the hot months of the year are upon us, it’s always a bit of a dare each month to see how we’ll fare, comfort-wise, in the back room of the Pasadena IHOP. Happily, the air conditioning system there has been working like a champ. Fittingly, the 50-plus members who attended our gathering the last Sunday in June not only got to roll up their sleeves and relax, but also enjoy yet another three-plus hours of terrific ragtime music.
Bill Mitchell and Gary Rametta opened the meeting with duo piano renditions of Scott Joplin’s “Original Rags” (his first published rag, dated 1899), the toe-tapping Joplin/Scott Hayden collaboration “Something Doing,” and Joseph Lamb’s elegant and original “American Beauty.”
Next, Andrew Barrett, a 14-year-old ragtime pianist prodigy, delivered great solo versions of two less well-known but nonetheless outstanding compositions, Joe Jordan’s “That Teasin’ Rag” (1909) and Charles L. Johnson’s folksy “Crazy Bone Rag,” (1913). Both rags were popular in their day, Jordan’s being covered in part by the Original New Orleans Dixieland Jass Band, and Johnson’s by the John Philip Sousa orchestra.
Ron Ross then played two of his excellent original ragtime compositions, “Retro Rag” and “Joplinesque (A Gringo Tango).” The former is a light, humorous and inventive excursion into the ragtime form, while the latter is a flowing, sophisticated and lyrical piece that moves effortlessly between a straight two-four beat and a habañera rhythm. It’s a truly wonderful four-minute musical journey, one of my favorites off his “Ragtime Renaissance” CD, and certainly one of Ron’s best pieces.
Phil Cannon followed, contributing two classic Joseph Lamb rags, “Topliner” and “Cleopatra,” on his guitar/banjo. One can’t commend Phil’s artistry highly enough. His arrangements are true to form, capturing the compositions’ every nuance and subtlety, and his technical ability is simply amazing.
Bill Mitchell returned to the Yamaha studio upright and, picking up on Andrew Barrett’s Charles L. Johnson theme, delivered joyous, upbeat versions of two of Johnson’s best: “Porcupine Rag” (1909) and Snookums (1918), both of which teem with Missouri folk influences. Bill’s enthusiasm for Johnson’s work is evident in his bright and syncopated interpretations.
Ruby Fradkin was our next performer. No doubt the word about Ruby has been getting around town. A camera crew from the Los Angeles Times’ local cable TV station had arrived earlier and was set up to record her performance. Ruby started out with Joplin’s challenging “The Cascades” from 1901, playing it with bounce and precision, and much to the crowd’s delight. For her next piece, Bill Mitchell joined her in a thoroughly good-time rendition of Joplin and Arthur Marshall’s timeless “Swipesy Cakewalk.” If we’re not careful, she’s going to make us famous…
Making her first appearance at the Rose Leaf Ragtime Club piano was our next performer, Sally Todd (Becky Todd’s mom). I’d heard Sally play after our May meeting and was floored by her playing of a couple of jazz standards arranged with complex stylings, à la Carmen Cavallero. When I saw her sitting with Becky and Mr. Todd during our June meeting, I eagerly asked her to play for us. During her introduction, Sally said she was so taken with Fred Hoeptner’s lovely “Idyll of Autumn” (which he played at our May meeting), that she had to learn it. Anyone who’s tried to play Fred’s compositions knows how intricate and technically difficult they are. With only two weeks preparation, Sally did a great job on “Idyll,” capturing its mood, pulse and dissonances, and generously expressing its inner beauty and effervescence.
To close the first half of the show, the club welcomed guest pianist David McAllister from North Carolina. Dave was vacationing in the area, and learned of our meeting in The American Rag newspaper. Dave’s forte is stride ragtime piano (Fats Waller in particular), and he set the keys ablaze with masterful performances of Waller’s “Honeysuckle Rose” and “Lookin’ Good But Feelin’ Bad.” In addition to flawlessly performing many Wallerisms, David treated us to some first-rate improvisation.
During the break, Bill Coleman played intermission piano, doing very nicely on some early rags and cakewalks, including Joplin’s “The Entertainer.”
Opening the second half of the program was Bill Buell, who frequented the former Maple Leaf Club before it joined with the Rose Leaf Club. For his selections, Bill chose “Peach Blossoms,” then Wallie Herzer’s best-known work, “Everybody Two-Step.” This piece was reportedly the first piano rag every recorded—by Mike Bernard in 1912. Bernard was a New Yorker said to possess a flashy, classically-trained technique. The ragtime history books show he apparently “dethroned” Kentucky’s Ben Harney (who claimed to be the creator of ragtime) as “Rag Time King of the World” in a piano contest in the early 1900s.
Following an announcement by Bill Mintz regarding an upcoming event for LP collectors called “Vinyl Records Day,” (to be held next month in San Luis Obispo), Gary Rametta played solo on Joplin’s “Peacherine Rag,” a classic from 1901.
After Stan Long played a couple of sections of Joplin’s “Elite Syncopations,” the club welcomed banjo artist Jim Jones to center stage. A Palos Verdes resident, Jim is a longtime player of Tin Pan Alley and Dixieland music, and is an active member of the National Sheet Music Society. He recalled his playing days with the “Salty Dogs” of Purdue University in the late 1950s, and gave us a brief history of the group and some of its alumni. The group’s theme song was Lew Pollock’s 1914 rag “That’s a Plenty,” on which he accompanied the duo pianos of David McAllister and Bill Mitchell. He also led the trio in a rendition of “Runnin’ Wild” (I’m not certain if this was the “Runnin’ Wild” composed by James P. Johnson from the Broadway show of the same name). That notwithstanding, Jim’s set was enthusiastically received by the Rose Leaf attendees.
Bill and David stayed on, giving us a gem of a duet—this one on Fats Waller’s “Keepin’ Out of Mischief Now.” David was true to the Waller style with lots of tenths in the left hand, while Bill improvised beautifully.
Andrew Barrett returned to the keys for another solo—“Hot House Rag”—written in 1914 by his favorite composer, Indiana native Paul Pratt, a vaudeville pianist and forerunner of novelty piano.
Next up was Yuko Shimazaki. Yuko got her fingers warmed up with “Maple Leaf Rag,” accompanied by Bill Mitchell, then soloed on “Fig Leaf Rag,” one of Joplin’s undeniable masterpieces from his New York period. Yuko and Bill’s performance of “Maple Leaf” was exciting, and her solo of “Fig Leaf” featured her exquisite touch, phrasing and interpretation.
In recognition of the upcoming Independence Day festivities, Phil Cannon returned to perform a patriotic set. He chose two of Sousa’s best-known and best-loved marches, “Stars and Stripes” and “Semper Fidelis.” His playing was, again, fantastic and met with much appreciation.
Ron Ross then returned to the keys, this time with a new piano/vocal number he penned in honor of Miss Fradkin, called “When Ruby Plays the Blues.” With its catchy melody and clever lyrics, the tune expressed Ron’s (and our) fondness for young Ruby and wonderment of her talent.
The club applauded Ron and his composition, then, with much ovation, welcomed Ruby back to the keys. She soloed on a patriotic set of her own, performing a nicely arranged medley of George M. Cohan’s “You’re a Grand Old Flag” and “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” Following her solo, she asked Stan Long to join her in a four-handed rendition of Disney’s “Zippity Doo-Dah.” The duo played with verve and genuine foot-stomping appeal. To close the show, Ruby asked Bill Mitchell to join her on W.C. Handy’s classic “St. Louis Blues.” Bill contributed his always-great accompaniment, while Ruby displayed her increasingly learned improvisation skills.
In all, it was another memorable gathering. If you missed us in June, make sure to mark your calendar for this coming Sunday, July 28, at 2:30 PM. We hope to see you there! J
Old Town Music Hall's 27th annual Ragtime Festival got underway with the matinee performance Saturday, June 22. Though the crowd wasn't large, it was enthusiastic and all four of the artists were well received.
This year's festival (the event is more accurately a two-hour concert, with two encore performances given over the course of the weekend) featured three well-known locals: Kathy Craig, Bill Mitchell and Robbie Rhodes — and an East Coast talent, Alex Hassan. All four are known to the ragtime world for their many recordings and performances at various ragtime events throughout the nation.
Bill Mitchell opened the show by noting that he was among the first performers at some of the theater's earliest annual ragtime concerts and that it felt good to be back. He gave some background on composer Shelton Brooks, who was born in Ontario, Canada, in 1886 and died in Los Angeles in 1975. Brooks became famous when Sophie Tucker began singing one of his songs, "Some of These Days." Bill also recalled a 1975 Maple Leaf Club meeting that featured the music of Brooks and of Joe Jordan, including performances by Jim Hession "and a very young Robbie Rhodes," Bill remarked.
He then delivered a Brooks medley that included "Cosey Rag," "Walkin' the Dog," "Some Of These Days," and the number Bill said was probably Brooks' most famous — "Darktown Strutter's Ball." The transitions between the numbers were smooth and Bill worked in plenty of hot piano licks in "Some Of These Days" and lots of walking tenths in the bass in "Darktown Strutter's Ball."
Bill then switched to the Classic Rag mode with one of the last handful of intricate rags by James Scott, the "Rag Sentimental" from 1918, a piece that uses the minor tonality in interesting ways. Bill closed his solo set with the 1901 Charles Hunter piece "Queen of Love," a cross between a standard brass band march and the more typical Nashville sound associated with Hunter, played with verve by the estimable Mr. Mitchell.
Bill was then joined on stage by Southern California's first lady of ragtime, Kathy Craig. The two delivered, in a two-piano duet, some new twists to the familiar "Pine Apple Rag" by Scott Joplin. Kathy then promised to round out the field with rags by the two remaining "Big Three" composers of Classic Ragtime — Joseph Lamb and James Scott. She gave an up-tempo version of Lamb's march-like "Champagne Rag," and showed off her terrific technique in Scott's "Grace and Beauty," which demonstrates the immense craftsmanship that went into every Scott rag.
Kathy wrapped up her set with the popular 1904 rag "St. Louis Tickle," credited to "Barney and Seymore" but known to have been composed by Missouri rag writer Theron C. Bennett. Kathy tweaked the piece nicely with her improvisations in the left hand.
Robbie Rhodes launched his set with a very up-tempo version of Turpin's landmark 1897 composition, "Harlem Rag" and a strong rendering of Spencer Williams' "Hock Shop Blues," played a la Willie The Lion Smith but representative of a more sensitive, mellow blues style. Robbie's surprise choice was a Turk Murphy original called "Little John's Rag," a piece Robbie said is "tough to play whether you're in a band or on the piano." He then proceeded to master its many intricacies, adding minor-key embellishments and Harlem-like licks.
Alex joined Robbie, taking up his position at the Boesendorfer and declaring that it was time for the audience to get "Happy Feet." The duo launched into a rollicking duet that really got the afternoon rolling. Alex then rolled out one of his many famous medleys -- this one of the immortal works of Harry Warren, with Alex asking us to see how many we could recognize. Using unforced transitions from one piece to the next, and with outstanding technique and expression, Alex treated us to "We're in the Money," "Petting in the Park," "Cheerful Earful," "I'll String Along With You," "The Words Are In My Heart," "You're an Education" and "42nd Street."
With his typical air of self-deprecation, Alex then announced that he would offer "the end of one of my eternal medleys'' — this one, his grand medley of music from Vitaphone shorts, which normally runs some 18 minutes. This version included the last three tunes, all of which Alex had to learn off the soundtracks of the old Vitaphone shorts since no scores exist to many of the tunes used. The piece were "Chatterbox," "They Put a Top Hat on the Moon" and Sanford Green's "I Haven't Got a Hat." Alex's piano arrangements of these pieces are very full, using the entire keyboard. As before, he created highly listenable tempo changes between each piece and demonstrated a virtuoso command of the keyboard.
To close the show's first half, Kathy joined Alex at the Boesendorfer and Robbie and Bill manned the Steinway as the four delivered an eight-handed version of the Joplin classic "Peacherine Rag."
Kathy opened the second half two Scott Joplin collaborations: the early "Swipesy," co-written with Joplin student Arthur Marshall, and the exquisite 1907 piece "Heliotrope Bouquet," which Joplin notated to preserve two beautiful themes by the peerless Louis Chauvin, adding a trio and final strain as a farewell to friend Chauvin, who passed away a year before "Heliotrope" saw publication. Kathy gave both pieces the appropriate degree of verve and sensitivity.
Alex then hit the Steinway grand so that the duo could render a four-handed version of Confrey's "Dizzy Fingers," with Kathy essentially playing the written score as Alex improvised his way up and down the keyboard. Soloing, Alex then announced that he'd like to "slow down" the tempo with one of his all-time favorite rags, Lamb's "Cottontail," written some time during the original ragtime era but unpublished until 1964, four years after Lamb's death. He performed the piece with an aptly measured tempo and the right degree of expression, embellishing the final strain first with some elements of the one-step, then swinging the rhythm and, finally, ending the piece in a grandly romantic style.
Next, Alex tackled Roy Bargy, generally regarded as one of the most talented composers of the Novelty genre (if not the most talented). He delivered the jaunty 1923 piece "Sweet and Tender" with lots of pep and many creative embellishments. He closed his set with what he said was "the results of becoming tired of playing a piece and beginning to noodle with it." The piece was Joplin's immortal 1899 masterpiece "Maple Leaf Rag." Bored with it by the 1980s, Alex re-wrote it as the "Maple Leaf Hora," re-casting the entire piece in the minor key and shifting some of the rhythms. Calling it "either an homage or the ultimate sacrilege," his performance provided plenty of enjoyable shtick, yet this version was and is surprisingly faithful to the original and easily recognizable as the piece that put Scott Joplin on the map.
Continuing with the Joplin theme was Bill Mitchell, who offered the 1909 masterpiece "Euphonic Sounds," which Bill said had been likened by one of Bill's friends as similar to the music of Bach. Next was the prolific Charles L. Johnson's "Snookums," featuring the typical folksy Johnson sound but in a more sophisticated model. It's a number Mr. Mitchell really cooks on. He finished his solo set with a modern masterwork, Frank French's ever-popular 1990 creation "Belle of Louisville." Bill said the original paddle-wheeler that the piece is named for was scuttled, then eventually re-floated, but he wasn't sure if it was currently in operation. Bill plays the piece with flair — even the tricky third strain, which is more of a down-home boogie than anything typifying ragtime.
Robbie then joined Bill so that the two could deliver a lively two-piano, four-handed version of Morton's "Grandpa's Spells." Both performers provided plenty of welcome improvisation, especially in the piece's final two themes.
Robbie then soloed on the number he said was "the first rag I ever learned as a kid, at the age of six" — Scott's early composition "Sunburst Rag." He then featured a rare contemporary rag, Butch Thompson's "Ecuadorian Memories," inspired by Butch's days in the service in Ecuador and Peru. Though with a strong South American flavor, Robbie reminded us that "it's still ragtime!" and, indeed, the piece is very raggy and heavily syncopated. He wrapped up his last solo set with "the happiest rag I can think of, and my favorite of all the Scott Joplin rags" — the 1899 piece "Original Rags," Joplin's first published rag and the only one of his that resembles a folk rag. Robbie's rendition was very up-tempo, with lots of improvisations in the left hand and an ending, very high in the treble that sounded like a music box.
All four performers then took to the stage for the grand finale, with Kathy and Alex on the Boesendorfer and Bill on the Steinway and Robbie standing (with his back to Bill) at the Wurlitzer upright piano. They gave a rocking version of Scott's wonderful 1914 composition "Climax Rag." The audience wouldn't let them go, so they encored (Robbie joining Bill at the Steinway grand) with the hit Walter Donaldson song "How Ya Gonna Keep 'Em Down on the Farm?" and another vintage pop song, "Take Your Girlie to the Movies." Proprietor Bill Field then made an appearance at the Might Wurlitzer theater organ, and the five musicians delivered socko versions of "Let Me Call You Sweetheart" and "In the Good Old Summertime."
The performance over with, a few stragglers visiting with the musicians were treated to some impromptu performance of Bargy numbers by Alex on the Boesendorfer, frequently joined by Robbie's improvisations on the Steinway. It was proof positive that ragtime tunes are just like potato chips — you just can't get enough!
By Alan Ashby
(Ed. Note: This article appeared in the June 2002 Sacramento Ragtime Society Newsletter and is reprinted with the permission of the author and the SRS. I thought it dealt very thoughtfully with a problem that has given our club some concern recently and that the membership would appreciate reading it. Coincidentally, the author was in one of my eighth grade classes during my first year of teaching in 1953. Small world!)
The editors have agreed to let me take a stab at writing a column about ragtime. I warned them I’m more opinionated than most people can tolerate but they said go ahead anyway. So here goes.
First, it needed a name. I recalled a wonderful quote from Trebor Tichenor, which Marty Eggers once related to me. “Ragtime is a big tent.” It’s a thoughtful line and suggests a nice title for a column. Trebor might have said it during some discussion about whether a particular style on the outer fringes of our music was “really” ragtime or not. “Ragtime is a big tent.” It’s an inclusive definition rather than an exclusive one, meaning there’s room for lots of different styles and musical approaches within ragtime, and there’s a chair for almost everybody. It has a warm feel to it and is reminiscent of many activities that have taken place under tents in American life for many years, including circuses, revivals, political rallies, and lots of music festivals.
So, what is under the ragtime tent?
After the West Coast Ragtime Festival moved from Fresno to Sacramento in 1997 that became a very practical problem, because the festival director and later the board’s selection committee have had to make hard decisions about who to invite. The festival runs for three days on four stages (five this time! –ed.), year after year, so the several dozen Joplin-Lamb-Scott classics are exhausted pretty quickly. Ragtime had better be a big tent, or after a while, people will just stay home and listen to their Joshua Rifkin records. Booking a variety of styles and approaches became necessary to ensure that attendees could still hear something fresh and interesting after many hours of listening. Many excellent performers are available now, and picking them has become a painful process because of the good ones who have to be left out. Rotation of favorites has become more and more necessary.
The time span of ragtime, which had its heyday from roughly 1895-1920, really has to start with the florid music of Louis Moreau Gottschalk, who usually sounds like Franz Liszt might have sounded if he had been born in Havana, and whose dates are much earlier – 1829-1869. While Gottschalk was more comfortable with Latin rhythms than anything else, his effort to capture American folk styles in Le Banjo and a few other pieces like Bamboula so directly anticipated the four-beat syncopation of ragtime that he deserves a place under the tent. Stephen Collins Foster can’t be overlooked either.
And ragtime composition has never stopped since then, so the time span runs all the way from Gottschalk through cakewalks to classic ragtime, saloon ragtime, salon ragtime, Tin Pan Alley ragtime, novelty ragtime, stride, silent movie ragtime, western movie ragtime, Crazy Otto ragtime, country and bluegrass ragtime, all the way to whatever piece Tom Brier composed last week and the fine pieces Tom and other contemporary composers like David Thomas Roberts, Scott Kirby, Frank French, and their wacky friend Terry Verde, and many others have yet to bring forth.
In complexity and “function” ragtime varies from the folk ditties that found their way into the music of Blind Boone and early Joplin, through straight-away dance music, gee-whiz pyrotechnical blizzardry, all the way to sit-down-and-keep-quiet art music – even from a mainstreamer like Max Morath.
Geographically ragtime is all over the place too – the Midwest of Joplin and the others, Jelly Roll’s New Orleans and Tijuana, Eubie Blake’s Baltimore, Tony Jackson’s Chicago, Handy’s blues-ragtime from Memphis, the New York of James P. and Fats and many other striders, Euday Bowman’s Texas, Charlie Daniels on the West Coast, Mimi Blais and Mr. Lafreniere in Quebec, Messrs. Debussy and Satie in Paris, a host of novelty music from England, Morton Gunnar Larsen in Norway, and Professor Ittsas Tomas from Hungary. Not to mention a host of others we probably haven’t found about yet from places like Atlanta, des Moines, Birmingham, Buenos Aires, Capetown, Melbourne, Berlin, Moscow, Tokyo, and, God help us all, maybe even Pasadena.
With almost 150 years and the whole world to draw from, it’s a big tent indeed.
Sundays, 2:05-3:30 pm PT, “Syncopation Station”, KDHX St. Louis MO 88.l and www.kdhx.org; host, unknown. KDHX has resumed streaming on the Internet.
Sundays, 4-5 pm PT, “Rags to Wishes”. KAZU, Pacific Grove CA 90.3 and www.kazu.org. Host Mike Schmitz intersperses the ragtime with some traditional jazz and related music.
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. KUSF has temporarily suspended streaming.
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.
Sun., July 28, Rose Leaf Ragtime Club meeting: IHOP Restaurant, 3521 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena, CA, 2:30-5:30 p.m. Participating musicians free, small donation for others.
Fri., Aug. 9 – Sun. Aug. 11, Sutter Creek Ragtime Festival. See May Something Doing for description and details. If you have not made arrangements yet, call (209) 223-0867 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Sun., Aug. 18, Don Story, theater organist from AZ. A variety of popular and cocktail music on organ and piano. 7:00 p.m., Old Town Music Hall. 7:00 p.m. Old Town Music Hall, 140 Richmond St., El Segundo. Admission $20. Phone (310) 322-2592
Saturday, Sept. 14, Orange County Ragtime Society, 12:30-4:00 p.m., Steamers, 138 W. Commonwealth Avenue, Fullerton.
Sun., Sept. 15, Dick Zimmerman, King of Ragtime, with Tracy Doyle. Old Town Music Hall. (See above for details).
Sun., Sept 22, Bob Pinsker and Jeanne Ingram. They will sing, play piano and violin. Old Town Music Hall. (See above for details).
· Having some extra space this month gives me the opportunity to thank everyone involved in making this newsletter possible:
· Gary Rametta regularly contributes a detailed and thoughtful report on the meetings.
· Or if you have opinions you want to express, send us an e-mail or letter.
Bill Mitchell, Editor Phone (714) 528-1534 Fax (714) 233-3886
Rose Leaf Club webpage <http//members.tripod.com/roseleafrag/>