Sunday, July 28, 2013

Everybody Still Had a Great Time

Two weeks ago, the ninth annual Ragtime to Riches Festival took place at Omaha's First Central Congregational United Church of Christ.

It would've been three weeks ago today...except for a scheduling conflict that allowed an organization called Omaha Chamber Music to wrap up a four-consecutive-Sunday stint on 7-7-2013 (the date this year's R to R was originally scheduled). things turned out...yours truly didn't check with First Central's staff earlier than 6-5-2013, the day yours truly came to the church at 36th and Harney to pay for rental of the church's Memorial Hall.

So...the church staff gave us 7-14-2013 (and at the same time, the Great Plains Ragtime Society snapped up 7-6-2014).

It worked out fine...even with the festival jumping right into the teeth of the Omaha Country Club hosting the 2013 men's US Senior Open, which said "hello" to the two biggest crowds to ever attend a sports event in person here in the city that gave us sports greats Bob Gibson, Gale Sayers, and Bob Boozer.

We sold eight tickets this time. Yeah, I know...that's a far cry from the 38 ducats GPRS sold last year and, as a result, got Ragtime to Riches out of the local shadows.

Nevertheless, everybody who came to R to R 9.0 had a great time.

And the crowd included four people who'd never attended the local ragtime fest before.

Plus: One of them's a student at Benson High School. (So there!)  

It started out, once the doors opened at 1:00 PM (Central time), with a workshop an hour later; it focused on the 1885-1899 period...the first fourteen years the United States had a real music-publishing industry (okay...the first fourteen years said industry was based in New York City, NY).  

One thing I found out in doing research for the R to R workshop was that many of the first big-name Tin Pan Alley songwriters were traveling salespersons before jumping into the music industry full blast. They sold sheet music when not selling clothes and other items...and eventually, they got the notion that they could write better than the composers whose work these dealers agreed to peddle.

One of them was Edward B. Marks, who got off the road in 1894 to hook up with another salesperson with a desire to write ditties, Joseph Stern.  

And with Charles K. Harris' 1892 monster "After the Ball" (only the first million-selling song ever written; it went on to sell six million pieces of sheet music) providing the yardstick, Marks and Stern got together to write Tin Pan Alley's next monster...1894's "The Little Lost Child."

TPA (so named because, according to legend, all those multiple old upright pianos getting played at the same time all over the Big Apple's music-publishing district- West 28th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues- sounded like tin pans being banged) originally specialized in sentimental, treacly ballads like "After the Ball" and "The Little Lost Child."

But as the 1890s started to draw to a close, Americans wanted to shake their hind ends...and Tin Pan Alley started to get the ragtime bug, thanks to two 1899 smashes: Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag" and Abe Holzmann's "Smokey Mokes."

I shifted gears at a little after 3:05 PM, getting myself into concert mode. And, for the second straight year, I took a page from the book of the late Burns Davis and gave my own concert a theme.

After building my own 2012 show around some of 1912's top hits, I chose as my 2013 theme..."They All Died in 2012."

During the early 1990s, I got interested in the work someone from Phoenix, AZ (I think his name is Sherman Cohen) was doing linking the birthdates of big-name celebrities with the cuts that topped Billboard's US Pop charts the day each celebrity was born...and using the songs to predict what kind of lives the big names would end up leading. (For instance, the day Michael Jackson was born, the top pop hit in the US was "Little Star," by the Elegants. 'Nuff said.) 

Well, the audience at this year's R to R found out that "Peg o' My Heart," by a singer named Charles Harrison, was the Number One recording on 12-25-1913...Tony Martin's birthday. In addition, they learned that fellow singalong favorite "For Me and My Gal" was a chart-topper for one of the top duos of the World War 1 years, Van & Schenck. (The V&S version was #1 on 7-17-1917...Phyllis Diller's birthday.)

Today, we know Alma Gluck as the mother of Efrem Zimbalist Jr. (you might remember his two big TV series, 77 Sunset Strip and fellow ABC hit The FBI) and as the grandmother of Stephanie Zimbalist (who got to costar alongside Pierce Brosnan on the 1980s NBC hit Remington Steele).

But in her time, Gluck was one of the world's best-known opera singers. In 1915, she reached back to 1878 to turn James Bland's "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny" into just the fourth million-selling recording in history.

And that cut was the top hit in the land on 4-10-1915...the day Harry Morgan was born. (That's right...the same Harry Morgan who got to work alongside Jack Webb on the 1967-1970 version of NBC's Dragnet, in addition to doing all kinds of other CBS classics December Bride and M*A*S*H.

Toward the end of my time up there, I took a chance.

I ragged up a couple of post-TPA songs: 1963's "So Much in Love," which was the first big hit for the Tymes...and the top pop hit on 8-9-1963, the day Whitney Houston was born; and the next year's "A Hard Day's Night," one of the many, many Number Ones the Beatles racked up.

"A Hard Day's Night" made the list as a tribute to Beatles fan Jesse Lewis and the nineteen other Sandy Hook School children who, along with six teachers at the Newtown, CT facility, were gunned down 12-14-2012.

What's more, I got squeamish about performing the song that actually topped Billboard's US Pop chart on 6-30-2006, Jesse's birthday: "Hips Don't Lie," where Shakira teamed up with Wyclef Jean.

And I couldn't get off the stage without paying tribute to the late Nan Bostick, so I closed out with her first and best-known tune, 1974's "Bean Whistle Rag."

Nope...the sky didn't fall.

In lieu of a movie, we had a preview of the upcoming local showing of Luke Jerram's famous "Play Me, I'm Yours" art project. (Here in the Omaha/Council Bluffs/Bellevue area, ten painted old pianos will be placed at public spots all over the area for passersby to play...regardless of skill level. In fact, the exhibit will run locally from 8-24-2013 to 9-8-2013.) 

Ended up giving the oral presentation myself, then Nick Holle (that's right, THAT Nick Holle) and I got together to show a 60-minute compilation of "PMIY" videos culled from YouTube.

By the learn more about Luke's claim to fame, just visit And for more local information about the exhibit, you can also log on to (The Omaha Creative Institute did the lion's share of the heavy hitting that brought "PMIY" here.)

Speaking of 7:00 PM, Marty Mincer went up to bat.

And Marty was smacking homers all over the place. 

The apple farmer from Hamburg, IA showed why he took the Regular Division crown in 1990 and 1993 at Illinois' World Championship Old-Time Piano Playing Contest and Festival...and the first proof was his rip-roaring version of an E.T. Paull march, "The Burning of Rome."

Later on in Marty's concert, he talked about how his grandmother got him started tickling those keys. It was the late 1960s, and she taught him how to play a piece called "Old Fiddle Tune."

He did it the conventional way, then ragged it up...only to get an admonishment from Grandma: "Don't you ever play that piece like that again!"

Then Marty went back to playing "Old Fiddle Tune" the way it was written.

And, 44 years later, he does "OFT" the same three ways. (And it brings the house down every time!)

Marty writes 'em, too. His biggest one came together in 1989 because, at that time, he owned a 1964 Studebaker (remember Studebaker automobiles?) that kept breaking down.

And he captured that in his "The Mechanic's Rag." (Its subtitle: "A Well-Tooled Piece." On top of that, the instruction on the first page tells you to play this one "with great repair.")

Marty kept it going all through his concert, burning through "A Bag of Rags," Mark Janza's "Aviation Rag," George Botsford's "Black and White Rag," and Scott Joplin's other Monster, "The Entertainer." (When you take out "The Entertainer" and "Maple Leaf Rag," you find his other rags were monsters.)  

Toward the end of the show, Marty led a singalong; after he sang and played "Sioux City Sue," he (and I) led the audience into "Alexander's Ragtime Band," "When You're Smiling," and "Side by Side."  

Then his rollicking versions of "Tiger Rag" (with multiple false endings) and "Show Me the Way to Go Home" (he handled the vocals, too) brought the 2013 version of Ragtime to Riches to a close.

And, when all was said and done, the festival took in $100, which went to the Great Plains Ragtime Society...not bad for the situation at hand.'s off to work on the 2014 version of R to R. find out how to get another movie into the festival...or something...

No comments:

Post a Comment