Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Jim Tranquada at the LA Public Library this Saturday

Attention LA ukulele enthusiasts. Ukulele historian Jim Tranquada will be at the LA Public Library this Saturday, May 9 at 2pm:
"Author Jim Tranquada (The Ukulele: a History) discusses the fascinating musical and social history of the “tiny four-stringed thingamajig” and argues for a rehabilitation of the instrument’s image."
In the Mark Taper Forum, Central Library. If you go, say hi to Jim and tell him Ukulelia sent you. Link

Friday, May 01, 2015

Warren Buffett's Second-Favorite Uke

Legendary beverage maker Coca-Cola and legendary ad agency Wieden+Kennedy recently had a custom ukulele built for legendary uker Warren Buffett.

Timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the iconic Coke bottle, the tenor ukulele was built by Portland luthier Mark Roberts and features a sound hole cut in the silhouette of the bottle. More info on the Coke site.

You can't really see the uke too well in the above video of Mr. Buffett playing "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing." Here's a slightly better photo of Mark Roberts and his work.

We haven't located any more images, but will reach out to Mark and see if he has any he can post. We're not familiar with his work, but a few clicks around his site reveal him to be an innovative and impressive builder (check out his Wise-N-Uke, a baritone version of a Weissenborn hollowneck steel guitar).

Now where in the world do you suppose W+K got this grand idea? Considering that they turned me down for a job years ago, it's nice to know that they liked at least one of my ideas.

Link to article on Adweek.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Telstar on Ukulele & Stylophone

How did we miss this one? The Tornados Telstar performed on ukulele and stylophone. Richard G's got the tab, too, here.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

James Thurber on The Ukulele

The Sun-Dial has been published on the campus of Ohio State since 1911. Around 1916 a young fellow joined the publication, eventually becoming editor-in-chief. His name was James Thurber.

Of the ukulele, Thurber once wrote:
“Let me be the first to admit that the naked truth about me is to the naked truth about Salvador Dali as an old ukulele in the attic is to a piano in a tree, and I mean a piano with breasts..." 
And, while we cannot be certain whether Thurber penned the lead editorial for the December, 1916 edition of The Sun-Dial (which was billed as the Hawaiian Number), it certainly reads like Thurber (read the entire editorial at the link).
"Some time ago somebody read “Madame Butterfly” and wondered why he couldn’t transplant her. So the nearest place to land from the land of Nippon was the isle called Honolulu. So then we had “The Bird of Paradise.” They brought those wierd (sic) little musical cigar boxes called ukuleles with them and the great American public found out that they are easy to play or display. 
"We haven’t a thing in the world against the ukulele, in fact, we like them. But we do hope and pray that the Hawaiian craze will not extend much further than “Yaka Hula” and “Oh How She Could,” etc. As long as they don’t import the cute little sausages which the brown dreamers of the Pacific wear or are imputed to wear, we won’t kick."
We guess those "cute little sausages" might be leis. Odd.

Note the references to Bird of Paradise, the theatrical production that helped ignite Hawaiian Fever across the continent, as well as Yaaka Hula Hickey Dula and Oh, How She Could Yacki Hacki Wicki Wacki Woo.

There are more ukulele "ditties" and cartoons in the magazine.

West Coast Premiere: Jim Beloff's Ukulele Concerto

Jim Beloff & Santa Monica High Orchestra - YouTube:

Backed by the Santa Monica High Orchestra, Jim Beloff performed the west coast premiere of his ukulele concerto Uke Can't be Serious yesterday. Nice, Jim!

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Ultra Wide Neck Ukulele Kickstarter -- Deadline Today

Aldrine and our good friends over at Ukulele Underground have designed this innovative solution for players suffering from Large Finger Syndrome, or LFS.

Watch their Kickstarter video today. Starts and ends today, so don't miss it.

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

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