Friday, July 31, 2015

Phone Problems

They've been a sore spot for me ever since 4-28-2015, the day Level 3 Communications decided to get out of the long-distance business.

I found a new provider almost a month later...the same company I've had my digital regular telephone service with ever since the 21st Century began.

Was unable to make long-distance calls from the day Level 3 quit the business until just two weeks ago- 7-14-2015. (For three months, I'd get this message: "Sorry. Your call cannot be completed." It sounded as if a young Jack Nicholson gave the message.)

And NOW, when this week began, people were unable to call my phone number without hearing: "We're sorry, but the number you have dialed is out of service."

Yesterday, I called that provider (all right, it's Cox Communications)...and Cox' technicians took care of the problem.

Cox, many thanks!  

To those of you who tried to call me and felt annoyed about major problems with my phone, please understand that I didn't enjoy going through this kind of crap, either. 

I'm very glad the problems are now solved! 

Monday, July 27, 2015

Who Said You Can't Play a Rag on the Violin?

If that's what you believe, you should've come to Omaha's First Central Congregational United Church of Christ on 7-12-2015...the day of the eleventh annual Ragtime to Riches Festival.

More about that later.

But first of started with a heckler.

He came into the church's Memorial Hall at about 1:30 PM (Central time); he announced that he was trying to cool off. (It was 95 degrees Fahrenheit here in Omaha at that time that Sunday.)

At that time, Nick Holle (who codirected the 2012 documentary movie "The Entertainers"), Faye Ballard (one of the movie's stars), Daniel Souvigny (old-time piano's newest star), Danny's mom Vicky, and Marc May (nope, football fans, not the one from ESPN; I'm talking about a local free-lance photographer I play alongside in our church's praise band) were in the building with me.

Daniel (one of Faye's students, by the way) was warming up on both R to R pianos- that battle-tested turn-of-the-20th-Century Anderson & Newton upright as well as a brand-new, 2015 Yamaha grand brought in to replace the church's 1920s Mason & Hamlin grand.

Heckler heard Daniel go to town on one piano after the other...then wondered out loud: "Who's that?" 

The question-and-answer session continued after Vicky, Faye, and Daniel left to get a bite to eat. Eventually, the questions began to get personal. (One of those was directed at me after Heckler took a look at the cover of one of my CDs: "Did you lose weight?") 

Yes, I did. I'd lost weight since December of 2011...when my profile picture was taken. 

Take a look at that profile pic. It was snapped at an antiques shop in Omaha's Old Market.
The store had concrete walls, and I was in the Old Market on a cold day...and concrete walls just don't do a good job of keeping the cold out.

To beat all of that, I had on five layers of clothing.

Too bad Mr. Heckler couldn't think about that.  

And the Man Who Wanted to Beat the Heat was becoming the Smart Aleck in the Room. became 1:55 PM. In five minutes, R to R 11.0 would officially begin. 

Heckler hadn't made up his mind yet.

I told him: "You can either stay and pay the $10 (admission) or you can leave." 

Mr. Smart Aleck left the church.

After Mr. Jerk (well, that's what somebody else called him!) left First Central, an audience began to build...and, at 2:15 PM, Ragtime to Riches 2015 began with a workshop about how Tin Pan Alley worked in the 1920s. 

This year's workshop went more smoothly than the 2014 effort...only because, this time around, I buckled down and prepared so that I wouldn't need to keep looking at my note cards.

I didn't want to look like a dork.

In preparing for R to R's 2015 workshop, I went back and reread my post about last year's Ragtime to Riches ("The Tenth Time Around!")...and realized I'd skipped a decade. (In 2014, I talked about the Alley's 1900-1909 period...and I promised that the 2015 workshop would focus on 1910-1919.)


So...I went ahead and spotlighted the Roaring Twenties in this year's workshop...and I'd pick up the Taft-Wilson years- okay, the bulk of the Taft years plus the lion's share of the Wilson years- during the Omaha event's first concert (at 3:00 PM, right on the nose). 

As things turned out, it all fit nicely. After all, the audience found out that the 1920-1929 period was the most prolific decade in Tin Pan Alley history (all because composers and performers alike wanted to come up with the next "Tiger Rag," what with the 1917 tune's 1918 debut as a recording ushering in the Jazz Age)...and this year's first R to R concert was set up to show how the Ragtime Age morphed into the Jazz Age.

Planned on eleven numbers...but I ended up getting eight of 'em off, starting with 1910's "By the Light of the Silvery Moon" and including 1914's "St. Louis Blues" (the first written blues number ever published) and closing it all out with..."Tiger Rag."
The only other rag in the set was 1910's "Spaghetti Rag."

Well, the audience did enjoy R to R Concert #1...and it ended at 4:00 PM, right on the nose.

Fifteen minutes later, that fourteen-year-old sensation from Hampshire, IL (on the northwest edge of the Chicagoland area) made his Nebraska debut...and took to that brand-new Yamaha grand.

And he rocked it!

Daniel's first number was Adeline Shepard's "Pickles and Peppers," one of the tunes he and fellow World Championship Old-Time Piano Playing Contest and Festival participant (and fellow Illinoisan) Nathan Beasley had fun with this past Memorial Day weekend.

Danny went on to craft a lively, fourteen-selection set that included several tunes found in the three-time OTPP Junior Division champ's latest CD, "Possibilities." (If you haven't heard this collaboration with noted jazz drummer Danny Coots, you're in for one heck of a treat!) 

The R to R audience heard Daniel Souvigny put forth "Possibilities" cuts such as Clarence Wiley's "Car-Bar-Lick Acid," Andy Razaf's and Fats Waller's "Honeysuckle Rose," and "Ham And!"

Then, for his eleventh number, Daniel really broke it open.

He did it by breaking out his violin.

Faye came over to the Yamaha and turned Danny's next offering into a this case, Scott Joplin's "Bethena," the most famous ragtime waltz ever composed.

Daniel reeled the Memorial Hall crowd in...and won 'em over.

He put an exclamation point at the end of it all by playing  Nat Ayer's "King Chanticleer." (On the Yamaha piano, not his violin!)

Two concerts to go. 

When Faye took to the Memorial Hall stage at 7:00 PM to run R to R 2015's anchor leg, she wanted to take something from Danny's playbook (she called him "the technician") and something from my own playbook (she termed me "the historian"). 

What OTPP's contest coordinator (who's also an office manager at the Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning at her alma mater, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) came up with was a continuation of her "Ragtime 101" concert from last year's turn here in the Big O...and it was still some kind of special. 

Faye kicked her set off with two of her all-time favorites: "Sailin' Away on the Henry Clay" and "It Had to Be You." 

After using those two numbers to show how songs can be turned into rags, Faye Ballard shifted the music to "Harlem Rag," the first published rag written by an African-American composer (in this case, Thomas Million Turpin).

And following her tribute to ragtime's Big Three (that's right: Scott Joplin, James Scott, and Joseph Lamb), it was Full Circle Time.

That's absolutely right: Faye invited Daniel to come back up. This time, the two Illinoisans reprised a tune Danny did that afternoon, "Pork and Beans," and made it into a duet.

Faye's renditions of May Aufderheide's "The Thriller" and of Julia Niebergall's "Horseshoe Rag" came before her closing number, Zez Confrey's digit-busting "Dizzy Fingers." 

All in all, the audience (filling up 40% of Memorial Hall) came to enjoy the eleventh annual Ragtime to Riches Festival, and they'd like to see more syncopated events come to the Omaha/Council Bluffs/Bellevue area. (Who knows, what with OTPP's future still up in the air? Perhaps this is a real opportunity for R to R to gain more of a following.)

Oh, by the way...the Great Plains Ragtime Society took in $130 from ticket sales this time around.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

I've Got My Paper Bag(s) Ready...How about You?

Take a look at all these Republican presidential candidates for 2016.

Study them.

If you've got the stomach, pick up a copy of your local newspaper or a newsmagazine and read what they've got to say.

And if you've got even more of a stomach, watch these candidates on TV...and listen to what they've got to say.

Donald Trump...John Ellis Bush...Scott Walker...Rafael "Ted" Cruz...Rand Paul...Rick Perry...Marco Rubio...Rick Santorum...Chris Christie...Mike Huckabee...Piyush "Bobby" Jindal...Lindsey Graham...Ben Carson...Cara Carleton "Carly" Fiorina. (I've got the feeling I've left somebody out!)

You hear them bashing this ethnic group, that ethnic group, LGBT people, America's middle-income and low-income households, this country's rank-and-file employees.

You catch the officeholders among them just plain making it harder for rank-and-file Americans to live their own lives. If the Walkers and Jindals among them aren't fighting to put labor unions out of business, they're working 24/7 to make sure women can't get real access to health care products and services.

This country's biggest media companies don't help when their reporters and their immediate superiors (and the superiors' own bosses) care more about Hillary Rodham Clinton's emails (and actual or perceived role in the 9-11-2012 Benghazi uprising) than about JEB's role in the savings-and-loan scandal of the 1980s, his role in the 2000 US presidential election, and his signing of Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law when he ran the Sunshine State's government. 

It all makes me want to vomit. (And I've thrown up just twice in my life...once in 1965, and then again two years later!)

The rhetoric of today's Republicans- especially those trying to get the chance to ride Air Force One- just makes me want to vomit.

How about you?

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Last One? (Part 3)

It was 2014 all over again.

Eleven Regular Division contestants at this year's World Championship Old-Time Piano Playing Contest and Festival.

Ten semifinal spots to fill in Regular Division competition.

What a decision for contest judges Paul Asaro, Patrick Holland, and Raymond Schwarzkopf to make. [And it was deja vu all over again for Paul, who teamed up a year ago with Brian Holland (no kin to Patrick) and Terry Parrish at the judges' table at Illinois' Embassy Suites East Peoria.]

Somebody would have to be left out of the Sunday competition at the 41st annual event. 

This time, that somebody would be...


For the second straight year, all eleven OTPP RD hopefuls would compete for five spots in the Memorial Day weekend event's Final Five. 

The first of the eleven to go up to bat was that lawyer from Los Angeles (no, not Robert Kardashian)...Adam Yarian. In the Reg semifinals, OTPP's first three-time Junior champ cum three-time Regular kingpin followed "Echoes of Spring" with what turned out to be the first of two versions of "King Chanticleer," the Nat Ayer romp that's become known in ragtime circles as just about the fastest number you can play.

Will Bennett (not just one of two Michiganders in the competition, but also one of two to come out of the city of Ann Arbor!) kept it 1930s by turning in two more numbers from that decade: "Top Hat, White Tie, and Tails" and "Cheek to Cheek."

You thought Walter Murphy had the only unusual take on Beethoven's Fifth Symphony? Check out David Cavalari's version- it's now up there on YouTube. 

For his other second-round selection, the man from the Twin Cities suburb of Burnsville, MN kept it interesting (and kept it rockin') with "Sing, Sing, Sing." 

Next up was Michael J. Winstanley, from the Philadelphia, PA area...and for his return to the Regular Division semis, he came up with "Cotton Balls" and Jelly Roll Morton's "The Perfect Rag." (The latter was played three years earlier by another native Pennsylvanian, Martin Spitznagel...who's since moved over to the Washington, DC area.) 

John Remmers (the second half of the Ann Arbor, MI duo) took to the stage next, then put the contest's 2010s-era Charles Walter studio piano through "The Crimson Rambler" and "Original Rags," the Scott Joplin number that got a boost when fellow composer Charles N. Daniels published it.

Then came the defending RD champion, Ethan Uslan...University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign letterman's sweater and all.

Ethan's semifinal bid consisted of "Oskee Wow-Wow" and the much more familiar "Chicago (That Toddlin' Town)."

I didn't get to watch the New Jerseyite-turned-North Carolinian work those two numbers onstage (only while he was rehearsing)...because I had to rehearse as well.

And after a break in the competition came a certain Iowan-turned-Nebraskan-turned-Iowan-turned-Nebraskan.

What's more, this Iowan-turned-Nebraskan-turned-Iowan-turned Nebraskan still had an axe to grind.

After being told the night before by one longtime C&F fan that he couldn't follow along with my version of "Hardhearted Hannah" and then told half a day later by another longtime contest fan that "Jim, you have no rhythm," I most certainly had an axe to grind.

So I did my grinding with "St. Louis Blues," the longest tune I've ever competed with; and "Barney Google," the shortest OTPP competition number I've ever turned in. 

Felt really comfortable up there.

Darn right it felt great to, after all these years, be able to hold my own alongside (or against, depending on your point of view) the other contestants...especially old-time piano's big guns.

One of those big guns was next...1991 Reg titleholder Bill Edwards.

The man from Virginia (by way of California, Colorado, and the District of Columbia) still had a chance to be one of the division's Last Five Standing...a very good chance, what with "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen" (Bill's own dip into the 1930s waters) and "That's a-Plenty."

And afterwards came the biggest gun in old-time piano.

Adam Swanson showed why he's the genre's biggest gun by knocking out his incomparable version of "Maple Leaf Rag" and by taking his own dip in the 1930s pool, "Forty Second Street."

As things turned out, the last three RD performers to go up in the 2015 division semis started competing in Ted Lemen's claim to fame as youngsters (a la Adam Y.), and that meant Pennsylvanian-turned-Marylander Dan Mouyard got the next set...which he used to mount two of his old standbys, "Snowy Morning Blues" and the first of two "Charleston Rag" renditions in this year's title test.

Faye Ballard (from Champaign, IL) rounded out the Regular Division semifinal competition for 2015...and old-time piano's First Lady followed "Puttin' on the Ritz" with OTPP Weekend 2015's second version of "Charleston Rag." (Did you know that Eubie Blake wrote the number in 1899, the year he turned sixteen?)

Well, Paul, Patrick, and Raymond had a real decision to make; and as Ted put it: "The competition's getting better every year." Another thing: Of the eleven RD hopefuls for 2015, eight had made the division's finals at least once apiece. (John, Michael J., and Will were the exceptions.)

And of those eight past finalists, five went on to win the whole ball of wax. And that quintet had racked up twelve of the forty RD titles coming into 2015. 

Lots of audience members probably would've wanted their money back if a Michigander-turned-Texan-turned-Iowan-turned-Coloradan-turned-Marylander hadn't earned his way back into the Big Money.

The Embassy Suites East Peoria crowd did get its money's worth, for Adam S. got back to the Big Money after five years away from competition (three of those years teaming up with Ted to emcee the whole thing).

Last year, if you played your way into the Reg finals, one of your last two selections had to have the name of a color in the title. This time around, the wild-card piece needed to include the name of a food item (or the name of a beverage) in the title. 

One of just two previously undefeated-and-retired RD champions to take advantage of the biggest rule change for what had been billed as the final version of OTPP, Adam G. Swanson showed he was Adam G. Swanson, what with him nuking "French Pastry Rag" and the second "King Chanticleer" heard in competition in East Peoria.

AGS' biggest rival (none other than Ethan) was the next to jump on ol' Charles Walter...and the man from Charlotte, NC didn't disappoint, either. He reeled 'em in with "Ramona" and kept 'em in by unleashing "Beer Barrel Polka."

Then it was...Dan's turn.

The same Dan Mouyard who set up the contest's current Website,, found his way to the money line three years after his last turn as a competitor. And in this year's finals in the RD's, he turned to one of his old standbys ("Honeysuckle Rose") and followed that up with his food tune, "Blackberry Blossom."

Three finalists down...two to go.

Would one of them be Bill, who'd taken home prize money twenty times coming into OTPP 41.0?

Well, one of the remaining finalists was Adam Y.

The other previously unbeaten-and-retired RD titleholder (the youngest to accomplish that until Adam S. came along) showed 'em with "Pork and Beans," followed by "Bach Up to Me." 

This left one more slot to go. Who in the world would walk away with the fifth check at the end of the competition? If not "Perfessor" Bill, would it be Michael J. or John R. or Will? 

How about Faye?

Would it 

No way! 

David C. ran the anchor leg.

The Virginian-turned-Minnesotan made it two finals appearances in two years; and just like in 2014, he stuck in some numbers that were off the beaten path. Taking a page from his prelims playlist, David came up with "The Watermelon Trust" and "Bonehead Blues." 

Meanwhile, watching the festivities all this time- and taking notes- were Floridians John and Kimberly Santamaria, heads of a group trying to bring OTPP magic to the Tampa-St. Petersburg area. If the group from the Sunshine State could pull it off, the C&F would be held in February instead of May (the better to attract tourists).

Two other groups have expressed interest in taking over the contest- a group from Oxford, MS (headed up by former contest judge Ian Hominick, who'd like to bring OTPP to his place of work, the University of Mississippi) and one from Franklin, TN.

Only the Tampa Bay group sent anyone to Greater Peoria this past Memorial Day weekend...and here's what Kimberly and John saw at the end of Regular Division competition:

Dan took home $250- and fifth place.

David jumped over the 2001 and 2003 RD champ (who also took the 1996 JD crown) and took fourth place, pocketing $400.

Third place- and $550- went to Adam Y., the 1998-2000 Junior Division titleholder who went on to top the Regular Division in 2004, 2005, and 2006.

And the result would ensure that somebody would tack on a fourth Reg championship. 

First place meant $1,350 and possession of Ted's Trophy...this time, for good instead of having the statue for just a year.

Second place? Well, that would make somebody $800 richer.

It was close again (okay...maybe not as close as it was in 2008, when the margin of victory was a single point)...but Ethan (tops in 2007, 2012, and 2014) watched Adam S. hoist the Ted Lemen Traveling Trophy one more time...just like in 2008, 2009, and 2010. 

And all of that on top of his triumphs in the J's in 2003, 2004, and 2006.

Plus his 2013 victory in OTPP's New Rag Contest.

To say nothing of his teaming up with the ol' "Perfessor" to snag the very first OTPP Duet Contest championship. 

At any rate...if this 41st edition of the World Championship Old-Time Piano Playing Contest and Festival was THE final one, the event sure went out with a bang. (Okay...a BANG!)

If not...will Adam Swanson have to give the Big Trophy back?

All we can do is stay tuned.