Twelve standout pianists converge for a rare show in Pacific Grove.
Thursday, December 6, 2007
Acrobats and magicians mingle with roughnecks in a smoky house of ill repute. A barelegged burlesque singer wearing a risqué, sleeveless chemise and short skirt gathered at the waist scampers off the stage. A spectator hoots his appreciation. He slams his empty glass down on the table and calls for more bourbon. Suddenly, the lights go down, illuminating the smoldering ashes of half smoked cigarettes in crystal ashtrays. The plush, burgundy curtain is drawn to reveal a piano lifted on blocks so that the performer can play standing up. He opens with his piece, “Harlem Rag,” in 2/4 time. The audience begins to shimmy their shoulders to the beat, tapping their feet to the intoxicating rhythm.
This is the ambience that Craig Wallace of Lovers Point Jazz Productions looks to recreate at his Ragtime and Stride Piano Extravaganza Saturday, Dec. 8. Without the benefit of acrobats or burlesque dancers, he’ll look to the 12 widely acclaimed pianists gathering at the Pacific Grove Performing Arts Center to play what he describes as “period music, in a period venue, on period instruments.”
“We want [the concert] to be as if you’ve gone back in time,” he says. “We’re trying to replicate what you would have felt if you were in a music hall in that era. All we’re doing is changing the players.”
Three of the musicians playing at the extravaganza are three-time winners of the Old World Piano Championship, including Adam Yarian and Brian Holland. Sixteen-year old Adam Swanson is a three-time champion of the junior division. As the featured performers, they will play on restored antique pianos: a 1903 and 1924 Mason and Hamlin and a Steinway from the 1890s.
“The musicians span a generation,” says Wallace, “Some of the players, like Terry Waldo, are folks that actually knew some of the original hot players.” Waldo, who is a protégé of the great ragtime composer Eubie Blake, is widely considered one of the best American performers of ragtime and early jazz. In the forward to Waldo’s This is Ragtime, Blake writes, “Terry knows about this music as few others do…You have to know about the backrooms of bars, the incredible prejudice we had to deal with, the hook shops, [and] the beer and sawdust all over the floor.”
The score for the concert has been coordinated with the help of Jeff Barnhart, a renowned pianist and composer with his own label, Jazz Alive Records. One vocalist, Brady McKay, will also be performing. Some of the songs on the playbill include classics like the “Maple Leaf Rag” and the “Entertainer,” as well as lesser known and humorously titled hits like “Sahara: Soon We’ll Be Dry Like You” and “If You Only Had My Disposition.”
“We want to make sure that ragtime doesn’t turn into a music that is just for the elite the way that Beethoven and Mozart have,” Barnhart says. “This is American music. One hundred and ten years ago we created our own style of music. It is our own brand.”
Wallace will also tape a high definition digital recording of the show which he hopes to make available to the public. One camera will capture the players’ hands because, according to Wallace, the hands are an essential part of appreciating the music. Then there’s another major reason he wants to record the performance—the fact that this particular group of standout performers is unlikely to gather for the same event again.
THE RAGTIME AND STRIDE PIANO EXTRAVAGANZA takes place Saturday, Dec. 8, with an afternoon session from 11am to 5pm and an evening session from 7:30pm to 10pm, at the Pacific Grove Performing Arts Center, 835 Forest Ave., Pacific Grove. $85/general; $30/students accompanied by an adult. 333-1972 or loverspointjazz.com