Sunday, July 16, 2017

It's all about the fun!

I was so afraid that nobody was going to attend the 2017 Ragtime to Riches Festival. 

As things turned out, the 7-9-2017 get-together drew six paying customers to Omaha's First Central Congregational United Church of Christ (same as on 7-10-2016).

The difference was...everybody had tons of fun this year!  

Faye Ballard came back for her fourth R to R experience...and this time, fellow Illinoisan Nathan Beasley came along for the ride. (He'd just gotten through conquering the Junior Division competition at the World Championship Old-Time Piano Playing Contest and Festival, the Oxford, MS event where Faye serves as contest coordinator.) 

This year's activities (everything took place at First Central's Memorial Hall) got started with a bang...with Nathan and Faye kicking off the 1:00-2:00 PM open-piano session.
(In the meantime, while the twosome were working out Luckey Roberts' "Pork and Beans," I was still trying to set up chairs so that people would know that an actual festival was going to happen.) 

Our first R to R patron for 2017 came in during the open-piano session...and was blown away by Nathan's playing. 

Now, if another function at her church hadn't taken her away from First Central that afternoon, she would've loved the rest of the thirteenth incarnation of the Omaha/Council Bluffs/Bellevue area's annual old-time piano celebration. 

At 2:00 PM, this year's workshop began...and it focused on the woman who penned "I Love You Truly" and 174 other songs.

If you've forgotten about (or if you haven't heard of) Carrie Jacobs Bond, you're in a lot of company.


Bond (8-11-1862/12-28-1946) didn't even think of trying to get a career going until she was 31...when the catalyst was the drive to turn to something to support herself and her young son Fred. 

Her first husband, E.J. Smith, abandoned her in 1887- after seven years of marriage. Then Carrie's next hubby, Frank Lewis Bond, died early in 1895 of an accident that a child caused by knocking Frank over and causing FLB to hit his own head on some pavement. (That child and some other kids were throwing snowballs and roughhousing in the Iron River, MI neighborhood where Carrie and Frank lived at the time.)

On top of that, Frank- a doctor by trade- was out of a job when the local mines shut down. And when that happened, CJB wanted to be the family breadwinner...but Hubby told Wifey to put that dream away. (Never mind the fact that when our twosome got hitched in 1887, Frank encouraged Carrie's songwriting efforts.) 

With Frank under six feet of dirt, Carrie had to borrow some loot to move to Chicago, IL, where she rented an apartment building that served as the first music-publishing headquarters for her and Fred.

And then there were CJB's frequent bouts with rheumatism...bouts that kept her bedridden for weeks (if not months) and put her into a position where Bond's tenants ended up looking after her.

Those health issues caused her to have to sell off all her belongings until she and little Fred were down to the family piano. 

Without those 88s, the two visitors one of CJB's neighbors asked her to look after one day in 1900-01 wouldn't have found- and played- "I Love You Truly." 

And Carrie's career wouldn't have taken off...to the point where she not only became the first woman to make it big writing pop tunes, but also the first woman to take in a million dollars from composing ditties.  

Plus: I would've had to build my 2017 R to R workshop around somebody else.  

The workshop ended early (2:48 PM, Central time)...and that gave Faye plenty of time to get ready to be the first performer to give a 2017 Ragtime to Riches concert. 

It was Ragtime 101 as the Champaign, IL native took to the church's 2015 Yamaha grand and launched her concert with "The Entertainer" and followed that up with Tom Turpin's "Harlem Rag," the first published rag an African-American composer ever came up with.

Next were three Ballard favorites: "Sailin' Away on the Henry Clay," "Mack the Knife," and "It Had to Be You." (Faye told the crowd that these were examples of songs ragtimers and stride pianists back in the first thirty or forty years of the 20th Century might've used in "cutting contests," where performers tried to top each other for audience applause.)


After the newly-retired office manager offered "Puttin' on the Ritz," she got back to rags...beginning with Scott Joplin's "The Cascades" and Irene Giblin's most famous number, "Chicken Chowder." 

Faye's thirteen-tune set closed out with James P. Johnson's "Carolina Shout" and Zez Confrey's crowd favorite, "Dizzy Fingers." 

And then...seventeen-year-old Nathan came up to bat.

He nuked it on that same Yamaha grand piano. 

The Eldorado, IL native had the audience going right from the start, kicking off his concert with Eubie Blake's "Charleston Rag" and Andy Razaf's and Fats Waller's "Honeysuckle Rose."   

Just as Faye doubled up on Scott Joplin, Nathan did, too, offering "Maple Leaf Rag" and "Pineapple Rag..." in addition to "Swipesy," where Scott collaborated with one of his proteges, Arthur Marshall.

The Eldorado High School student added another Eubie Blake number along the way: "Fizz Water." And his superb command of the 88s continued, with tunes such as Joseph Lamb's "Bohemia," the Creamer and Layton tune "After You've Gone," Harry Belding's "Good Gravy Rag," and W.C. Handy's "St. Louis Blues..." the first published blues song ever composed. 

Faye- one of otherwise largely self-taught Nathan's mentors- jumped in to turn "Pork and Beans" into a duet (this time, with both pianists working the Yamaha). She jumped back into the set right after his "St. Louis Blues" to team up with him on "Give My Regards to Broadway" and fellow George M. Cohan standout "You're a Grand Old Flag." 

Beasley and Ballard were a hit together.

And it seemed like a great time to jump in and make it a trio.

So...I sneaked back over to the church's early-20th-Century Anderson & Newton upright (the workshop piano) and joined Nathan and Faye (both of them still at the Yamaha grand) for "Beer Barrel Polka" and "Won't You Come Home, Bill Bailey."

There it was...the Three B's.

Nathan consummated his conquest of R to R 2017 with his set's seventeenth tune, a standout version of "Ol' Man River."


It's up on www.youtube.com (along with some more efforts of his, Faye's, and mine)...and Nathan's version of "River" has proven highly popular. (Check it out if you haven't seen it yet!)

Well...at 7:00 PM, I ended up running the anchor leg of this year's Ragtime to Riches Festival.

And, thanks to a sore left pinky that received a cut a couple of days earlier when I went in to rehearse at First Central Congregational, I kept threatening to drop the baton.

At first. 

Even with a couple of bandages covering the cut on that left pinky, I wanted to keep in mind that I didn't want that cut to hamper the only thing I've been successfully able to copy from ragtime great Del Wood: Her sock action on the keys.


I wanted to lead the audience through a musical tour of America...but I thought I'd have time for only twelve of these fifty states.

So...I started out with a 1923 waltz from a Missourian named Charlotte Brackelsberg, "Carry Me Today, Away Back to Iowa," then went to a 1902 Paul Dresser number called "In Dear Old Illinois." (I ended up eventually jazzing up both tunes.)

Then things started to get more comfortable as my set progressed through "Back Home Again in Indiana," "Beautiful Ohio," and a 1913 Ballard MacDonald-Harry Carroll collaboration called "There's a Girl in the Heart of Maryland (with a Heart That Belongs to Me)."


Even a 1967 hit for the Bee Gees, "(The Lights Went Out in) Massachusetts," got into my set. (Well...the crowd didn't mind.) 

Had fun with "Tennessee Waltz," "Mississippi Mud," "California, Here I Come," and a 1919 song written by the team of Dorothy Terriss and Ethel Bridges, "Hawaiian Lullaby."

By then, it was time to wrap things up...and I didn't want to go into overtime, knowing darned good and well it was time to "get everybody back to Nebraska."

Well, anyway...the six people who heard me play gave me the green light to perform the song I thought I'd have to cut out: "North to Alaska." 

The whole thing ended with a 1915 Ray Sherwood-Bert Rule ditty called "I'm Goin' Back to Old Nebraska (Goodbye)."  

Everybody DID have tons of fun at this year's R to R celebration...especially you-know-who. 

Something Nathan told me just before R to R 13.0 got under way really helped: "I performed at an event where just three people showed up. And I still had a lot of fun."  

Faye, Nathan, and I are coming back to First Central next July...and we hope to see you there, too!

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