Tag Archives: Ukulele Ike

MORE HOT JAZZ IN THE GARDEN OF EDEN (Part Three): THE NEW WONDERS (MIKE DAVIS, JOE McDONOUGH, RICKY ALEXANDER, JARED ENGEL, JAY RATTMAN, JAY LEPLEY): AUGUST 20, 2017

The days are getting shorter, darker, and cooler.  There’s little that I can do to combat this, but I offer this third part of a glorious August afternoon as a palliative for the descent into winter.

Thanks to the energetic Brice Moss, I was able to attend and record a lovely outdoor session featuring The New Wonders — Mike Davis, cornet, vocal, arrangements; Jay Lepley, drums; Jay Rattman, bass saxophone and miscellaneous instrument; Joe McDonough, trombone, Ricky Alexander, reeds; Jared Engel, plectrum banjo.  There’s group singing here and there, which is its own idiomatic delight.  This is the third of three posts: here is part one, and here is part two — both segments full of wondrous hot music.

And now . . . . a Hot one in Hot slow-motion, no less steamy — NOBODY’S SWEETHEART:

Did someone say “The Chicago Loopers”?  Here’s CLORINDA, with vocal quartet:

A serious question for sure, ARE YOU SORRY?

Another paean to the South from songwriters who may have gone no deeper than Battery Park, THAT’S THE GOOD OLD SUNNY SOUTH:

We’d like it to be a valid economic policy — THE BEST THINGS IN LIFE ARE FREE:

DEEP BLUE SEA BLUES, with a surprising double for Jay Rattman:

Who needs an umbrella?  I’M WALKING BETWEEN THE RAINDROPS:

and an emotional choice, I’D RATHER CRY OVER YOU:

Deep thanks, as before, to Brice, family, friends, and to these splendid musicians, for making an Edenic idea come to life.

And I don’t have the delicious artifact yet, but The New Wonders did and have finished their debut CD.  I am willing to wager that it will live up to the band name.  Details as I know them.

May your happiness increase!

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HOT JAZZ IN THE GARDEN OF EDEN (Part One): THE NEW WONDERS (MIKE DAVIS, JOE McDONOUGH, RICKY ALEXANDER, JARED ENGEL, JAY RATTMAN, JAY LEPLEY): AUGUST 20, 2017

Some people make great art happen without ever picking up an instrument, and Brice Moss is one of them.  I first met him at a concert of Mike Davis’ band, The New Wonders, in downtown Manhattan, about eighteen months ago.

Brice is very friendly and articulate, tall and beautifully dressed, but what’s more important is that he is a card-carrying Enthusiast for Twenties hot jazz.  And although he loves the recordings and lives to go see and hear the best hot bands, he does more than that.  Evidence below.

A Brice Moss lawn party, a few years back, with Vince Giordano, Andy Stein, Evan Arntzen, Jon-Erik Kellso, Harvey Tibbs, and Ken Salvo.

Brice gives yearly lawn parties where his favorite bands play.  I asked him to say something about his generosity-in-action, and he wrote, “I work in social service, in the not-for profit sector, so even with saving up, I can only do these every year or so.  I can think of no more joy-inducing way to spend my meager dough than by hiring the world class musicians we are lucky to have in our vicinity.  As does everyone else, I love the Nighthawks, whom my parents saw weekly since the seventies.

I am smitten by Mike Davis and his guys too.  Mike always sings the lyrics, often including introductory verses I had never heard before.  They do wonderful vocal harmonies.  They are intimate, understated, true to the period and despite differences of instrumentation, very true to the original recordings of the tunes. Pure delight!  This is the fourth time I’ve been lucky enough to be able to bring a band up.  Last year was Mike and The New Wonders as well. The summer before that was a subset of the Nighthawks.  I have also, a couple of years back, had a New Year’s Eve party where I was fortunate to have Vince, Peter Mintun, Mark Lopeman, Bill Crow, and Andy Stein.”

So this summer, when Brice invited me to come up to his lawn party (at a location alternatively identified as Croton-on-Hudson, Yorktown Heights, or Ossining — depending on the whims of your GPS) I was eager, especially when he said the band would not object if I brought my camera.  I thus had the odd and splendid experience of being able to hear and see hot jazz out-of-doors in the most gorgeous pastoral setting.  I also got to meet Brice’s quite delightful family: his mother Anne; son Odysseus; his daughter Aubrey; his sister Liana.  In addition, I got to chat again with Ana Quintana, and petted the New Wonders’ mascot, Chester.

And there was glorious music by Mike Davis, cornet and vocal; Jay Lepley, drums; Jared Engel, banjo; Jay Rattman, bass sax and miscellaneous instrument; Ricky Alexander, reeds; Joe McDonough, trombone.  (Mike also sings splendidly — earnestly but loosely — on many tracks, and there’s also band vocals and band banter.)

The band takes its name from a particular line of instruments manufactured by the Conn people in the Twenties, and Mike plays a Conn New Wonder cornet.  The New Wonders stay pretty seriously in the Twenties, offering pop songs of the day, jazz classics — both transcribed and improvised on — and homages to Bix and Tram, Paul Whiteman, Cliff Edwards, the California Ramblers, Red Nichols and Miff Mole, and more.

A great deal of beautifully-played hot jazz was offered to us that August afternoon.  Here are the first seven tunes, one for each day of the week.

I GET THE BLUES WHEN IT RAINS (fortunately, this song title did not come true at Brice’s party):

THAT’S MY WEAKNESS NOW (with the verse and a second chorus and a third — how much music the New Wonders can, like their ancestors, pack into three minutes):

MY GAL SAL (thinking of the pride of Ogden, Utah):

CHICAGO:

ONE LITTLE KISS (their homage to Cliff Edwards and the Eton Boys, nobly done):

TAKE YOUR TOMORROW (thinking of Bix and Tram):

POOR PAPA:

There are two more lavishly Edenic segments to come.  Not blasphemous, just paradisical.

May your happiness increase!

“PUCKER UP AND BLOW!”: DANCING MICE, A DUCK WITH A BOWTIE, AND ENDEARING SONG (1955)

The pianist and composer Kris Tokarski, someone I both respect and like, started a discussion on Facebook on March 31, asking the question,

Facebook Survey: In your opinion, what makes a jazz singer, a jazz singer? Musically speaking what qualities/skills must they have? Is there a difference between singers who just sing tunes from the Great American Songbook (not that there’s anything wrong with that) and a “jazz” singer? Go!

The responses were intriguing — and although I find such questions ultimately not terribly “useful” as more than an excuse to air our deeply-held personal tastes, I couldn’t resist entering in. It gave me an excuse to utter the sacred name of Lee Wiley, for one thing.  But I soon retired and left the field to more eager debaters.

But Facebook — which can be terribly irritating and an unsubtle call to our worst instincts — is also a wondrous playground. The jazz scholar Steve Zalusky found and posted this kinescope of Cliff Edwards singing and playing GIVE A LITTLE WHISTLE on the Mickey Mouse Club television show — in the Cliff Edwards Ukulele Ike Facebook group, and I love it.  A few cautionary remarks.  If you hate all things Disney, try to calm down for a few minutes, since a half-dozen of the songs from the early films are true classics. Aside from SOMEDAY MY PRINCE WILL COME (ideologically charged, I know, but such a beautiful melody) there’s WITH A SMILE AND A SONG (which Rebecca Kilgore has recorded memorably, for all time) and this one.

The description of this performance is:

“Cliff Edwards appearing on the Mickey Mouse Club Nov 15, 1955. Edwards is 60 here. He sings and plays tenor ukulele. With Clarence ‘Donald Duck’ Nash doing baby noises and Jose Oliveira (next to Cliff) playing guitar and keeping it jazzy. And the Mouseketeers!! See more of Jose Oliveria here:
http://youtu.be/7cIZdPkvyHs.”

And the performance itself:

This makes me perilously happy.  And I think it is both superb jazz singing, hilarious theatre, and ineradicable art.  If you think it is none of the above, I will still love you, but I don’t want to hear about it.

I wish all the parents and grandparents and uncles and aunts that I know would start playing this video for the Young Talent — think of a generation that 1) knows how to sing GIVE A LITTLE WHISTLE, 2) subliminally absorbs the message that to think of others is a good thing, 3) perhaps begins to play the ukulele, 4) begins to speak like Donald Duck or do what Edwards called “eefin'” — his own brand of weird scat-singing.  We could transform the cosmos.

May your happiness increase!

SWEET LIKE THIS: SPATS LANGHAM, LARS FRANK, MORTEN GUNNAR LARSEN, PHIL RUTHERFORD, JOSH DUFFEE at the WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (Nov. 7, 2014)

Thomas “Spats” Langham is one of the great romantic singers of our time.  Every year at the Whitley  Bay Classic Jazz Party he moves me to tears.  I do not write those words lightly.  He can perform his deep emotional magic on a love song like GUILTY (you can find it here) but his wizardry is not restricted to amorous crooning.  No, it’s even deeper and less conventional, as he demonstrated on the evening of November 7, 2014, in his performance of a song associated with Cliff Edwards, “Ukulele Ike” to those on close terms.

NIGHT OWL is a captivating song — music and lyrics by Herman Hupfeld — with a melody that, once heard, refuses to leave, and lyrics that move from the poetic wordplay of “I make light of the darkness” to the time-filling repetition of “hooting” . . . but it casts its own spell, verse and chorus.

I think Mr. Langham’s mastery comes from a double sensibility.  You can see him give himself utterly to the song and its romance, yet, at the same time, there is a hint of amusement: “These are the most important words in the world and I must make sure that you feel them deeply but I also know they are just a touch silly . . . and I love them for both reasons.”  Imagine a huge heart and the slightest hint of a grin, simultaneously. His approach is subtle — not the let’s-have-a-ball ebullience of Fats Waller, nor the lush wooing of Russ Columbo, but it is its own splendid personal amalgam.  There’s no one like him, and we are blessed that he exists.

Lester Young told Francois Postif, speaking about the music he was searching for, “It’s got to be sweetness, man, you dig?”  Lester would have enjoyed Spats Langham immensely.  As do we:

Postscript:  Some YouTube viewers are impatient creatures, so they will want to know that the musical part of this performance begins at 2:10, but if you skip forward you will miss Mr. Langham’s narrative about the intriguing-looking, rare and precious musical instrument he is holding (and playing expertly).  It’s a novella in itself.

May your happiness increase!

THREE PODS OF PEPPER, July 10, 2009

I’ve posted the second half of this performance, where the Three Pods of Pepper were joined by Bent Persson, but here are the Pods in their original form.  A collection of C-melody saxophone, clarinet, bass saxophone, two banjos, ukulele, and guitar might sound like the inventory of a dealer of moderately-antique instruments, but the Three Pods of Pepper (named as if for a spinoff of Kid Ory’s 1922 recording band with perhaps a nod to Jelly Roll Morton’s Victor band) are fervent, swinging, lively.  How could they not be when their members are Spats Langham, Norman Field, and Frans Sjostrom?

Here they perform NEVER AGAIN, explained in depth by Professor Langham:

Courtesy of Rube Bloom and his Bayou Boys, MYSTERIOUS MOSE, a song designed to scare the kiddies, although not fatally:

GONNA GET A GIRL, both lyrically and musically, is one of the dumbest songs ever written (a rebuke to those who think everything in the Jazz Age was by definition more creative) but it sticks in the brain — perhaps for that reason.  And its repetitive simplistic lyrics and melody line exactly capture the woozy thought processes of a hormonally-charged fifteen-year old boy, intent on what’s lacking in his life:

The other side of the amorous condition is the vainglorious pride of ownership, expressed in IT ALL BELONGS TO ME, associated with Annette Hanshaw and Cliff Edwards:

THE MAN FROM THE SOUTH is rhythmically propulsive although not philosophically deep, also connected with Rube Bloom and his Bayou Boys:

Finally, a tender masterpiece, MARY (WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?) by Walter Donaldson, which is always — in memory — performed by Bing Crosby with Paul Whiteman, on a wonderful 1927 Victor record where Bix Beiderbecke and Henry Busse represent Old and New (in Bill Challis’ witty arrangement), Old slowly going beneath the waves at the end.  But this version is more than its equal, with Spats singing the lyrics as if his heart was in every line and playing beautiful Eddie Lang guitar; Norman’s eloquently simple playing; Frans, majestic and logically emotional as always:

three_podsIf you’ve watched these performances with the growing awareness that your life — culinary or musical or both — needs more spice, don’t rush to the pantry to spoon Tunisian harissa into your oatmeal.  Relief of another kind is in sight!  Tthe Pods have a wonderful CD, uncluttered and generous, that is just what you (and your friends) need.  It’s called HOT STUFF! (WVR 1003) and it features guest appearances by those masters of capiscum Mike Durham and Keith Nichols. 

Details at www.wjrk.co.uk.

SHUFFLE ALONG!

Egged on by the inestimable Messrs. Riccardi and Hutchinson, I present my unexpurgated and hugely idiosyncratic list of the first 25 selections on my iPod, no cheating.  Readers of similar temperaments are encouraged to respond:

Perdido, Stuff Smith

Sleigh Ride, Mark Shane’s Xmas All-Stars

Good Little, Bad Little You, Cliff Edwards (Venuti and Lang)

Blame it On the Blues, Duke Heitger’s Big Four

It’s A Sin to Tell A Lie, Humphrey Lyttelton

Walk It To Me, Hot Lips Page

Gassin’ the Wig, Roy Porter

Under A Texas Moon, Seger Ellis

They Say, Echoes of Swing

Some Rainy Day, Hal Smith’s Roadrunners

Linden Blues, Rex Stewart

There’s Something In My Mind, Ruby Braff

Down By The Old Mill Stream, Benny Goodman

Sweet Sue, Jammin’ at Rudi’s (Rudi Blesh, 1951)

Take the “A” Train, Duke Ellington

My Blue Heaven, Eddie Condon (Town Hall)

Farewell Blues, Eddie Condon (Decca)

Stay On the Right Side of the Road, Bing Crosby

Oriental Man, Simon Stribling

All That Meat and No Potatoes, The Three Keys

Stompin’ at the Savoy – Fine and Dandy, Coleman Hawkins (1967 JATP with Teddy Wilson)

Corrine Corrina, Red Nichols

Fascinatin’ Rhythm, Cliff Edwards

St. Louis Bllues, The Boswell Sisters

I’ll See You In My Dreams, Jeff Healey

 

Perhaps not a scientific cross-section or a scholarly sample, but those tracks — in that idiosyncratic assortment — offer great happiness.  Anyone care to join in?

FOUR STRINGS IN MY FUTURE?

Two days ago on Maui, we wandered into a second-hand store in Wailuku and I saw a beautiful ukulele hanging on the wall.  In the grip of musical hubris and hopefulness, I asked to see it and improvised a simple Thirties single-note riff, impressing the Beloved, who said, “I didn’t know you could play!”  “I didn’t either,” I replied.

mele-curly-kpa-tenor-2-holeSince I was quite young, I have made half-hearted attempts at learning a number of musical instruments.  Some of those nstruments ornament my apartment, although I am cautious lest it turn into a one-bedroom version of a music store / pawnshop. 

The ukulele has appealed to me for a long time, because I had the notion that it might be fairly simple to play — four strings rather than some more intimidating number, and not a great deal of aesthetic ambition attached to it (unlike, say, the violin).  It also has a Jazz Age history — on all the Twenties and Thirties sheet music I collect, the line above the treble clef has chord diagrams for imagined ukulele players to read off the page — and the diagrams are just my speed, a diagram of the four strings with a dot on each string to show where the novice should place his or her fingers. 

I haven’t bought the ukulele yet, although we visited the Mele store, where Peter (the resident self-taught virtuouso) tried to teach me to play YOU ARE MY SUNSHINE, with middling results. (I am a recalcitrant, stubborn pupil.)   The second-hand store was closed today, and I refuse to pay full price unless I am compelled to by circumstances.  I also don’t plan to turn into Arthur Godfrey, Don Ho, or Tiny Tim, never fear.  My aesthetic model is Cliff Edwards. I don’t aspire to starring in Technicolor, being the voice of a Disney character, or dying penniless, but his swinging insouciance is immensely appealing.

There are many wonderful Ukulele Ike clips on YouTube — too many to up or download, so you might want to investigate them on your own.  I’ll report back about the results of my four-string quest.

(On YouTube, you can also see a brief clip of Buster Keaton at home in 1965, happily croaking his way through “June Night,” accompanying himself on a tenor guitar with a fair deal of skill.  Who knew?)