Music » Critic's Choice

Reginald Robinson/ Jon Weber




Ragtime and stride don't require more technique than later jazz-piano disciplines: they just sound that way, largely because they ask the pianist to mimic an entire band. ("Ragtime" refers to both the compositional form created by Scott Joplin in the late 19th century and the gently syncopated style in which he wrote; pianists exaggerated the oompah of ragtime's left hand to create stride, a livelier style applied to the blues and show tunes of the time.) Today's players only occasionally gravitate toward--and almost never focus on--these antique idioms, so the presence of two pianists expert at them makes this concert stand out; so does the program's pairing of Joplin and W.C. Handy, the first mainstream composer of blues-based tunes ("St. Louis Blues," "Beale Street Blues"). Reginald Robinson studied Joplin extensively en route to writing dozens of his own rags; he'll play Joplin's music and some of his own, channeling ragtime's spirit with a technique that can thunder or whisper and commands the idiom's rhythmic rhetoric with the authority of a first-class dramaturge. Jon Weber, who'll play Handy, has mitts like giant spiders, and he weaves showy webs from the literally thousands of 20th-century melodies he can pull out at a moment's notice (along with their writers, their publication dates, and sometimes even details of their live or recorded debuts). Count on both pianists to have done some digging: Robinson's three discs feature some truly obscure Joplin pieces, and Weber's penchant for minutiae informs his new double CD, It's Never Quite the Same (Mood), which compiles 37 tunes by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans (largely unremembered despite having written "Mona Lisa," "Never Let Me Go," "Silver Bells," and the theme songs to Bonanza and Mister Ed). Thursday, October 1, 6:30 PM, Randolph Cafe, Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington; 312-744-6630. NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Reginal Robinson photo by Pete Amft/ John Weber photo uncredited.

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