Gershwin Galore! (a review)

It was a cold winter evening – frigid outside with the biting chill of January 15, the sun fast asleep long before the performance began. Traffic was heavy – headlights on, horns honking, street lamps dim in the dark – pond rippling with moonshine, reflecting the starlight in its glassy surface. The Sacramento Syncopators were here again, back at their favorite home venue – the main auditorium at Eskaton Village Carmichael – with both of the two pianos singing with anticipation, the big theater full of spectators eager for music. Last year’s Mostly Ragtime program had been a success; but this time the Syncopators came with something a little different, something a little more modern: Gershwin Galore – a program of Gershwin mixed with a handful of other contemporary composers, with a program sculpted to please.

The show kicked off with a fast-paced rendition of Gershwin’s first-ever instrumental composition, Rialto Ripples, soon followed by the seventeen minute, thirty-one page solo rendition of Gershwin’s hit Rhapsody in Blue (without the help of sheet music), as played by the emcee and host, Syncopators founder Alethea Sung-Miller. Richard Augustus Eriksson (“Augie”) followed up with his own gorgeous performance of Gershwin’s first and second preludes, and an improvised, two-person duet of Fats Waller’s iconic Ain’t Misbehavin’, where Arthur Eriksson joined in the fun, adding a saxophone to the mix.

Next up – the Syncopators’ lovely composer, music major and senior member, Britta MacDonell, brought an even more modern repertoire to the stage, with three of her own, beautiful compositions – Evening, Winter Walk, and For a Friend – followed by ragtime favorite Diego Bustamante’s gold-medal rendition of Eubie Blake’s classic Baltimore Todolo. Sarah Krulder, the angelic vocalist of the group, finished off with Gershwin’s famous Summertime from Porgy and Bess – a piece well-suited to fend off the winter cold – and Over the Rainbow from the hit Broadway musical version of The Wizard of Oz.

But that wasn’t all – the Syncopators, unbeknownst to the audience, had a surprise encore planned: a one hundred and seventy six key, forty finger, eight hand, four person, two piano improvisation of Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag – with embellishments! Diego took the bass, playing the music as written, while Augie improvised the melody next to him, Arthur and Alethea manning the second piano across from the boys. In a whirlwind of music and notes, the encore ran from start to finish, and the Syncopators took one last, final bow, to the applause and approval of their wonderful audience.

And so the spectacle ended – for now. That’s all, folks! But stay tuned – the Syncopators have added two new members to their roster, and conspiring is the name of the game – you can bet they’ll be back soon with an even better plot this time! Till then, ta-ta!

congratulations to…

Congratulations to the Syncopators’ very own Diego Bustamante and Dara Phung for tying for first place, and Richard A. Eriksson for winning second place in the 2015 annual West Coast Ragtime Society Youth Competition!  Catch them at the upcoming ragtime festival (see events page for details).

Sutter Creek Ragtime Festival 2015

On August 15, 2015, the Sacramento Syncopators made yet another appearance at the Sutter Creek Ragtime Festival – and what a blast it was!  The day started off with the Next Generation ragtime concert at the Sutter Creek Theatre, emceed by old-timer Bub Sullivan of the Porcupine Ragtime Ensemble.  Alethea began the concert with a fast-paced Maple Leaf Rag, and Diego and Sarah took the stage with their stunning rendition of Ella Fitzgerald classic “Blue Skies”, paving the way for professionals such as Andrew Barrett and John Reed-Torres – and by the time the performers stepped back out into the summer day, the temperature was climbing into triple digits!

After a stop at the musicians’ tent for water, Diego, Sarah, Alethea, and Athena headed to Hotel Sutter for the “Diego and Friends” concert, emceed by Chris Bradshaw, where they met up with fellow Syncopators and ragtime youth performers Arthur and Augie Eriksson, Isaac Goodman, and Raymond Wang.

Diego set the bar high with a rousing Eubie Blake piece, to be followed by Isaac’s elaborately ornamented, beautifully executed “Elite Syncopations” (Scott Joplin) and Raymond Wang’s Joplin classic, “Peacherine Rag.”  Arthur took the stage after Raymond, presenting another Joplin piece – his “Original Rags”, Arthur’s competition piece from the 2014 West Coast Ragtime Society Youth Competition.  Augie wowed the crowd with his note-perfect rendition of Henry Cabot Lodge’s Temptation Rag – a piece he also played in the March 20 “Mostly Ragtime” Sacramento Syncopators concert in Sacramento (see more about that event in the April 2015 edition of the Sacramento Ragtime Society newsletter: page 4, “A Syncopated Success”).  Brother Arthur followed up with Scott Joplin’s “Original Rags”, Athena with Joplin’s “Leola”, and Alethea with George Gershwin’s first – and only – ragtime composition, “Rialto Ripples.”

From there, the concert only got better – especially with Sarah’s gorgeous rendition of George Gershwin’s “Summertime” from “Porgy and Bess.”  Diego finished the set with his snazzy “Kitten on the Keys” (Zez Confrey) and the gorgeously sentimental “Ragtime Oriole” (James Scott) to a round of applause and a standing ovation from the crowd.  One Sutter Creek ragtime regular stood up to thank Mrs. Bradshaw for hosting the concert every year, and for featuring Diego as her protege at the Sutter Creek Ragtime Festival for five years – and counting!  What talent!

But that wasn’t all – after stopping by the Sutter Creek Theatre to watch a rowdy session of silent films and sing-alongs with Sean Sharpe and Frederick Hodges, the performers stopped at the Ice Cream Emporium for a cone as Diego took to the piano, inviting Sarah to sing with him.  The set was a definite success – filled with favorites such as Galen Wilkes’ “Creeks of Missouri”, Scott’s “Ragtime Oriole”, Gershwin’s “Summertime”, “Blue Skies”, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” from the popular musical “Wizard of Oz”, and the rousing “Girl in 14G”, the crowd loved it the whole way through.  One little girl loved the concert so much that she refused to let Sarah leave the ice cream shop afterwards!

The afternoon wore on into evening, and after a stop at the enchanting little cheese shoppe and the music box store down the street, the performers stopped by Pizza Plus for a quick dinner before catching the Evening Show at 7:00 in the Theatre.  The performance featured crowd favorites such as Danny Coots and Brian Holland, Chris and Jack Bradshaw, Tom Brier, and others, and by the time the concert had wound down, it was nigh dark outside.  The Syncopators made their way to Skunk Hollow, down the dim streets beneath the star-studded sky, stepping inside to a fiery solo piano rendition of Gershwin’s popular “Rhapsody in Blue”.  Past midnight, with shooting stars dancing overhead and music still dancing out into the tranquil Sutter Creek night, the tired performers finally made their way back home, with a spring in their step and music in their hearts – regretting only that it will be another year before they walk these streets again.  If only time would pass more quickly –

summertime, and the livin’s easy…