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.

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