S O M E T H I N G D O I N G
By Bill Mitchell
Ragtime Happenings in the Southland
DATE July 1999 NUMBER 40
A special thank-you goes to loyal club member R. Dingle Baskerville for a generous contribution toward the sponsorship of this issue of Something Doing. Thanks are also extended to the following members who have renewed their subscriptions: Al Frankel, Robert Drollinger, Gary Rametta, Susan Erb, George McClellan, Gary Schwandner, Bill Mintz, Dan Leddy, Sally Pelkie, and Jim Turner. And a warm welcome to new member David McCanne.
When founder-editor Gus Willmorth died, we had to start afresh financially with Something Doing. Most subscriptions are not up for renewal till January, so till then we are dependent on the few other renewals plus contributions from members, and assistance from the club treasury to keep your newsletter coming regularly. Gus was sending a handful of promotional and several complimentary subscriptions. We will continue to honor these, but if you choose to pay for yours (and thanks, Jim Turner, for being the first to make this gesture) it will be highly appreciated.
Department of correction: In reporting the April meeting, your editor stated that Fred Hoeptner played “an original of his, ‘Opalescence.’” Yes, he played it, but no, it was composed by Hal Isbitz.
Notice that in the calendar section below there are two events scheduled for July 25. The times don’t overlap, but the events are back-to-back. Unless you can have Scotty beam you up from Pasadena to El Segundo, you will face a dilemma. However, you can attend 2/3 of Rose Leaf and still have an hour to get to Magnetic.
--Bill Mitchell, Editor
Tuesdays and Thursdays, Art-A-Fair in Laguna Beach. Sally Pelkie, ragtime piano at Booth A-13, 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. (To confirm times and dates, call Sally at (310) 675-1320.)
Sunday, July 18, 7:00 p.m., John Gill, ragtime/jazz pianist from Australia. Old Town Music Hall, 140 Richmond, El Segundo
July 25, 4-7 p.m., Rose Leaf Ragtime Club, 3251 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena
July 25, 7 p.m., Magnetic Ragtime Orchestra. Old Town Music Hall, 140 Richmond, El Segundo
Sunday, Aug. 8, 7:00 p.m., Bill Mitchell - Bill Coffman,
piano duo and solos.
Old Town Music Hall, 140 Richmond, El Segundo
Sunday, Aug. 22, 7 p.m., Crazy Rhythm Hot Society Orchestra.
Old Town Music Hall, 140 Richmond, El Segundo
24TH ANNUAL RAGTIME FESTIVAL AT EL SEGUNDO’S OLD TOWN MUSIC HALL
Reviewed by Nan Bostick
One is wont to say that the curtains opened on the 24th Annual Rag Time Festival at the Old Town Music Hall in El Segundo, CA, which commenced Saturday afternoon, June 19, 1999. But this year there were no curtains. Undaunted, the theater’s co-proprietor, Bill Coffman, abandoned his ushering duties at 2:30 sharp and began the festivities with his typical wry patter and warning: “The program’s not ready yet. Are you willing to stay? Not me. I’m going home to watch reruns of ‘The Jerry Springer Show.’ ”
Eventually Coffman explained the missing curtains. Seems it took 30 years for the fire department officials to determine that OTMH’s curtains were flammable, but once discovered, the Fire Marshall ordered an immediate removal. Coffman assured us that appropriate replacement material has been purchased and upon delivery, the theater crew will be hauling in their sewing machines to assemble a new set of curtains, guaranteed to be “retarded.”
Fortunately, Kathy Craig, an OTMH favorite, was used to Coffman’s antics and didn’t seem at all upset to be called upon, sans introduction, as the festival’s first performer. She began with Scott Joplin’s “Wall Street Rag,” and waxed even more romantic with Joseph Lamb’s “Nightingale Rag.” To change the mood, Craig dug into James Reese Europe’s “Castle House Rag,” which the Castles would have wanted played faster, but she made up for it by introducing Jim Turner and playing with him a rip-roaring two-piano version of “Keepin’ Out of Mischief Now” (Razaf & Waller).
Jim Turner, a veteran of all 23 of the previous OTMH Ragtime fests, insisted that he was only two when he played at the first festival (Myth #1). After performing James Scott’s “Pegasus,” Turner introduced “Silver Swan” by suggesting that the piece was “attributed to” Scott Joplin but may not have been his composition (Myth #2). To perpetuate the notion, he asked the audience to listen as he played it and then vote their opinion. This unfortunate shtick led the majority to vote against it being a Scott Joplin composition. Consequently, this reviewer found herself noting: “Turner’s a Mythical Beast!” (For the record, when issuing “Silver Swan” in 1914, two piano roll companies -- QRS and Nations -- credited Scott Joplin as the composer. To my knowledge, no Joplin scholar doubts it.)
Next, Turner introduced the show’s guest headliner, the amazing Alex Hassan of Washington, D.C. The audience fell out of their seats as Turner and Hassan ripped into James P. Johnson’s “The Mule Walk” and only had a minute to recover before Hassan wowed them with a complicated medley of tunes from the film “Palmy Days” (starring Eddie Cantor). The tunes were: “Yes, Yes, My Baby Said Yes” (Cliff Friend, Con Conrad), “Bend Down, Sister” (Con Conrad, Ballard McDonald), which Hassan assured us was an “exercise song,” and “Nothin’ Too Good for My Baby” (Benny Davis, Eddie Cantor, Harry Akst).
Although this was Hassan’s premiere appearance in Southern California, he seemed right at home. Champion of the incredibly difficult novelty piano compositions of the ’20s and ’30s, Hassan was truly the highlight of the Festival. Unfortunately, he forgot to use the microphone, so the hearing-aid set probably missed most of his amusing quips, not to mention his delightful East Coast accent.
Unraveling a pile of music scores (explanation: “I work for the Defense Department, so pardon me, but I don’t memorize anything.”), Hassan chatted on about a Southern California composer who, under such names as Smacky Flappenheimer and Moby Zucchini, creates extraordinary works in the novelty idiom (the latest titled “The Speed of Sound in Olive Oil”) which he e-mails to Hassan. Having never met the composer in person before this day, Hassan was delighted to ask Robin Frost to stand up and take a bow. What a thrill. Frost was sitting unrecognized right behind me! Even more thrilling was Hassan’s subsequent performance of Frost’s “What a Relief” and “Smedley’s Dream.”
Hassan ended his set by introducing the incomparable Robbie Rhodes (whom he dubbed “Robbie Scholar” but nobody got it -- hearing aid problems, I suppose). Rhodes and Hassan lifted our spirits even higher with their two-piano performance of Roy Bargy’s “Pianoflage.”
Thankfully, Rhodes brought us back to earth with two Joplin rags, “Gladiolus” and “Pine Apple,” played with that jazzy bounce that makes Rhodes a favorite. Then all four performers joined together for an exhilarating eight-handed rendition of Adeline Shepherd’s “Pickles and Peppers.” Coffman announced that the pharmacy was open and everyone broke for intermission.
Jim Turner opened the second half with Joplin’s “Solace,” (an appropriate title for those missing the macaroons normally served at said “pharmacy”). Turner’s pace and bounce on this composition was refreshing -- finally a performer who acknowledges the piece as a “Mexican Serenade” and plays it with the appropriate “Spanish tinge.” Next, he gave an inspired performance of Johnny Guarnieri’s “Pasadena Shout,” which I enjoyed so much, I decided to forgive him for the myth thing.
Robbie Rhodes, looking spiffy in his cream white suit (clearly the most elegantly dressed of the bunch), seemed destined to follow exhilarating acts, which he did with his usual aplomb. However, apparently he meant to open with Joplin’s “Original Rags” but instead, found himself announcing Joplin’s “New Rag” and that’s what he played (I think). Anyhow, what a pro! In keeping with the “novelty idiom” flavor of the festival, Rhodes brought smiles of recognition to most faces in the audience by playing Felix Arndt’s “Nola,” and then wrapped it up with a wonderful interpretation of Muriel Pollock’s “Rooster Rag” in a style reminiscent of the Turk Murphy era. This reviewer seldom gets to see
Rhodes perform solo, and though I truly miss the recently disbanded South Frisco Jazz Band, and am happy to hear Rhodes is playing with Neely’s European touring outfit, the fact is, Rhodes is a marvelous stylist and a band all by himself. What a treat, but there was more!
Rhodes called Kathy Craig back to the stage and the two provided us with a wonderful four-handed West Coast premier of Frank Himpsl’s new turn-of-the-century rag, suitably entitled “The Millennium Rag.” Wish somebody had said who was planning to record this delightful composition, not to mention the next, for Craig then dazzled us with a solo premiere performance of her new composition, “Nostalgia Rag.” It’s tops, filled to the brim with Craig’s wonderful sense of melody, harmony, and romance. However, maybe we didn’t clap loud enough. Craig seemed apologetic for playing such lovely, slow pieces and to prove she could tackle something fast, she lit into Eubie Blake’s “Charleston Rag,” which she played very credibly, no question. But given the after-the-show comments, I learned that the audience was just as disappointed as I not to have heard at least one more Craig composition. (Also, nobody felt Craig has to prove anything to anybody.)
Alex Hassan was next in line. Sleeves rolled up, wit intact, he gave us a rundown on the Europeans who continued composing piano novelties long after America tired of them. He then performed two amazing and incredibly difficult examples: Lather Peril’s “Hollywood Stars” and Ernst Fisher’s “Sektlaune” (the latter obviously influenced by Euday Bowman’s “12th St. Rag”).
All too soon, it was time for Hassan to announce the “multi-limbed” finale, which consisted of Craig, Hassan, and Turner at different pianos, Coffman in charge of the Mighty Wurlitzer, and Rhodes, of all things, on a French horn! They wrapped it up with an enthralling rip through Charles Cook’s “Blame It on the Blues” and for an encore, John Philip Sousa’s “Thunderer March,” with delicious percussion, bells, whistles, and chimes, not to mention suitable storm effects, provided by Coffman on the Wurlitzer.
Saturday evening was an even better repeat of all of the above, this performance dedicated to the memories of our much missed friends, John Roache and Gus Willmorth.
For the Father’s Day afternoon performance on Sunday, I brought along Dad, who was utterly blown away. So was I.
“You here again?” asked Coffman. “Can’t you think of anything better to do?”
Nope. It was great. Thanks, folks.
JUNE 27 ROSE LEAF CLUB MEETING
By P.J. Schmidt
At the June meeting, ten pianists and a barbershop quartet entertained a full house of delighted fans. Host P.J. Schmidt opened with Joplin’s “Rose Leaf Rag,” then turned the piano over to Bill Mitchell, who responded with Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag” and continued with J. Bodewalt Lampe’s “Glad ouquet.”
Rag,” Ferdinand Morton’s “Frog-i-more Rag,” and the Joplin/ Chauvin collaboration, “Heliotrope Bouquet.”
Next up Gary Rametta started out with a couple of Joplin/Hayden collaborations, “Something Doing,” (published when Hayden was 19), and “Sunflower Slow Drag” (published when he was 21). Gary finished with two Joplin compositions, “Peacherine Rag” and the lovely “Bink’s Waltz.”
Susan Erb celebrated “The Fourth” with “Anchors Aweigh” and followed with Joplin’s ragtime waltz, “Pleasant Moments.” George McClellan played his own composition, “Khartoum,” then provided a change of pace with the songs, “Georgia,” and “Just a Shanty in Old Shantytown.”
Ron Ross came up next with a trio of numbers: his own “Retro Rag,” then Jean Schwartz’s 1918 song, “On the Level, You’re a Little Devil,” and finally his lovely habanera, “Mirella,” named for a friend’s new baby. Jim Lutz, a newcomer to the club, came up next to play three Joplin compositions: “The Strenuous Life,” “Cleopha,” and “Combination March.” Then P.J. closed off the first half with James Scott’s “Suffragette Waltz” and “Victory Rag.”
Ian Wallace began the second half with Joplin’s “Paragon Rag” and two contemporary works: David Thomas Roberts’ “Roberto Clemente” and Glen Jenks’ “Harbor Rag.”
Then our featured performers of the night, the Chairmen of the Chord, a barbershop quartet sang “California, Here I Come,” “How Can I Miss You if You Won’t Go Away?” and “To-Rah-Loo-Rah-Loo-Ral (It’s an Irish Lullaby).” They finished with “The Star Spangled Banner, to much applause.
Fred Hoeptner played the beautiful Max Morath rag, “One for Amelia.” Brad Kay’s set began with an improvised blues on both of our pianos, which he whimsically called “The Green Piano/Brown Piano Blues.” He followed with Joplin’s “The Ragtime Dance,” and finished with the Fats Waller tune, “Squeeze Me.” The exclamation point at the end of the meeting was played by Susan Erb - John Philip Sousa’s “Washington Post March.”
And so we marched gaily away into the night. If you weren’t there, you should have been there. See you next time?