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, www.oldtimepianocontest.org, 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 be...me? 

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.

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