Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Uke-A-Thon! - Panama-Pacific International Exposition

Please join me and a whole bunch of ukulele fanatics at the Uke-a-Thon! celebrating the centennial of the Pan-Pacific Exposition, the event that set the mainland afire with Ukulele Fever.

Saturday, February 21, 2015
Palace of Fine Arts Rotunda
3:00 to 4:30pm
Free (register here)

Details at the link. Hope to bump into you there! And don't forget your uke!


Sunday, February 08, 2015

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Post-Xmas Jump Start Classes

Is Santa bringing someone you love a ukulele for Christmas? I'm teaching my second annual I Got a Ukulele for Christmas workshops on Saturday, December 27th at Lamorinda Music, in beautiful Lafayette, CA. One for kids, another for teens and up! Link

On This Christmas Eve - Rachel Manke

A little Christmas present for all our dear readers, courtesy of Rachel Manke. An old Mills Brothers tune, On This Christmas Eve.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Rediscovering Nee Wong

Finally, the kind of story we like to sink our teeth into around here at Ukulelia.

We recently ran across this video of an unidentified ukulele player, which is remarkable for several reasons. Here's what seems to be known about the film.

This early talkie was produced by Theodore Case, inventor of the sound-on-film system later marketed as the Movietone sound system. Movietone's big competitor was Vitaphone, which relied on sound recorded on phonograph-style disks, and which required a certain amount of skill on the part of the projectionist to ensure that the sound was synched up with the film. Because Movietone recorded audio to the film stock directly via an optical process, the result was superior synchronization.

This film archive indicates that the film was probably shot after 1925, and lists the subject as:
"A variety performer dressed in traditional Chinese garb sings “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby” while accompanying himself on ukulele."
A little sleuthing on our part leads us to identify the performer as vaudeville performer Nee Wong. Wong is described in contemporary billing as "a regular Chinese 'Ukulele Ike'" and "The Gentleman of the Orient":
"One of vaudeville's most talented entertainers in Nee Wong, a lackadaisical young Chinese (sic). Nee Wong can make a ukelele (sic) talk. He sings American songs and translates them into Chinese, giving his audience a little lesson in Chinese pronunciation." Link
"Nee Wong, the Chinese entertainer, evidently has captured England.This fact is attested by the glowing reviews in the English dailies and the trade papers. Nee is modest about his success. In a letter he writes simply and directly: 'The audiences where I have played seem to like my style of working immensely and I will continue to try and entertain them in other places where I am booked.' The London Stage thought him better than ordinary and had this to say relative to his debut: 'Nee Wong, described as Gentleman of the Orient, has an important place in the programme. He has unusual gifts as a player of the ukulele and a confidential style in conversation that is not without its appeal.' The Encore was equally enthusiastic. Anyway, Wong's services are much in demand, as he is also headed for Paris for an indefinite stay." Link
Here's the only photo we've been been able to find of Nee Wong, from the sheet music cover of There's a Little White House on a Little Green Hill. This is the best resolution we could achieve, but we're pretty sure that based on date of the sheet music (1926) and the descriptions of Wong's act that we're looking at the same performer here as in the video.

Back to the video. What we love about this short is its high resolution and excellent audio synch. (Compare it to the early Vitaphone short we unearthed seven years ago here.) Wong plays with a finger-thumb double strum technique that we often hear on recordings of Wong's contemporaries like Frank Crumit. Take advantage of YouTube's playback speed options to watch Wong at half-speed (click on the little gear icon). The audio remains synched at normal pitch and you can see exactly how he's executing his strums.

If anyone has any further information about Nee Wong, please leave a comment or drop us an email.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Ukulele Tote Bags by Ivy Arch

We've seen quilted uke gig bags before, and Ivy Arch's are lovely, but we think the ukulele tote bags are a real standout! Made in the UK. Link


Graphic designer Jen Rickard Blair illustrated a series of images of a beagle and ukuleles. Considering this final panel, I wonder if Jen is more of a beagle person. Link

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Zimnicki Ukuleles on CBS

Nice profile on Gary Zimnicki and the instruments he builds out of wood reclaimed from dismantled Detroit houses. That's Rob Bourassa on guitar. Link

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Christmas Carols for Ukulele Orchestra

M. Ryan Taylor has authored a number of specialty ukulele songbooks. His most recent is Christmas Carols for Ukulele Orchestra.

Ryan was kind enough to send us a reviewer's copy. As Ryan notes, included are:
"Campanella-style ukulele arrangements for 3 or more players (2 or more if your group includes singers). Orchestral-style instrumental parts include both tablature and standard notation. Rhythm ukulele parts include the melody line, lyrics, chords and strumming/fingerpicking indications."
Many Christmas carols are extremely simple, which makes them great for beginners, but boring for more advanced players, especially if they're shy about singing (and many of my students are!). With this book of arrangements, Taylor has given us a bevy of orchestral arrangements, which more advanced groups of players will find challenging and satisfying. Recommended for teachers or leaders of clubs/circles with players who are comfortable with fingerpicking and tablature, and who will be patient in practicing and learning individual parts. Link

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Mysteries of Friction Tuners, REVEALED!

Barry Maz has posted a nice video explaining the ins and outs of friction tuners. (They're still my favorite: I always feel as though I'm always bumping geared tuners out of tune. Certainly, putting a uke with geared tuners into a gig bag always seems to.) Link

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Get Plucky with the Ukulele

Do you feel plucky, punk? Well do you?

The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain's Will Grove-White has a new book coming out on October 6, 2014. Will's site has a bunch of interesting music and trivia and is worth checking out in any event. Link

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Vote in the Fall 2014 Ukulele Magazine Video Contest

The swell folks at Ukulele Magazine have posted a video contest. Each entrant is performing one of four songs pre-selected by the editors. Vote for your favorite! The winner receives a new LuLu ukulele. (Disclaimer: yes, I've written for the magazine; no, I'm not one of the entrants.) View and vote here.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


A little hard to parse out this article from The Daily Express, but here 'tis. The UOOGB, aka the Original One, tried to keep the knock-off TUKUO from performing in the UK, claiming that the latter's name might confuse consumers and thus infringes on their trademark.

They failed to get the injunction, but it seems that the trademark issue is yet to be settled. A court date is forthcoming.

Maybe the knock-offs should change their name to the First United Kingdom Ukulele Orchestra. Think about it.


(Thanks, Random!)

It's Uketoberfest Time!

Happy Fall, everyone! Yes, it's that time of year when our thoughts turn to cider, football, autumn leaves, and, naturally Uketoberfest. We noticed that there are now two such-named events, which we wistfully mention here.

I say "wistfully," because I've learned that the major drawback of becoming a ukulele teacher is that one is never free to go on all these wonderful cruises, burnings, campouts, retreats, junkets, or boondoggles.

Uketoberfest, Springfield, Oregon: October 10-12, 2014

  • The oldest (to our knowledge) Uketoberfest. Across the river from Eugene.
  • Instructors/performers include Aaron Keim, Ben Bonham, Ronnie Ontiveros, Brook Adams, Casey Macgill, and Maggie Matoba.

Uketoberfest, Interlochen, Michigan: Saturday, October 4, 2014

  • Held at the ledgendary Interlochen Center for the Arts. South of Traverse City.
  • Instructors/performers include The Ukulele Kings (Ben Hassenger, Pat Mallory, and Steve Szilagyi), Gerald Ross, Danielle Ate the Sandwich, and Chester Winowiecki.
Helpful footnote: the annual Chicago, Illinois Uketoberfest already happened in August. But then, it's a Ukrainian festival, so while we're sure it was a splendid event, ukulele enthusiasts probably didn't miss too much. - Editor
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