Tag Archives: Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival

DALTON RIDENHOUR PLAYS THE BLUES, or “KEEP OUR CITY CLEAN,” (Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival, June 1, 2018)

Dalton Ridenhour, photograph by Aidan Grant

Dalton Ridenhour is a genuine improvising musician, but someone whose subtleties might get taken for granted because he is so good at so many things.  And he doesn’t self-congratulate as he plays, as some do, turning their head to the audience as if to say, “See how impressively I played that last little thing there?  Time to break into spontaneous applause!”

He has the confidence and steadiness to go his own way within a song or a performance, creating structures of sound that aren’t flashy but that are terribly moving.  I came away from Dalton’s solo performances at the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival feeling that I’d witnessed someone brave and patient, balancing the familiar and the inherently personal.  I told him after one set that I thought he had built his own house and was roaming around inside it, and the metaphor seemed to please him.

His SEDALIA BLUES pleased us so much more.

Around the three-minute mark in this leisurely performance, a while city sanitation truck came to a stop on the street (out of camera range but nearby) and began doing what such trucks do.  It had “Keep Our City Clean” painted in green letters on its side, and for a moment I thought of titling this improvisation “KEEP OUR CITY CLEAN BLUES,” but it isn’t my place to do so.  My place is to celebrate Dalton Ridenhour, splendid quiet explorer of heartfelt music.

Here’s SEDALIA BLUES.  Underestimate it, and Dalton, at your peril.

I will post more from Dalton, in solo and duo, for certain.

May your happiness increase!

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TRIUMPHANT! (Part Two) THE HOLLAND-COOTS JAZZ QUINTET at the SCOTT JOPLIN INTERNATIONAL RAGTIME FESTIVAL in SEDALIA, MISSOURI (May 31-June 2, 2018): BRIAN HOLLAND, DANNY COOTS, MARC CAPARONE, EVAN ARNTZEN, STEVE PIKAL

We continue the further adventures of our Quintet of Superheroes at the 2018 Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival: those real-life vanquishers of gloom and inertia being the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet: Brian Holland, piano; Danny Coots, drums; Steve Pikal, string bass; Marc Caparone, cornet, vocal; Evan Arntzen, clarinet, tenor saxophone, vocal.

Here‘s Part One, and a little text of approval from Kerry Mills here.

And three more juicy and flavorful examples of this band’s versatility: a hot ballad (vocal by Marc), a Joplin classic, and a searing tribute to a dangerous animal or to Michigan (you can choose) by Jelly Roll Morton.

SOMEDAY, SWEETHEART (I prefer the comma, although you can’t hear it):

What some people think of as “the music from ‘The Sting,'” Scott Joplin’s THE ENTERTAINER, here in a version that owes something to Mutt Carey and Bunk Johnson, who loved to serve their ragtime hot:

Jelly Roll’s WOLVERINE BLUES, in a version that (once we get past Danny’s carnivorous introduction) blows the mercury out of the thermometer:

A Word to the Wise. Get used to these five multi-talented folks, singly and as a band.  (“These guys can do anything,” says Brian, and he’s right.)  They’re going to be around for a long time.  I’m going to be posting their music as long as I can find the right keys on the keyboard.

May your happiness increase!

KERRY MILLS LIKES IT: BRIAN HOLLAND, DANNY COOTS, STEVE PIKAL, MARC CAPARONE, EVAN ARNTZEN (Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival, Sedalia, Missouri, May 31, 2018)

Because I am a Nassau County employee, my Verizon phone plan offers special features.  The most relevant one here is my phone’s abilities to receive texts from the dead, and they don’t even have to be Verizon subscribers.  I won’t bore you with previous instances of this, except to say that Sophie Tucker goes on and on.  One would think she’d never texted before.

This afternoon, my phone gave its special secret tone — somewhere between a canary in mating season and a pelican with its mouth full of fish — and there was a text from ragtime composer and publisher Kerry Mills.  I had never heard from Mr. Mills before, but saw that he does subscribe to JAZZ LIVES.  (People saying “But he’s been dead since 1948! can go in their room and play with their toys.  Or they can perhaps get better phones tomorrow.)

Mr. Mills’s text:

Michael u went to Joplin Festival did they play my rags Kerry Mills

I am writing this post to assure him that, indeed, his most famous cakewalk was played — by musicians who win the cake as far as I’m concerned: Brian Holland, piano; Danny Coots, drums; Steve Pikal, string bass; Marc Caparone, cornet; Evan Arntzen, clarinet.  Outdoors, too, and for free, for all the community to hear, which in my book gets them extra credit:

And while I was finishing this post, my phone made its noise again, and I saw these words:

v nice tx to band Kerry

Good enough for me.  See you at the meeting, or another location of your choice.  “Kerry sent me!” will open the door.

May your happiness increase!

TRIUMPHANT! (Part One) THE HOLLAND-COOTS JAZZ QUINTET at the SCOTT JOPLIN INTERNATIONAL RAGTIME FESTIVAL in SEDALIA, MISSOURI (May 31-June 2, 2018): BRIAN HOLLAND, DANNY COOTS, MARC CAPARONE, EVAN ARNTZEN, STEVE PIKAL

For me, one great thrill is being there for the birth of a band, fierce and subtle.  The Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet is just such a memorable band, co-led by Brian Holland, piano; Danny Coots, drums, with Steve Pikal, string bass; Marc Caparone, cornet and vocal; Evan Arntzen, clarinet, tenor saxophone, and vocal.

I didn’t get to see them at the Durango Ragtime Festival in 2017, but I delighted in Judy Muldawer’s YouTube videos.  I followed them to Nashville that summer, and did the same for the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival just a few days ago. I’m still vibrating with happiness — not a new disorder I have to tell my neurologist about.

The Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, Nashville, Summer 2017: From left, Marc Caparone, Steve Pikal, Danny Coots, Evan Arntzen, Brian Holland. Photograph by Amy Holland.

So, here is the band’s first set of that festival: outdoors, before noon, making remarkable music.  You don’t need to know more.

MAPLE LEAF RAG:

YOU TELL ME YOUR DREAM (frankly, a highlight of my year: see if you agree):

KANSAS CITY STOMPS:

DOWN IN HONKY TONK TOWN:

I intentionally left out a few details when I wrote above, “You don’t need to know more.”

You just might.  One is that the band’s debut CD, THIS IS SO NICE IT MUST BE ILLEGAL, a tribute to Fats Waller and his musical associations, has been pleasing listeners for some time now.  You can get your copy here.  And to experience this band in person — you can see the joyous energy they generate — come to the Evergreen Jazz Festival — which will happen in Colorado on July 27-28-29.  I’ll be there, and there’s room for you as well.

In the interim, share this music with friends, with strangers you feel kindly to, relatives, concert and festival promoters . . . you can extend this list at your leisure.  Brighten the corner, guided by these five most excellent sages.

May your happiness increase!  

GENTLY, THERE: TWO RHYTHM BALLADS BY MAX KEENLYSIDE (Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival, May 31-June 2, 2018)

I don’t know what you were doing in 1991, but the young man pictured above — Canadian pianist / composer Max Keenlyside — was busy being born, which makes his remarkable talent even more remarkable.  I had the good fortune and immense pleasure of meeting and hearing Max for the first time at the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival in Sedalia, Missouri, just a few days ago, and you’ll hear why I am impressed.  Here you can learn more about Max.

What struck me immediately about Max was his gracious balance of technique and taste.  He can play with incredible dexterity and skill — as fast as you could want, never faltering — but he has something much rarer, which is the understanding that quiet music, sweet sounds usually reach far deeper into our souls than do pyrotechnics.  So I bring Max to you as a subtle wooer, a creator of inviting worlds of sound — specifically, his performances of two “rhythm ballads.” That’s an archaic term, and I don’t know who coined it, but it comes from the Thirties, where musicians played a tender song and made sure to send the emotions to the listeners, but kept a danceable pulse going all the time.

A few words about the music.  IT’S ONLY A PAPER MOON, by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg, is one of my favorite songs, and I wrote about it here.  I invite you to read that post — skip my prose if you’re in a hurry — but listen to Cliff Edwards and Dick McDonough, performing not only the chorus but the verse. But for now, Max, gently proceeding through the song, with a few nods to T. Waller, honoring the melody with delight and amusement:

I’LL FOLLOW YOU, by Roy Turk and Fred Ahlert, might be known to piano scholars and Commodore Records devotees through the 1939 recording by Willie “the Lion” Smith, but I first fell in love with the song through Bing Crosby’s version when it was a new pop hit.

Here’s Max. What could be nicer than the affectionate words about his mother?

The artist Aubrey Beardsley is supposed to have told the young W.B. Yeats, “Beauty is so very difficult,” and we must imagine all the possible tones of voice those words could have been said in — but young Max already knows a great deal about making beauty alive and accessible to anyone with ears and emotions.

May your happiness increase!

“KEEP YOUR PHILHARMONIC”: EVAN ARNTZEN and STEVE PIKAL (July 27, 2017)

With the right musicians, a whole crowd isn’t necessary.  No four brass, four reeds, four rhythm; no oboes and tympani.  As Ira Gershwin wrote, “Keep your Philharmonic,” in his lyrics to SLAP THAT BASS.

Appropriately, I present a rewarding improvised vignette for clarinet and string bass, recorded on July 27, 2017, in Derek Garten’s Prime Recording Studio in Nashville, Tennessee, at the end of the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet’s debut recording, which became THIS IS SO NICE IT MUST BE ILLEGAL, chronicled here.  The Quintet, by the way, is Brian Holland, piano; Danny Coots, drums; Evan Arntzen, reeds; Steve Pikal, string bass; Marc Caparone, cornet.

At the end of the session, the Quintet — showing superhuman energy and patience — played two songs for my video camera so I could show them off on the blog.  One, RUSSIAN RAG, I have cleverly hidden within this blogpost as a reward to close readers.

The other, an improvised duet by Messrs. Pikal and Arntzen, later titled PHAT SWOLLER, has never been seen.  I was saving it for my retirement and then thought it would be ungenerous to wait all that time — so here ‘t’is.  Joyous, shapely, rambunctious, expert.  I’m sure my readers can find their own encomia, but I will say only that Steve Pikal has a beautiful harmonic sense and a true swing engine (a new CD of his with Brian and Danny is, I am told, on the way); a New York musician said to me, listening to Evan Arntzen, “That boy can play anything . . . beautifully!” and I of course agreed:

Relevance beyond a piece of wonderful creative improvisation?  Of course.  The Holland-Coots ensemble will be appearing at the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival, which I’ve described here.

My interest in the Festival involves leaving my accustomed position in front of the computer: I’ll be there, starting Wednesday night.  But I have to gently admonish the faithful that I no longer video everything, so if you want to hear your favorite virtuoso capering through an obscure Joseph Lamb piece, I suggest you call the airlines now.  (That’s a good idea even if you’ve never heard of Lamb.)

May your happiness increase!

ON THE ROAD TO SEDALIA, MISSOURI (May 30 – June 2, 2018)

The Sages urge us to live in the moment, but I need something to look forward to — even if it’s nothing larger than that second cup of coffee.

But this post is about something far more expansive: the 37th Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival that will take place in Sedalia, Missouri from May 30 – June 2, 2018.

The performers at the 2017 Festival, a welcoming bunch.

You can see the enticing list of the people who will be playing, singing, talking, and (if I guess correctly) being lively and funny at the 2018 Festival here.  I don’t know every one on the list, because I have never been immersed in ragtime, but those I do know are very exciting artists and good friends: Brian Holland, Danny Coots, Marc Caparone, Steve Pikal, Evan Arntzen (that’s the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet), Carl Sonny Leyland, Jeff Barnhart, Marty Eggers, Virginia Tichenor, and Dalton Ridenhour.  There are just as many luminaries I haven’t mentioned here, and I hope they don’t take offense: look at the list to see what heroes and friends of yours will be there also.

The map suggests that the festival is neatly laid out, and it should be a pleasure to be trotting around in the late-Spring sun:

I expect to be dazzled by people I’ve never heard before (although I am no longer obsessed with Seeing and Hearing Everything — that’s for people with more energy) but here are two favorite groups / performers.  One is the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet, the five brilliant planets that came together for a hot constellation last summer in Nashville.  I wrote about my visit here and about the CD that resulted here.

Incidentally, I don’t promote the CDs below as substitutes for the experience you will have in Sedalia — rather, as a way of making the time between now and May 30 seem easier to endure.

Here you can learn more and buy copies.

And if the thought of reading more words makes the room spin, try this:

As Eubie Blake would shout exultantly at the end of a performance, “That’s RAGTIME!”  And who would disagree?

The other group also has Brian Holland and Danny Coots at its center, but with the addition of the best chemical catalyst I know — the wonderful one-man orchestra, gutty and tender and rocking, Carl Sonny Leyland.  Here are more details.  And a few words from me.

OLD FASHIONED refers to two pleasures: music-making the way it used to be, and the cocktail . . . sometimes consumed in tandem.  Recordings of two pianos plus “traps” go back to 1941 or perhaps earlier — I am thinking of a Victor set called EIGHT TO THE BAR, featuring Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson, and Jimmy Hoskins, which was about twenty-five minutes of locomotion, no matter what the tempo.  Having the train come roaring down the track is a pure adrenaline jolt, but eighty minutes of high-intensity, high-speed music could soon pall.  So the three wise men have opted for sweet variety — slow drags and old pop tunes treated with affection, originals in different moods.  Thus the CD rocks its way to the end before you know it.  And the sound is lovely — it’s possible that Carl’s singing voice has never been captured so well on disc.

May your happiness increase!