Tag Archives: ukulele

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.

HOT AND BLUE AT WHITLEY BAY (July 10, 2009)

For your listening, viewing, and dancing pleasure — Spats Langham and his Rhythm Persons!

This gender-neutral appellation was created to include the lovely and talented Ms. Debbie Arthurs on percussion and vocals.  The other members of this ensemble are Spats himself, on vocal, banjo, guitar, and ukulele; Mike Durham on trumpet and vocal; Paul Munnery on trombone; Norman Field on clarinet, C-melody saxophone and other reeds; Frans Sjostrom on bass saxophone; Martin Litton on piano; John Carstairs Hallam on bass and tuba. 

I was also entranced by the utterly impassive woman sitting near the bandstand, watching everything intently but from some metaphysical distance, who clapped her hands above her head at the end of each selection.  I’m sure she was having a fine time, too.

Here are a few selections from their afternoon program:

I wouldn’t ordinarily post banjo spectaculars, but this one’s splendid: a Langham-Litton romp on the 1925 Harry Reser song, LOLLIPOPS.  Spats lets us know that the key of A is “horrible,” but Mike Durham speaks up for it in a truly egalitarian way.  The tempo direction, “as fast as you can,” also needed to be preserved for posterity:

Incidentally, Spats and Martin have also recorded a duet CD — with the same title — for Lake Records.  Even better! 

Debbie Arthurs is a wonderful percussionist with an infectious beat; she’s a wow on the temple blocks, snare drum, and choke cymbal.  Her steady bass-drum four also drives the band.  She’s also a fine, winsome singer, as her version of AM I BLUE? proves.  Hear her on her new Lake CD, “THANK YOU, MISTER MOON,” which is a consistent delight:

Mike Durham delivered the Ted Lewis recitative, I’M THE MEDICINE MAN FOR THE BLUES, mixing deadpan satire and seriousness:

IT LOOKS LIKE RAIN (IN CHERRY BLOSSOM LANE) is a tepid tune — but it was recorded once, memorably, by the journeyman vocalist Dick Robertson on one of his by-the-book Deccas (1937?) with lustrous playing by a very young Bobby Hackett.  Here it is, in tribute:

Finally, every jazz set needs a pseudo-religious song, and SING YOU SINNERS was the one that the Persons chose — my video camera kept wandering off to the dancing feet of Bridget Calzaretta and her ad hoc partner, who just might be a musician with the Chicago Stompers.  If anyone knows . . .

DOGGIN’ AROUND, or SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE

Melissa Collard pointed out this YouTube extravaganza.  It has something for everyone: lovers of custom-made guitars, dog fanciers, ukulele mavens, conoisseurs of SWEET GEORGIA BROWN.  Of course it comes from the dynamic duo of West Coast string music, Craig Ventresco and Meredith Axelrod:

Here’s Meredith’s commentary: “Craig Ventresco the Mad Scientist of the Strings (as I call him) plays Sweet Georgia Brown on ukulele. This feat is especially impressive because he has his dog sleeping in his lap the whole time.  He is one talented virtuoso!  (Craig’s not so bad either.  We almost had the dog play uke, but decided at the last minute to use Craig instead.)  I accompany him on a custom-made guitar build by Todd Cambio of Wisconsin.  The brand is Fraulini.  Dog is Mr. Woofles.  Mr. Woofles plays the ukulele about as well as Craig, and he also can perform operations in advanced algebra at the university level.”

I see a future for this trio!

“SEARCH ENGINE TERMS”

search engineIt’s possible that only bloggers will recognize my title, which refers to one of those activities that takes place behind the scenes, where a b logger can see a daily list of those words or phrases someone has entered into a search engine, usually Google, to find him or herself at my blog. 

Many of these terms are straightforward and relevant.  Luckily for JAZZ LIVES, many people find it by typing in “louis armstrong,” which is as it should be.  But I’ve been collecting the oddities and present several dozen below.  I hope you find them amusing, perplexing, or simply weird. 

“fast waller”     a) an incredibly dextrous stride pianist, or b) a quick jump into the pond?

“art titan-tiger rug”     Who knew that Art Tatum was so famous as a big-game hunter?

“yukalaylee lady liky you”     Phonetic spelling triumphs.

“don’t swat a fly song”     Could it be NEVER SWAT A FLY?  Close enough.

“lapse in training young army officers”     This person found my blog because I had written about Lester Young in the army.

“hot barbara”     This suggests hormonal pursuits, and led the searcher to Barbara Rosene, both sweet and hot.

“hot girls named cangelosi”     More of the same.  The Cangelosi Cards, of course.

“buster keaton cobb salad”     Search me.  Did I write about eating a salad in one of my posts? 

“vince giordano play dates”     Of course I’ve celebrated Maestro Giordano; this search suggests that he’s a pre-schooler looking for fun.

“naughty pickle productions”     I like pickles, and have used “naughty” in this blog, which I hope is productive.  Beyond that . . . ?

More to come on an irregular basis!

HANG ON TO ME (MY FRETTING LIFE BEGINS)

I bought a ukulele yesterday — perhaps not a heirloom, but it is a tenor Pono, made of koa, with a beautiful large sound.  Although I am not so optimistic as to see myself transplanted into the clip below (the lighted cigarettes make me nervous), I wouldn’t mind “a Hawaiian frappe.”  Later in the day, though. 

Edwards had marvelous poise — sweetness, swing, and comedy mixed.  He knows we’re out there, but is pretending that we aren’t. 

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?)