Dr. Dave Majchrzak (or “Dr. Dave,” as he is called – for good reason) has always taken an assured approach to his playing of ragtime. As he continues to immerse himself in the idiom, that assurance has become more well-placed, as is evidenced by his latest recording. He has selected a corny tune from the ‘20s (Animal Crackers) around which to build a collection of animal-related ragtime titles (plus a few others thrown in for good measure) and the concept works very well.
Majchrzak opens with the expected level of bravura on “Tiger Rag” and closes with a comfortably fast but not dizzying “Perfect Rag” – both associated with Jelly Roll Morton. In between, he runs the gamut. Charlie Johnson’s “Porcupine Rag” and “Teasin’ The Cat” are each light and happy, while Joe Lamb’s two compositions contrast markedly, “Bird Brain Rag” maintaining a gentler touch throughout while “Beehive Rag” is slow and pompous.
Majchrzak delves into stride with Luckey Roberts’ “Pork and Beans” and Fats Waller’s “Soothin’ Syrup Stomp” and the results are good. On Al Marzian’s “Angel Food Rag” he turns a standard pop rag into a showpiece, and to prove that he can appreciate introspective ragtime as well, he infuses Colm O’Brien’s romantic soliloquy, “Marilyn”, with a dynamic range from delicate softness to stately fortes. He spotlights a couple of rarities, too, with Wheeler Wadsworth’s “Bow Wow”, an advanced rag bordering on novelty piano, and O.E. Keenan’s “Monkey Motion”, which may be its digital debut.
Four vocals are also included and while Majchrzak is no Pavarotti he delivers the intended messages. Corny lyrics abound, the best of which are on “Somewhere Overweight People”, a humorous corruption of Harold Arlen’s famed “Over The Rainbow”. We are even treated to a Dr. Dave original rag, “Grandma’s Fish Fry”, which is solidly in the nostalgic ragtime vein.
The liner notes are marginal and anonymous (?) but the graphics are great, as they tie the CD’s title into Majchrzak’s day job. The sound is excellent, the piano is a concert grand and the occasional fluffed note only reinforces the fact that you are listening to the real thing and not a recording that has been digitally sanitized. Dr. Dave Majchrzak has a good product here and only one question remains: Would you trust your cat to a veterinarian who plays ragtime and sings hokey songs? I would.
Animal Crackers: Dr. Dave Majchrzak, piano
Tiger Rag / Porcupine Rag / Beehive Rag / Somewhere Overweight People* / Angel Food Rag / Pork and Beans / (I’m Just Wild About) Animal Crackers* / Marilyn / Soothin’ Syrup Stomp / Grandma’s Fish Fry / I Ain’t Gonna Give Nobody None of This Jelly Roll* / Bow Wow / Monkey Motion / I Can’t Get Off Of My Horse* / Bird Brain Rag / Teasin’ The Cat / Perfect Rag. (*Vocal)