Notes on playing the banjo uke (and the regular ukulele), as well as some of my favorite songs and videos, but mostly, you'll find information here on my particular obsession - the many models of banjo ukulele offered by Stromberg-Voisinet in the 1920's to 1931.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

"Why" Jelly Roll Morton

Not a lot to say about this number, learned from listening to Leon Redbone and Stovepipe Daddy.  Try finding the music for this one, I dares ya.

It's a tune I'm told is from 1938, though it feels like Jelly Roll Morton might have written it earlier, but not published it before then.  Jelly Roll always used to make statements like "I invented jazz" and even though you have to figure a large ego was at work, when you take everything he wrote and recorded into account, he may actually be judged as correct.

"Why?" is played in C, on Prince Wong's Martin Style 2 from the early 20's.  By the way, the uke was stained dark by Prince Wong or someone on his behalf, in case you're wondering why it is nearly black.

Enjoy, if possible.

Monday, February 10, 2014

"That's Why They Call Me Shine"

Written in 1910, lyrics by Cecil Mack and Lew Brown and music by Ford Dabney, "That's Why They Call Me Shine" became a jazz standard. Nowadays, it gets played a lot more than it gets sung.

The reason is pretty simple: it's hard to sing the lyrics. They are seemingly rooted in the 'coon song' tradition, and are full of the kind of references you associate with blackface performance, but it's actually not that simple a tune.

For 1910, "Shine's" theme was a surprising one for popular music - it wasn't minstrelsy so much as a commentary on it, and it may or may not have been inspired by an incident in the NY City race riot of 1900.

I haven't done the verse here, only the refrain, but I have the lyrics to both below from the original sheet music:

When I was born they christened me plain Samuel Johnson Brown
But I hadn't grown so very big, 'fore some folks in this town
Had changed it 'round to "Sambo"; I was "Rastus" to a few
Then "Chocolate Drop" was added by some others that I knew
And then to cap the climax, I was strolling down the line
When someone shouted, "Fellas, hey! Come on and pipe the shine!"
But I don't care a bit. Here's how I figure it:

Well, just because my hair is curly
And just because my teeth are pearly
Just because I always wear a smile
Likes to dress up in the latest style
Just because I'm glad I'm livin'
Take troubles smilin', never whine
Just because my color's shady,
Slightly different, maybe
That's why they call me shine.

The first time I heard the verse was back in 1980 or so when I bought Ry Cooder's excellent album "Jazz", which really is an amazing record.

I love Remco Houtman Jensen's (Ukulelezaza's) take on this tune, and my approach is fully inspired by his fantastic version, here heard in a medley with "Five-Foot-Two".

Both ukuleles are Ludwig Wendell Halls from the late 20's, a great instrument. Mine has been made even easier to play by the great repair work of Mamie Minch, who runs Brooklyn Lutherie with Chloe Swantner. I recommend their shop highly for all your fretted instrument or violin repairs!