S O M E T H I N G D O I N G
SEPTEMBER 1999 NUMBER 42
IN MEMORIAM: P. J. SCHMIDT (1944-1999)
It is our sad duty to report the death of P.J. “Phil” Schmidt, founder and guiding light of the Rose Leaf Club of Pasadena. Phil succumbed to undisclosed illness Tuesday morning, September 14, at Glendale Memorial Hospital. His daughter, Ilana, flew out from Chicago to be with him at the end. The body will be cremated and a memorial service will be held in his native state of Wisconsin, where his family is.
Phil’s passing came as a shock to all of us, as he seemed fine and in good spirits at the August 29 meeting of the club, where he presided over the fourth anniversary celebration. By next month we hope to have a more extensive obituary, but in the meantime, here are several tributes we have received as of now:
“Phil (P.J.) was an inspiration to me in his enthusiasm for the music itself and for the new music
I was creating. I’m sure, without the Club as an outlet, I would not have been so inclined to keep
writing new music. I will do what I can to make sure Phil’s dream continues and that the Rose Leaf
Ragtime Club flourishes.”
“As a person, Phil was gentle, caring, compassionate and kind. As an artist, he was sensitive, soulful, gifted and inspirational.
“We will deeply miss him, but his spirit will live on and guide us as we continue to enjoy the
music that held a special place in his heart”
“Who knows what the fate of Southern California ragtime would have been if it hadn’t been for P.J. Schmidt.
“The Maple Leaf Club attendance was spiraling downward, and P.J. resuscitated the group by launching the Rose Leaf Club. Effectively, most of MLC’s membership was transferred to Pasadena and has been going strong ever since.
“P.J.’s effort, his energy and his dedication to ragtime music kept everyone going at a time when things did not look hopeful. He showed tremendous courage in continuing to organize RLRC’s monthly meetings, even during those times when his health was failing him. Most other people would have thrown in the towel -- but not P.J. He bowed out briefly, then came back even stronger and with a greater commitment to the group’s performers and its devoted audiences.
“His musicianship was exquisite. His passion for the moving, bittersweet qualities of Joe Lamb and Scott Joplin’s best compositions was unparalleled. When P.J. sat down to play a haunting piece of Lamb’s music, his performance became a transcendent experience. He didn’t merely ‘play’ or ‘perform’ a piece -- he interpreted it, with sensitivity and deep feeling, his hands caressing the keyboard, lingering over every note. He brought great ragtime music to tender new heights which we shall never see or hear again.
“What a debt we all owe to this man, and what a profound loss for us all.”
“I will always remember the things Phil did which have enhanced my life. One was persevering
with the Rose Leaf Club when it seemed like a hopeless project. Another was his excellent
compositions, “French Vanilla,” which won an honorable mention at Sedalia in 1997’s composition
contest, and the more recent, “Father Martin’s Song.” A third thing was his learning my
composition, “Aura of Indigo,” and playing it in the “Ragtime Revelations” concert in Sedalia
a few years back.”
“P.J. started showing up at the Maple Leaf Club meetings in the early 1990s at the Old Town Music Hall in El Segundo. It was evident that he was devoted to the music of Joplin, Scott, and Lamb, and that his interpretations were cleanly played and deeply felt. When he was performing at the Fresno Ragtime Festival in 1994 Yvonne and I attended an early Sunday morning set where he played Scott’s “The Suffragette,” a lovely waltz I was hearing for the first time. It was, to borrow Eric’s phrase, a ‘transcendent experience.’
“It was a blessing that Phil was spared until after the fourth anniversary meeting, which was a triumphal one for him, and for the club. He saw the best turnout to date. He was in good form musically, playing some duets and solos. He was honored with an anniversary cake and a special song written for him by Ron Ross and sung by the members.
“My final memory of him is just after the meeting. Most of the members had left. P.J. came up,
grinning, we shook hands, and he said, ‘We did it! We kept ragtime going in Southern California.’
He left us knowing he had fulfilled a dream.”
There has been some confusion as to the correct URL for the Rose Leaf web page. It was incorrectly printed in the August newsletter. It should be http:members.tripod.com/roseleafrag/
At our first opportunity drawing, the door prize, a four-month trial subscription to The American Rag, was won by Roger Jamieson. A two-month trial subscription was given to Carl Clauson, who was attending the meeting for the first time.
Lee Roan has graciously volunteered to handle the Rose Leaf library of tapes, CDs and videos. He will be bringing various selections to the meetings that subscribing members to the newsletter are welcome to checkout. (The library is too large to bring in its entirety to the meetings.)
It has been suggested that we change the hours of the club meetings, which sometimes conflict with OTMH concerts and other evening activities the members may wish to attend. 2:30-5:30 p.m. might be a better time frame. WE ARE GIVING THIS A TRY. THE SEPT. 26 MEETING WILL BEGIN AT 2:30 AND END AT 5:30.
ROSE LEAF CLUB FOURTH ANNIVERSARY BASH (8/29/99)
Celebrating the fourth anniversary of the Rose Leaf Club was the largest congregation of ragtime fans yet to assemble at the IHOP restaurant on Foothill Blvd. The back room’s tables and booths were virtually filled by enthusiastic celebrants. An assortment of piano duets and solos gave our two pianos a good workout.
Club founder P.J. Schmidt greeted the guests and invited Eric Marchese to join him in a performance of “Rose Leaf Rag,” the club’s theme song.
Bill Mitchell was up next, opening with a literal reading of “Panama,” the W.H. Tyers novelty of 1911. This piece became a popular stomp number with New Orleans and Dixieland bands, but was written as a charming tango. In sharp contrast, “Kalamity Kid,” a 1909 folk rag by Ferdinand Guttenberger, sounded very brash and frisky. James Scott’s “Kansas City Rag” rounded out the set.
Gary Rametta chose the Joplin-Chauvin collaboration, “Heliotrope Bouquet,” for his opener, and followed up with a sensitively played “Alaskan Rag,” a late Joseph Lamb piece of great charm. Bill M. joined Gary on an impromptu version (as most RLC duets are) of “Something Doing,” by Scott Joplin and his protege, Scott Hayden.
Nancy Kleier, as is her wont, had a theme and story to unify her set, honoring the RLC anniversary with “Invitation Rag,” by Les Copeland, and expressed her appreciation for the club by selecting “Ain’t I Lucky” (1905) by Bess Rudisill, and “Satisfied” (1904) by Theron Bennett. (Prentice Bacon, one of our regular attendees, knew Bennett when the latter finally settled in Los Angeles, where he died in 1937. )
George McClellan was given a laudatory introduction by his wife, Louise, who explained that while her husband was a gifted composer of prize-winning rags, he was unable to play them because of their demands, so instead he preferred to play standards, which he does very well. George favored us with “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” and a medley of “Who’s Sorry Now” and “I’m Sorry I Made You Cry.” He finished up with “Tip Toe Through the Tulips.”
Ron Ross, perhaps our most prolific composer/pianist, played a revised version of his “Something Old, Something New,” and then premiered a song he composed to celebrate the RLC anniversary, “The Rose Leaf Way.” He distributed copies of the lead line and words so that we could all join him in singing this tribute to P.J. and the club he founded.
At intermission an anniversary chocolate cake was brought in, nicely iced with an inscription appropriate to the occasion. Indeed a yummy dessert to complement our IHOP vittles.
Eric Marchese began his set with a rarity, “Texas Tommy Swing,” a 1911 tune by Brown and Harris. Eric speculated that it was a pop song and perhaps dance tune, as it is known to people who aren’t familiar with ragtime. “Cheerful Blues,” his next number, was a “bluesy rag” of 1922 by Abe Olman. “That Poker Rag” of 1909 was described as “one of the best rags by one of the best lady ragtime composers,” Charlotte Blake. Eric’s concluding selection was his own “A Sunset Idyll” of 1991, “inspired by a visit to the countries of England and France in December, 1991. It had a lyricism reminiscent of Joseph Lamb.
Fred Hoeptner opened with a beautifully played “American Beauty Rag,” one of Joe Lamb’s finest. “Evergreen Rag,” a distinctive march like piece by James Scott, ensued. Fred concluded his set with one of his own fine compositions, “The Ghost Dance.” One of our guests, Roger Jamieson, trombonist-leader of “The New Orleanians,” said that he and Fred had played together in a jazz band back in the late 1950s, and the two hadn’t seen each other since. This was a surprise reunion for both.
Bill Mitchell returned to play “Queen of Love - Two Step” by Charles Hunter. Gary Rametta joined him on another Hunter rag, “Possum and ‘Taters.” Gary remained at his piano, and Eric Marchese joined him on the other to conclude the festivities with two Joplin classics, “Original Rags” and “Maple Leaf Rag.”
This was an exciting meeting to be remembered. Onward and upward, Rose Leaf Club!
SUTTER CREEK -- A MOTHER LODE FOR RAGTIME
By Nan Bostick, Sutter Creek Festival Participant
We’re pleased to announce that the first ever Sutter Creek Ragtime Festival held August 13-15, 1999 was such a tremendous success, the Sutter Creek Business Association has already scheduled another for August 14-16, 2000 and plans to make the Festival an annual event the 2nd weekend of August from here on after. Plus it appears that we’re about to form a Mother Lode Ragtime Society up there. What a pearl of a town! Sutter Creek simply went nuts for ragtime.
Stevens and Jan Price, the Festival organizers, are very special people -- hard working, obviously well admired by the townsfolk -- both exhibiting that rare ability to keep everything under control without showing the slightest bit of anxiety. What incredible assets to the ragtime community (Steve being an alum of the Maple Leaf Club circa early 1980s). Here they were putting on this Festival, Steve performing in it as well as directing it, Jan coming up with T-shirt and banner designs (the entire town was decked out) and fabulous stage decorations, while simultaneously running their shops -- The Sutter Creek Ice Cream Emporium and the gift shop next door -- answering phones, serving up everything from hot tamales to banana splits, managing their young staff with never a complaint, always enthusiastic, smiling, and filled with fun. We just couldn’t believe it.
Thursday evening Azalea, Oregon’s Keith Taylor (also a Maple Leaf Club alum) gave an extraordinary pre-Festival concert of the compositions of Gil Lieby, with interpretations worth writing home to mama about. And there was Gil Lieby himself, having driven out all the way from Omaha, Nebraska. Taylor waited till the very end of the concert to announce that the composer was in the audience and it was a real warm thing. Lieby was added to the list of Festival participants which also included Steve Price, Keith Taylor, yours truly, the incredible Pete Clute (now a resident of the nearby town of Jackson and a regular at Sutter Creek’s Palace Restaurant, one of the Festival venues); Sacramento’s Alan Ashby, and Watsonville’s Bill Kenville (making a fabulous come-back to ragtime -- by the time we got through with him, you’d never suspect he was actually a marvelous classical pianist -- much fun!)
Starting Friday at 5:00, it was non-stop ragtime from one end of town to the other (well, the town is only a few blocks long but still, that’s a lot of ragtime!). This included performing at the early Saturday morning outdoors Farmer’s Market, presenting a truly well received concert Saturday eve at the Sutter Creek Auditorium, and finishing off Saturday with an after-hours session at the Ice Cream Emporium (and closing a few saloons in the nearby town of Jackson, which made the papers!).
By Sunday one would have thought that the townsfolk had heard enough, but early that morning the ice cream parlor was filled with people eating ice cream for breakfast and waiting for us to play some more. Unbelievable. Sue Larsen (former President of the West Coast Ragtime Society, now living in Placerville) arrived to help spell us and had us all two-stepping to E.T. Paull marches for a good part of the day (needless to say, we were a bit slap-happy by then) and that certainly attracted the tourists. Every time I looked, there were visitors tapping their toes on the boardwalk, licking their ice cream cones in time to the music. What a great way to spread the ragtime message. never had so much fun in my life!
Do plan to catch this event next August 14-16. There are plenty of inexpensive (not to mention gorgeous, but higher priced b&b) places to stay, antique shops with sheet music and vintage clothing to worry your wallets (though the prices were glorious!) plus delicious restaurants and historical sites to visit while you’re there. In fact, any time you happen to be exploring the quaint hamlets along Highway 49, be sure to drop in at the Sutter Creek Ice Cream Emporium, say “hello” to Steve & Jan Price, and play some ragtime on their fun piano. Your presence will be welcomed.
“THE ROSE LEAF WAY”
(Here are the words to the song which Ron Ross composed for the fourth anniversary celebration, sung by the members of the Rose Leaf Club at the August meeting. Copyright 1999 by Ronross Music.)
FOUR YEARS AGO IN PASADENA
FELLA NAME OF P.J. HAD A BRIGHT IDEA
FOUND A PLACE TO PLAY THAT RAGTIME MUSIC
WHERE ONCE EACH MONTH YOU COULD SOOTHE YOUR EARS
WITH MUSIC FROM THE GOLDEN YEARS
AND NOW THAT DREAM WELL IT DOES SURVIVE
BECAUSE THE ROSE LEAF RAGTIME CLUB IS GONNA KEEP IT ALIVE
SO HERE’S TO P.J.
WE’RE ALL WITH HIM
TO KEEP ALIVE THAT RHYTHM
RAGTIME THE ROSE LEAF WAY
BET YOUR LIFE THE BOTTOM LINE
IS NOTHIN’ QUITE AS SUPER FINE
AS RAGTIME THE ROSE LEAF WAY
Remember that the hours have been changed for the Sept. 26 meeting. The music will commence at 2:30 p.m. and conclude at 5:30 p.m. Those wishing to attend the Dick Zimmerman concert will have plenty of time to get to El Segundo.
As we go to press, plans are underway for a local memorial gathering of P.J.’s friends, but it will be over before this reaches you. There will be a report on it in the next issue.
Special thank-you's to all who have contributed to this issue: Nan Bostick, for her lively review of Sutter Creek; Darrell Woodruff, Ron Ross, Gary Rametta, Eric Marchese, Fred Hoeptner, who gave me last minute updates about P.J. and provided tributes; Lee Roan, for taking over the library; and Susan Erb for contributing another poem, with which we will wrap up this issue.
BOUNCING IVORIES, by Susan Erb
Hands were bouncing off the ivory keys
By pianists at the Ragtime Club --
Making rags come alive, again in 1999
To the tapping beat
Of the listening ears --
The piano playing
As no other instrument can
The greatness and pleasure of Ragtime.