Sunday, June 16, 2013

Loadin' for Bear...Oops, I Mean a Championship Trophy

The photos you're looking at took place after the competition officially ended at the 2013 World Championship Old-Time Piano Playing Contest and Festival (at the Sheraton Four Points Hotel in Peoria, IL).

Not only did we have a ball after the competition wound down...we also had a ball during the competition itself (especially the Sunday phase, where the attention shifted to the Regular Division semifinals).

And as things turned out (there's that phrase again)...the three judges (Dean Gronemeier, Ian Hominick, and Terry Parrish) found ten Reg Division performers whose Saturday sets were good enough for advancement.

Not eleven. Ten.

The first 2013 RD semifinalist to go up to bat was Jack Graham, who made it to the hotel's Main Hall wearing another one of those unusual suits of his...and was still having a ball in his first OTPP competition.

Jack continued to restyle those familiar rags and make 'em his own...and on 5-26-2013, "Bohemia" and "Black and White Rag" got the Jack Graham treatment.

Next were...the Bills.

William McNally followed Jack by turning in winning versions of "Ramblin' in Rhythm" and "Bluin' the Black Keys." Then "Perfessor" Bill Edwards (he won the contest's Regular Division action in 1991) stepped up to the stage and rocked that 1883 Weber upright with "You Made Me Love You" and "Royal Garden Blues."

Speaking of was Tag Team Time again, with contest cohosts Ted Lemen and Adam Swanson showing just how old-time piano's supposed to sound.

One of the examples centered on tunes named after eggs (or, in the case of "Sunny Side Up," ways of cooking eggs). Here, Ted stretched the truth a little bit by adding "Exactly Like You." (Okay..."Eggsactly Like You!")

Well, one of the great things about Adam and Ted teaming up is that in case Ted's (and/or Adam's) jokes don't work, the youngest undefeated Regular Division champ ever can go back to the piano and get the audience back in there.

Hey...that's a strategy that worked for Steve Allen.  

John Remmers' strategy works great, too, because it keeps him putting on a costume every OTPP Sunday. The ex-math professor's semifinal numbers this time were "Old Home Rag" and "Peacherine Rag."  

David Maga made it to the RD Top Ten. This Virginian-turned-Minnesotan (he likes to tell people he switched from living in a commonwealth state to residing in the Gopher State because "I didn't think it over") had a very well thought-out set: "Carolina Shout" and "Sweet Sue- Just You."

And then came Michael J. Winstanley, the third 2013 OTPP newcomer to extend his stay in the weekend's Regular Division competition. Michael did it, in his all-out, take-no-prisoners style, with "My Gal Sal" (one of Paul Dresser's two most famous songs) and "Mr. Jelly Lord."

Jacob Adams became the fourth of five 2012 RD semifinalists to punch a ticket to this year's RD second round as well (after John and the Bills)...and his takes on Fats Waller's and Andy Razaf's "Ain't Misbehavin'" and "Bluin' the Black Keys" showed why he escaped elimination.

After missing out on the 2012 C&F, Russell Wilson came back, as Joe Garagiola used to say, "raring back and firing." And that strategy served Russell in good stead as he fired up "When the Saints Go Marching In" and "Entry of the Gladiators," the latter that familiar circus march.

During "Gladiators," the man who plays those keys in the Marine Band (that's right, THAT Marine Band) pulled out a red rubber ball...and attached it to his nose!

That did it.

And that meant Domingo Mancuello (one of Michael's fellow University of the Arts students and the fifth OTPP first-timer to bust into this year's RD semis) had a tough act to follow.

Domingo did it.

I've done "The Prisoner's Song" in competition before...and I'll take Domingo's poignant version (he did it as a waltz) over my own. Hands down.

After Domingo finished his set with "Ain't She Sweet," Ethan Uslan (the fifth of five 2012 RD semifinalists to hang on to a semifinal spot) wowed 'em with "Star Dust" and "Smiles."

Ethan didn't just hang on...he made a great claim, using that improvisational style of his.

Well, it was time to find out which five performers were going to walk away from the Four Points with medallions (as well as prize money).

And all of this was going on in a year where three 2012 Reg Division finalists- Will Perkins, 2011 RD kingpin Martin Spitznagel, and Four Arrows (they told his story in "The Entertainers")- faced circumstances that prevented that threesome from coming out to Central Illinois for the 2013 festivities.

On top of that, you've really got to be on top of your game to come out ahead of "Perfessor" Bill and keep him out of the Regs' Top Five (he's been a RD finalist more often than anybody else who's ever gone after the Ted Lemen Traveling Trophy).

What's more, when Ethan improvises (okay, he says "wings it"), his winging it sure beats what a lot of us other OTPP contestants- especially myself- do when we're trying to go close to the vest on those tunes.

So now, the judges had totaled up the semifinal scores...and Terry, Ian, and Dean sent Jacob up to the Main Hall stage as the first of this year's Regular Division finalists. (Oh, by the way...Dean's brother Paul reached the top of the division in 1992, snatching the trophy away from "Perfessor" Bill.)

With the Top Five spot that was denied him last year, Jacob (he calls the Twin Cities home) knocked home "Doc Brown's Cakewalk" and Ford Dabney's "Oh, You Angel."

This time around, if you made it into the finals of the Regular Division during OTPP Weekend, you had to include a song with a man's name in the title. (In 2012, the wild-card selection had to include one of America's fifty states in the title.)

Ethan- one of the few OTPP performers making a living off music and only music- made it into the finals again. This time, he brought his cell phone to the help him make sure he finished each selection in four minutes or fewer.

You know what I say about that?

I say: "RIGHT ON!" (I mean, why not take advantage of today's technology?)  

Ethan's versions of "Alexander's Ragtime Band" and "Honeysuckle Rose" were right on, too. It looked as if the man from Charlotte, NC was going to clutch that Lemen Trophy a little tighter and keep it for another year. 

Then came a Washington, DC man who'd just gotten through attaching a funny ball to his nose.

Russell was clearly having fun, and it continued right into his playing "Won't You Come Home, Bill Bailey" and "Mack the Knife." 

The ivory tickler at 1600 (that's right, THAT 1600) had the audience at 500 Hamilton Boulevard eating out of his hands.

Ted and Adam like to get right down to business during Top Five Time...but they still leave room for being able to show the OTPP crowd what makes old-time piano so special. And in this case, Adam dusted off some songs Vera-Ellen (remember her from the 1940s?) made famous.

As things- you guessed it- turned out, Jacob wasn't the only 2012 RD pianist smarting after being locked out of that year's finals.

William McNally had wounds to lick, too...and his versions of "Texas Fox Trot" and "Alexander's Ragtime Band" provided the ointment for a man who's now teaching in New York City's Queens borough.

The Old-Time Music Preservation Association found out it now could get one Bill paid. 

Would the other Bill get paid, too?

Remember: You've got to turn in one heck of a performance to keep the researcher-computer programer from Ashburn, VA from collecting an Old-Time Piano Contest check.

Domingo did just that.

The young man who attends college at William M's previous stomping grounds (Philadelphia, PA) brought his passionate style to "Willie the Weeper" and what Domingo himself called "the most overplayed song in the world."

Domingo turned in the fifth version of "Maple Leaf Rag" on this year's OTPP books...and the only other "Maple Leaf" done by a 2013 Regular Division hopeful. (In fact, all five of this year's "Maple Leaf Rag" renditions were played by contest first-timers.)

Speaking of first looked good for a first-time RD champ to emerge. (Or did it?)

Jacob, Ethan, Russell, William McNally, and Domingo lined up to get medallions draped over their shoulders.

Well, as- yep- things turned out, Jacob ended up winning fifth place in the RDs (good for $250). Domingo earned fourth prize ($400) and William got third (meaning he'll get a check for $550)...but not before someone switched William's and Domingo's prizes by mistake (triggering a comic chase).

After the mistake involving Domingo and William was corrected and the situation settled, the second-place medallion went to...Ethan. (And that includes a check for $800.)  

And then it happened...a man who'd been knocking on the door to the contest's Regular Division throne room for years finally made it to the top.

Russell's now the latest to earn the Ted Lemen Traveling Trophy and he's now $1,350 richer as a result.

And his ascension to the top begs one question: "Who said there are no winners in the nation's capital anymore...let alone winners with honor?"

Can't wait to get back to Peoria...and I hope to see you there, too.

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